Home Networking

Prosumer Home networks (often "home labs") often become a part of many IT people's lives. After all, if you're building all this stuff for work, why not have some of this control at home? In recent years, several brands have come up to take places in this market, selling cheaper-than-business equipment with business-style features to those in desire of a bit more influence over their home networking.

Many of these brands are the same companies who sell to SMBs or even some larger corporate clients, often finding that their smaller "remote office" solutions fit nicely into the hands of those with deep pockets in terms of home networking.

The Background

My father and I, a long time before this post, had worked on installing CAT5 cable throughout our house. This was initially quite a simple job, and performed for a simple reason: speed and location. Many of our more high-bandwidth devices lived in either the home office (on the upper floor), or my bedroom (also on the same floor). This, combined with a need to implement CCTV, had led us to install CAT5 Ethernet cabling in the house. We settled on 5 cables (excluding the CCTV cabling); two to my bedroom, one to the office, and one to ground floor, being used to connect to our pre-existing Asus router.

Netgear(ing up for disaster)

Now, while it's entirely true that you could wire Ethernet together in such a way that you wouldn't "need" switching hardware, a switch is essentially a requirement these days. If all you need is to connect 5–8 runs of Ethernet together to form a network, then a switch won't usually run you much in terms of hardware cost, so it's usually considered required on any network regardless of size.

Now, going on to Amazon and searching for "network switch" will probably return you two "reputable" brands (and probably about 1,000 untrustworthy ones); These two brands are TP-Link and Netgear.

TP-Link isn't considered bad by most people. They're no Cisco Meraki/Catalyst for sure, but for a home network, they're probably one of the first picks of anybody who wants a small, but decent, home networking experience. TP-Link is so turnkey that many SMBs and chain-shop businesses use them for connecting the bare essentials at a site. Ever since Linksys got bought by Cisco, TP-Link has filled the void.

Now, Netgear, on the other hand, is quite "different". Now I don't mean that in the "disruptive company changing an industry" way, I mean in a "looks like Cisco, but similarities end there" way. On the face of it, Netgear look great: you can buy a "professional" looking 8-port switch for under £100. Sure, it's unmanaged, but why would that be problematic when you only have 8 ports? Let's see:

  1. Netgear "looks" great, given they're all-in on metal chassis, but their equipment is overpriced for what it does; An 8-port, unmanaged Netgear PoE switch will cost you about £70-80, whereas a managed TP-Link switch with more features will run you about £100. Management features do not cost £20, Netgear are just scamming you.
  2. They don't last, at all. They're designed to be replaced, hopefully by something by TP-Link at minimum.

As you can see, these are probably some fairly compelling reasons not to buy into Netgear's stuff. Yet, when we put together the network at my parents' house, the first switch we used was a Netgear 8-port. The writing was on the wall from the word "go", though, since this switch was not suitable, at all, for a network like ours. It was slow, unreliable, and often just "buggy". Sometimes our network properties, including speed, would feel randomly picked from a hat. The death knell for this switch was expanding the network in any capacity. It survived a while longer as a way for me to expand my networking in my bedroom, but even then it soon got replaced.


Ubiquiti is probably the biggest name in prosumer, homelab setups. They're not cheap, but they are reliable, and easy to set up. They're the half-way between "TP-Link" and "Cisco". We started simple with a switch, the USG, an access point, and the cloud key. We had to switch our ISP, mainly because it turns out our ISP at the time didn't allow us to use our own equipment. After that was sorted, though, this network was a treat to use.

Ubiquiti is one of those brands where, at any relevant chance, I feel like suggesting them in opposition to a Meraki network (given that's who Ubiquiti are competing with). The setup is slick, and assuming you start setting up with all the components you want already ready and racked, you could probably set it up within an hour or two.


After you've put together an extremely powerful network, you start to feel as if you're missing something. That's almost always going to be filled by a Synology Diskstation.

Synology Diskstations are weird; on the one hand, they are in fact incredibly reliable NAS solutions, and on the other, they pretty much do anything else you want them to. Synology essentially markets their "DSM" software as a home cloud solution, and I'm inclined to agree just because of how useful and versatile they are.

You could probably get a similar versatility out of NextCloud, which is the only thing I can think of that would be in direct competition with Synology on this front. Synology's level of integration and scale is a wonderful thing that many places just don't have.

Also, they sell rackmount versions, which is always a plus.


Dell is one of those funny brands where I look over at what they do once in a while, and find out that they've either made the next best thing since sliced bread, or horribly shot themselves in the foot.

On the one hand, they keep making servers which are essentially just "the same as the last PowerEdge servers" but slightly better. This is a great strategy, if only because you shouldn't fix what isn't broken. On the other hand, Alienware is still alive despite being essentially the butt-end of a joke, Dell refuses to let Alienware have the death it yearns for.

If you want an "it just works" server, Dell is usually the best bet. You can get one fairly cheap second hand, since they're incredibly pervasive in IT, and they can all run stuff like Proxmox, which is probably most people's go-to for VM servers at home. I suppose you could also run VMWare ESXi on them, but then you're running ESXi in a home setting, which is almost always a bad time.

The Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi, and actually all the derivatives it has spawned, are essentially the best bang-for-buck "baby's first home server". It can run NextCloud, for one, and two, they're incredibly small; if you get the CM4 compute module (essentially a Raspberry Pi 4 without all the ports), you can even make a blade server using them. That setup would actually get you about 20 low-power nodes in 1U of 19-inch rack space, although the necessity or usability of a system like that would be questionable, given the computational power of the individual nodes.

The Raspberry Pi also comes with the added benefit of cost. Let's surmise that you want to have a small system that can run an RTL-SDR on your network. Even at the highest end model, you're looking at around £80. The Raspberry Pi 5 is not too weak a system, and this application, it would likely excel.

But: why all the complexity?

In retrospect, a lot of this stuff is a bit complex, sometimes too complex for most people. Thankfully, I'm not most people, and this complexity is only really needed for when you have hobbies that necessitate it. That, or you wish to make your life more painful. Sadly, IT professionals are almost always some form of masochistic like that.