Many of us have been asked the “paper or plastic?” question at the grocery store, but now in the world of switches many are asking “plastic or metal?”  Is there a difference? Is one type better than the other? I may not have the most technical answer on this subject, but I do have information on reasons to choose one or the other.

The main difference between a plastic vs metal network switch is that the outer casing of a metal switch is made of metal and the outer casing of a plastic switch is made of plastic. Yes, I know astounding insight – that is what I am here for.

The plain fact of the matter is, of switches in the same category like an unmanaged Fast Ethernet (10/100) or Gigabit (10/100/1000) switch, the insides of the switches are exactly the same. They are built with the same internal components, the same chipsets, the same everything; they are in fact the same devices that perform the exact same functions. They connect devices to a network.

So what’s the deal? What is the big debate for one or the other?

It is simple; personal preference.

Often, a plastic switch may be more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. They can be different shapes than the “just a metal box” look of a metal switch. Or, they can be different colors or even multiple colors giving them a “cool” factor or just something different looking. A metal switch can look more “professional” or “business-like” for a small office setting.

Some of the smaller metal switches may even come with brackets so they can be mounted in an existing rack and they cost less than a 16, 18, or 24 port switch that would just be overkill or have ports that will never get used. Why buy something that will never get used? That isn’t smart use of your money.

Another important difference is something I would have never thought of had it not been for a co-worker of mine who pointed out that stepping on a plastic switch with bare feet hurts a lot less than a metal switch. Why he even knows this is beyond me, but there it is. If you need a switch you can toss on the floor at home somewhere where you can step on it and not get a gash in your foot, well by all means, go with the plastic one.  (I can’t imagine where that is a useful scenario but hey, you can put your switch wherever you want I suppose).

So if you were ever concerned with whether to choose “plastic or metal”, don’t worry about it. Just get what looks better to you and know that the function will be just fine either way.