Protect your hardware investment?

Intel Express 10/100 Stackable Hub reminds me of air conditioning in a convertible—what are you supposed to do with it? The hub lets you switch between 10Mbps and 100Mbps network speeds by pressing a button, if your network is set up to make the migration. The product literature touts this flexibility as a great way to protect your hub hardware investment. However, most administrators won't be building 10Mbps networks and most NICs are 10/100Mbps capable, so this technology is not very useful.

Plugging and Playing
The hub was a breeze to hook up and was functional right out of the box. Although my network appeared to be operating fine, a blinking amber light signaled otherwise. Two light emitting diode (LED) indicators (a green light on the left and an amber light on the right) accompany each of the 24 ports on the front panel of the Ethernet Hub. A solid green light signifies a connection and a blinking green light signifies traffic over the connection. The amber light, in conjunction with a third series of LEDs on the far right side of the front panel, means trouble.

Because the unit is not a switch, you cannot mix 10Mbps and 100Mbps devices at the same time—the lights on the front make sure you don't. For example, a blinking amber light and a solid Status LED tell you the hub speed and the device speed do not match; a blinking amber light and a blinking Status LED signal out-of-specification cabling or a port hardware problem. I received the second of these two error signals and switched a cable as the User Guide recommended. To my surprise, the light signaled a good connection.

I received this error signal again a short time later. I realized that my server's 10/100Mbps network card was causing the hub to have conniptions, but at least the Intel Express 10/100 Stackable Hubhub recognized what I was running and detected a potential problem. The hub uses other light patterns to alert you to various mishaps, including an overloaded network. If my first experience is any indication of the effectiveness of the unit's diagnostic capabilities, systems administrators will like it.

Switching between 10Mbps and 100Mbps network speeds is as easy as pushing a button on the front panel. Intel recommends you use Category 5 cable for 100Mbps connections and Category 3, 4, or 5 for 10Mbps networks. The hub restricts both configurations to cables up to 100 meters long.

For administrators integrating 10Mbps and 100Mbps devices on one network, options include a 10/100Mbps switch, a server with two 10/100Mbps adapters installed, a router supporting 10Mbps and 100Mbps, the Intel Express Stackable Hub Ethernet Module, and the Intel Express 10/100 Downlink.

Whether you're running 10Mbps or 100Mbps on your network, remember that hubs do not support full duplex, so do not configure a device in this manner. Users looking for manageability won't be disappointed—the Intel Express 10/100 Stackable Hub supports Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). Intel recommends using LANDesk Network Manager or Intel Device View for Web (which ships with Intel's hubs and switches) to configure, manage, and monitor the hub's performance.

How Does It Stack Up?
Why would you want an Intel Express 10/100 Stackable Hub? The folks at Intel say they designed the card to let administrators upgrade large networks to 100Mbps in workgroups, while protecting their hub hardware investment. So, the target market for this hub is enterprise installations that want to use the 10Mbps feature now and will upgrade in the future. Is it me or is it Intel? One of us is missing something here.

Intel Express 10/100 Stackable Hub
Contact: Intel 800-538-3373 Web: http://www.intel.com/network
Price: $1525 12-port version; $2375 24-port version
The Lab's Test Configuration: Server: 200MHz dual Pentium Pro 128MB of RAM 4.2GB SCSI hard disk Adaptec 3940 SCSI interface card 2 HP Vectra P-120s with 16MB of RAM