Find the best Cisco router for your needs

With Cisco’s router lineup changing so often, it can be difficult to stay up to date. What are the current models of routers, and which router would you use for which situations?

What’s missing from the lineup?

For those of us who have been working with Cisco routers for some time, a number of the most well-known routers are missing from the current lineup. Cisco discontinued the 2600 and 3600 Series routers a while ago. For the remote branch office and SMB market, these routers were always the workhorse of the Cisco router lineup.

In my view, it wasn’t their capabilities that made them obsolete. They could do anything that the latest routers could do. For that reason, lots of shops are still using them.

What made these series of routers depreciate was the limitation of their CPU processing, Flash, and RAM storage. The Cisco IOS grew to be larger than what those routers could handle effectively with the maximum amount of RAM.

In addition, the packet load of the typical network grew a lot that Gig-Ethernet became common on networks. These routers didn’t have the processing to handle that throughput with the CPU that they had.

Meet the ISRs

What’s been new in the last year or so is the idea of Cisco’s Integrated Services Routers (ISR). As you can see in Figure A, the ISR is what Cisco calls all but its larger “services aggregation platforms.”

ISRs work for all companies — from the single telecommuter at the home office to the medium or large company walking full BGP to the Web. Cisco dubbed these routers “integrated services” because not only do they route like a traditional router, but they can also provides other services such as IPSec VPN, firewall, intrusion prevention, and VoIP call management.

Which router do I need?

People often ask me which router they ought to make use of for a specific situation. To start, I think Figure A does a first rate job of illustrating Cisco’s available routers and the load they can take (as illustrated by the light blue column in the graphic).
Of work, there’s no unalterable rule telling us which router to make use of for which situation. However, here are some general guidelines that I recommend using.

Home office or small branch office

Let’s say you have a home office worker who needs over a periodic VPN connection. The worker will be working a full 40-hour workweek over a site-to-site VPN, and you require him or her to have the most reliable and best performing connection feasible.
Cisco 800 Series routers are ideal in this situation.

They’re great performing routers for a single person or even a small office of up to 10 people. They have the full Cisco IOS, including the latest IOS 12.4 including features such as Firewall, IPS, VPN, VLAN, QoS, NAC, and even high availability features. There’s different models for different applications, including ISDN, DSL, and routers with integrated wireless.

I use a Cisco 871W router at my house. In addition to it being a great router to connect to the Web, it’s an excellent router for testing Cisco IOS commands. I also recommend the 800 Series routers to CCNA and CCNP candidates as the best choice for studying IOS commands.

Remote office of 25 workers

For remote offices that have 25 or so workers, Cisco 1800 Series routers are an excellent choice. This router is ideal if all you need is a router to connect your office to the Web, VPN, firewall, and wireless.

Remote office of 50 workers

If you’re looking for the same basic functionality of the 1800 Series but need much more performance and expandability, Cisco 2800 Series routers are what you need. With the 2800 series lineup, you can get everything that’s in the 1800 Series and redundant power supply options, Gig-Ethernet ports, Network Module (NM) expansion slots, VoIP Call Manager Express (CME) with SRST, and far more performance.

Having the NM card slot lets you add things such as a 36-port switch with PoE, a DS3 ATM, a 24-port VoIP module, an intrusion detection module, a network analysis module, or a Cisco Unity Express voice mail module. In my view, the Network Module slot on the 2800 Series is where the Cisco router lineup starts to get thrilling.

Remote or HQ office of 100 workers

Cisco 3800 Series routers are similar to the 2800 Series in that there’s lots of HWIC and NM options for them. But what sets them apart from the 2800 Series is the sheer performance of the hardware and the number of HWIC and NM card that you can put in to them.

Campus or large HQ office

For large campus or service providers, the Catalyst 6500 and 7200/7300 Series platforms are for you. Cisco calls these “service aggregation platforms.” These are high-performance networking platforms with a immense capacity for expansion.

A speedy disclaimer: Always read the specifications for the router you’re thinking about, and consult along with your local SE or experienced Cisco reseller to make positive you get the best router for the job.


It can be difficult to stay up to date with Cisco’s ever-expanding and changing router offerings. In this article, I covered the different scenarios where you would need a Cisco router and the five major Cisco router platforms that fit in to those scenarios. I hope that the next time you need to pick a Cisco router, you know exactly which router line to turn to.