Cisco's fixed configuration Catalyst Switch series includes the C2940 (small office), C2950, C2960, C2970, C3550, C3560, and C3750, along with earlier 2900/3500 series switches that retain some usefulness. Most, but not all, small Catalyst switches have 2 to 4 higher speed uplink ports that may use the same or different media. Commonly, the uplink ports are 1GIG or 10GIG, using varying media, although frequently SFPs. Size-wise, these switches are mostly 1U, with a few 1.5 and 2U models, and varying from about 6 to 80 ports. Most commonly, these switches are either 24 or 48 port, with 2-4 either shared or separate uplink ports. In general, higher model number switches will have more features, higher manageability, faster CPUs, and higher speed ethernet ports.
Models are designed to indicate the features of each switch, but Cisco tends to change these across model generations, so it's important to keep track of the naming conventions for each generation of switches. For example, in the C2950/C3550, as well as earlier 2900/3500 series switches, a "G" in the title meant the switch had gigabit uplink ports. But in all other models, a "G" indicates that ALL the ports are gigabit. So a WS-C3560G switch's ports are ALL gigabit, in comparison to a WS-C3560, on which only the uplink ports are gigabit.
Cisco Model Naming
The remaining nomenclature of a switch's name indicates the number of ports, whether it has power over ethernet (PoE) or not, whether it has any special features, and whether it has standard or enhanced software. Consider a WS-C3560G-24TS-S. This is a 3560 series switch. The "G" indicates that all the ports are 10/100/1000. The 24 indicates that it has 24 ports (plus uplink SFP ports). The "T" following the 24 indicates that it does NOT have PoE capabilities. The first "S" indicates it is a 'standard' (nothing special), and the final "S" indicates that it has the standard software rather than the "E" enhanced software image installed. Cisco continues to change the the naming for the 3560E / 3750E switch series, which have 10GIG uplinks. A WS-C3750E-48PD-EF has 48 gigabit ports plus 2 10gig uplink ports. "EF" indicates it has an enhanced software image AND the highest powered power supply.
These examples illustrate the importance of referring to Cisco to determine the exact characteristics of individual models, but here are some general rules for major lines:
Cisco 2950 Series - the "2950" could be followed by a letter indicating some kind of gigabit uplink port, plus the number of ports, and if there is an enhanced software image, ending in "EI". A good inexpensive switch for light office data switching.
Cisco 3550 Series - there are two main models, the WS-C3550-24-SMI or 48-SMI, and 24-EMI or 48-EMI. The SMI and EMI indicate whether it is a standard or enhanced image unit. There is also a 24 port version with "PWR" inserted in the model name, indicating support for PoE. A good inexpensive switch for light office data and voice switching.
Cisco 2960, 3560, 3560G, 3750, 3750G - These switches are highly manageable and can be used in nearly every every environment. The 3750s add in hardware 'stacking' which physically links multiple 3750s so they can be managed as a single unit. In terms of model naming, these are all named as described in the section above. The "G" indicates that all the ports are gigabit, and all these models have 2 to 4 SFP 1GIG uplink ports. Their model name also includes the number of ports, and after that, some indication of special features (the 2960s differ slightly on this). The main feature to pay attention to is whether you see a "P" which indicates PoE capability, and whether it ends in an "S" or "E" which indicates whether the switch has a standard or enhanced software image.
Cisco 3560E and 3750E Catalyst Switches - Although in the 3560 and 3750 lines, these switches are physically different from the others, and naming also differs. The "E" signifies 10gig uplink ports, and following this, the model name still indicates the number of ports. "TD" switches do NOT support PoE, and "PD" do. The model names end with either S or E, or SF or EF. The S or E again indicates whether the switch has a standard or enhanced image. The power supplies on these switches are modular, and support a low power AC module for non PoE service (TD designated switches), a 750WAC power supply for 50% port PoE, and an 1150WAC for 100% port PoE service, plus a DC power supply supporting full service as well.