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I want to own a physical lab. I'm tight on money at the moment. Can anyone walk me through when it comes to what equipment I can buy?
You will get far more value for your money by purchasing a used server and running a virtualized lab. All Cisco Routing & Switching exams are now based on completely virtualized environments.
If you still insist on hardware, avoid equipment that is not capable of running IOS version 15. There are a lot of people selling "CCNA Kits" using very old hardware that only runs IOS version 12.
Recommended budget routers are Cisco ISR G1 or newer (such as 1841), and for switch Cisco Catalyst 3560 or 3750. The older non-PoE versions of these switches can run IOSv15.
Other than licensing changes, what commands and options are on iOS 15 that are not present on 12?
The Feature Navigator tells all: http://cfn.cloudapps.cisco.com/ITDIT/CFNhttps://www.reddit.com/jsp/index.jsp
All Cisco Routing & Switching exams are now based on completely virtualized environments.
Will packet tracer be enough then?
EDIT: Thank you for the recommendations. I really do appreciate it.
PT will get you through the CCENT and probably CCNA, but it's pretty painful. I'd look at VIRL/GNS3/EVE-NG instead.
Cisco UCS C210 is a great server. It's real cheap, and it's quiet after it boots. I have one running in my living room.
Ah! Thank you!