I read the post from 6 months ago "CCNA Labs: Simulator, Emulator, or Physical Kit?" I don't have room and really can't afford to buy equipment so It seems to me that my best bet would be a Simulator. I don't really have any experience configuring Routers or Switches. The amount of Simulators out there is quite Overwhelming. The prices vary and haven't seen any free ones. Anyone have a good experience with a particular product out there that isn't to expensive? I was hoping ITPro had a virtual lab to go along with the CCENT class.
Getting Hands on training configuring Routers & Switches
GNS3 is free. But the IOS that you need to use with it is not free.
I will say for CCENT and CCNA nothing beats packet tracer. However packet tracer can only be downloaded if you've taken Cisco academy.
What I use now is a mixture of VIRL and GNS3. VIRL is from cisco and has layer 2 ios simulation (although it's not full simulation). Because it's from cisco you get access to all the new versions of IOS and the advance stuff like their ASA, IOS-NX, ect.
The down side to VIRL is that the interfaces are limited to Gigabit and it's a server client application, meaning you have to install the VIRL server and you use a client app called maestro.
GNS3 is great and easy to use. it's got more real life interface simulations.
The down side is that it only supports pre ios 15 and it doesn't emulate switches. (currently VIRL is the only one I've heard of that does)
There are more but these are the most popular.
My suggestion is if you have a means of getting an IOS image I think GNS3 is the way to go. But unfortunately there really is no way around having to buy a real switch. I suggest going on ebay and getting at least 2 layer 3 switches. catalyst 3560 seem to be the lab switch of choice for beginners.