World's smallest, cheapest network switch developed by US high school robotics team — Murex Robotics makes the hardware fully open-source

Murex Robotics smallest network switch
(Image credit: MUREX Robotics)

Whatever you were doing in high school, it probably wasn't this cool. Murex Robotics, the underwater robotics team of Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, has created what it claims is the world's smallest network switch, and for significantly less money than any of its larger counterparts. 

Designed for use in a remotely piloted underwater rover, the mrxSwitch v2.0 supplies five 100 Mbps Ethernet ports at a footprint of only 44.9mm by 42.2mm. Network switches of this form factor are typically reserved for highly embedded systems; the team prioritizes its use in remote-operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), but IoT devices and other consumer devices with space constraints may have use for network switches this small. The switch in Murex's case can allow a Raspberry Pi, NUC, or other computer to communicate with IP cameras, driver motors, or any of the rest of its tools to operate a robot underwater.

The five beige 4-pin connectors on the board are the network ports, using the Molex PicoBlade connection to save space, as multiple RJ-45 ports would dwarf the tiny board. The integrated chip onboard doing the switching is smaller than a fingernail, and the largest component, a dual-port transformer, is barely longer than a knuckle. The mrxSwitch v2.0 represents a 30% size reduction over its predecessor, along with a BOM cost reduction of 15%, even with its smart-looking custom PCB. 

Murex Robotics competes in high-school underwater robotics competitions in the MATE ROV Competition's Ranger division. Space is at a premium within the waterproofed capsule of the robot, necessitating tiny components. Most solutions for network switches of this form factor are priced at a premium due to the narrowness of the use case, with MATE-sponsored options running from $75 to $175 -- hence the decision to engineer an original solution. The mrxSwitch v2.0 stands at a current BOM price of $7. While you might not see it used in our best network switches (at least not yet), the build is a serious triumph for the young team.

For a deeper dive into the team's development process of v1.0 straight from the creators, be sure to read the team's own development blog. The 100 Mbps speed is pretty slow for today's rocket-fast standards, but at least you're only paying $7 for it. Lest we forget, some audiophiles were sold on a $4,349 "audiophile grade" network switch running fewer ports at the same speed last year.

Dallin Grimm
Contributing Writer

Dallin Grimm is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware. He has been building and breaking computers since 2017, serving as the resident youngster at Tom's. From APUs to RGB, Dallin has a handle on all the latest tech news. 

  • Gimme some break. World's smallest, not exactly ! ? Better label this as: "world's smallest 5-port unmanaged switch"
    This one by Murex Robotics measures: 44.9mm by 42.2mm.

    BotBlox SwitchBlox Nano is 25.50 x 25.50 mm, but of course with two fewer ports (BotBlox's 3-port switch).

    Also, since the team threw ISO/IEC 8877 out of the equation, which is referenced by 100BASE-TX, better think again before calling it an "Ethernet switch."
  • This alternative model would fit the team's description, BotBlox's 5-port unmanaged switch, and comparing this seems reasonable:

    44.5mm (1.75 inches) by 44.5mm
    So yes, Murex Robotics's invention should be better dubbed as the world's smallest "5-port unmanaged switch", which is of course open-source and cost-effective as well. Not the world's smallest.
  • TechyIT223
    High school in full form 🎒

    I guess use case is more on Robotics here rather than industrial purpose. Are these guys aiming for the MATE ROV competition though??🤔
  • GoofyOne
    Nice job! 😇 I am not too interested in the, who is smaller/better, etc. It is great that schools and their students are getting stuck into designing and building their own stuff. :cool:

    {GoofyOne's 2c worth, which may or may not be actually worth 2c}
  • das_stig
    Agree with GoofyOne, for students to come up with this impressive, now design an inexpessive standard 24 port 10Gbe managed switch for £50 and take my money !
  • TechyIT223
    They got financial support for this project
  • TechyIT223
    5K to be specific 😎
  • thisisaname
    hardware fully open-source

    Is that the same as patent free?
  • TechyIT223
    I don't know much but I suppose going open source doesn't guarantee a patent free application unless the original party applies for it. I mean software provided under an open source licence can still be subjected to copyright protection IMO.

    It means they are not the same

    What do you guys think?
  • bill001g
    I would doubt this project had all the lawyers it takes to be sure your hardware is not in violation of patents. Way too many patent troll companies exist.
    It all depends on if they actually had their own chips produced or they are using something from a vendor.

    Most switches because of the speed required do not use what most people think of as software. Most the function is done asic chips which I guess could be called software before you manufacture the chips.

    You still see actual software in very advanced switches..but this quickly blurs the line into what the difference between router/firewall/switch is.