Should you get an external SWM or use the built-in one on the dish?

It’s getting to be a tough question. It used to be simple: DIRECTV dishes would feed two receivers. Beyond that you needed a multiswitch. Then SWM technology came around and you had two choices: the SWM-enabled LNB or an external SWM multiswitch. The LNB was easier to install but not adaptable, while the external version gave you a lot more flexibility. But really, it was still a pretty easy decision: if you only needed 8 tuners and didn’t think you’d need more, get the LNB. If you needed to support 16 tuners or needed to keep older non-SWM receivers in the mix, get the multiswitch.

Now, it’s harder to decide. DIRECTV’s latest LNB does 13 tuners on a single wire, and there are rumblings of a 22-tuner one coming later this year as well. That would seem to spell doom for the old SWM-16 module, which has never been popular among DIRECTV’s bean counters since it costs considerably more to make than the LNB. Here are some questions you need to ask before making a decision:

Do you still use older receivers?
One of the biggest reasons to use a SWM module rather than an LNB is the need to run older receivers. If you’re using a standard definition receiver earlier than the D12, or an SD DVR earlier than the R16, you’ll need an external module. Don’t laugh, people still cling to these old receivers.

Do you have very long cable runs?
Here’s something really important. When you come out of an external SWM module, you get two outputs that have full signal strength (generally about -26dBm) right at the SWM. If you add a single 8-way splitter for a typical loss of 14dBm, you’re at -40dBm from each output. Then, you lose about 6dB for each 100 feet of cable. (DIRECTV’s standards suggest that signals at the receiver should be less than -50dBm) If you use a SWM LNB and you need to put a 2-way splitter and an 8-way splitter because you’re feeding just that many boxes, then you lose an additional 3dB, plus you have all the loss from the dish to account for. By the time you get to the receiver your signal could be 5-7dB lower with a SWM LNB than with an external switch.

If you’re talking about really long distances, the external multiswitches let you run four lines and use an amplifier like our LAL204 to add 20dB. You can’t really amplify a SWM signal. That’s worth thinking about if you’re looking at a really large home or building.

You can’t really expand if you use an LNB.
It’s no big deal if you can’t imagine going past 13 tuners, after all that’s enough for a Genie, 3 clients, 3 DVRs and 2 receivers. That’s a lot. But if you’re building a man-cave or just like to watch a lot of TV, that may not do it for you. Once you put in that SWM LNB, you’re pretty much locked in. You can always replace it with a non-SWM LNB but why not do it right the first time? If you have a non-SWM LNB, you can add a virtually limitless number of external SWM modules to it, far more than you’d ever really want or need in a single-family home.

Of course, the choice is up to you. It’s getting harder and harder to avoid the lure of a single line from the dish, which is of course exactly what DIRECTV wants. They want you to have a simple, easy install, one that will work for 99.9% of homes. And then, if you want more, you have options. Sounds like a good deal to me.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.