I made the decision a couple of weeks ago to get more serious about completing my CCNA. I dug up a router simulator called GNS 3 on the recommendation of a couple of staff people at work. It’s a GUI to a couple of other tools that emulate the hardware of older Cisco routers. For certification lab purposes, this makes a lot of sense. You don’t have to spend hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars to purchase actual gear. Instead you run the emulator and load your own Cisco IOS images.
Today I finished configuring the PC I’ve got at home to run the software and built a simple frame-relay lab from scratch, using Cisco 3640 routers with 16 port switching modules for the LAN side. Overall, it was a good experience and behaved as I would have expected. The best part is the realism is perfect since you’re running real IOS.