The 3550 is okay, but you will not be able to work with Private Vlans.
3560 will do the PVLANs.
Also, if you can afford it, I would get a couple: 2x3650 or 1x3550/1x3560.
I only say this, because the prices are coming down a little (ebay).......and because then you can practice more features with more than one switch in the mix. (i.e. DHCP Snooping , PVLANs, VACLs, PVI)
Selling them later should not be a problem either.
edit: corrected transposed numbers 3650 should have been 3560
Yes. I transposed the numbers.
Also, if you get at least one of them with PoE, you can add a Wireless AP or IP Phone -- and work with "power inline". Just another detail to look for while shopping. I have been watch ebay myself lately. ;-)
I will edit my message above to give the correct switch - 3560.
3550 is a good switch, however if you can get 3560-24T-E is even better, get a pair of 3560 if you got more money.
3560 can do VTPv3 and private vlan...oh yeah and also ipv6 unicast routing....I remember 3550 cannot do ipv6 even you do sdm template adjustment.
Yes, that sounds about right. They are a little bit more to get outside the states (smaller market plus transportation).
I currently live outside the States, so I have the same situation (I will have to pay a little more). I am thinking about upgrading my lab (ccie studies). That is why I have been watching eBay. ;-)
But if you are going to invest money, it is good to at least understand the difference, and if it is worth it. Also, once you get through your CCNP certification, they should be easy to resell to other students in the UK.
CCIE is due for revision later this year (maybe); so gear may change and prices are falling for used c3560, therefore buying now is not so opportunistic as buying later when absolutely needed.
Prices are aroung $300 - $400 on US Ebay.