Router vs Switch vs Hub

You may hear the terms router, switch and hub used interchangeably. They look alike on the outside, but they’re very different on the inside. Hubs are dumb devices that simply repeat everything they hear. When one computer sends a signal to the hub, the hub sends the identical signal back out to all of the other ports on the hub.

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Hubs enable computers on a network to communicate. Each computer plugs into the hub with an Ethernet cable, and information sent from one computer to another passes through the hub. A hub can’t identify the source or intended destination of the information it receives, so it sends the information to all of the computers connected to it, including the one that sent it.

A hub can send or receive information, but it can’t do both at the same time. This makes hubs slower than switches. Hubs are the least complex and the least expensive of these devices.

Switches work the same way as hubs, but they can identify the intended destination of the information that they receive, so they send that information to only the computers that are supposed to receive it. Switches can send and receive information at the same time, so they can send information faster than hubs can.

If your home network has four or more computers or you want to use your network for activities that require passing a lot of information between computers (such as playing network games or sharing music), you should probably use a switch instead of a hub. Switches cost a little more than hubs.

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Switches are much more intelligent devices that analyze each packet coming in. The switch determines where the traffic needs to go and transmits it only on the port connected to the destination computer. This is a much more efficient use of the network’s bandwidth, and it also prevents unauthorized users from intercepting traffic on the network. Until recently, switches were much more expensive than hubs, but recent advances in switch technology have made hubs all but obsolete.

Routers enable computers to communicate and they can pass information between two networks—such as between your home network and the Internet. This capability to direct network traffic is what gives the router its name. Routers can be wired (using Ethernet cables) or wireless.

If you just want to connect your computers, hubs and switches work well; however, if you want to give all of your computers access to the Internet using one modem, use a router or a modem with a built-in router. Routers also typically provide built-in security, such as a firewall. Routers are more expensive than hubs and switches.

If you’re building a new LAN from scratch, an all-in-one unit that combines a router, Ethernet switch, and wireless access point is your best value. It is also the most compact and simplest to install, since all of the cables will connect to a single, centrally located unit.image

Ben Carigtan shows you how it’s one!

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Comments [10]

  1. Russ says:

    this article is good but lacking on practical application. i have a wireless router but even still i've used all 4 wired ports and am wondering what to do if i need another wired port. can i add a switch somehow to increase the number of wired ports available?

  2. Aseem says:

    That's a good question Russ. If you have a wireless router and need more ports than are available on the router, you can connect another router or switch to the device.

    Basically, you want to take a cable from the full router (one of the regular ports) and plug it into the WAN/Internet port on the secondary router or switch. Then you can plug in more devices into the secondary router.

    The secondary device does not have to be a wireless router, it can be a switch or a normal wired-only router.

    Hope that helps!

  3. thepyewacket says:

    My understanding is that you would be better served by connecting a switch (or hub) to your router, Russ. This assumes that you are connected to the internet. Aseem is correct in stating that you "could" use a router or switch, but should you be connected to the internet there could very easily be configuration issues going from router -> router -> internet. While it is theoretically possible to connect in that fashion, the far simpler way would be to add a switch, i.e. switch -> router -> internet. No configuration of switch required. Alternatively, you could use a hub instead of a switch. Bandwidth is most assuredly not an issue on your side – the limitation will most likely be in your connection to the internet.

    Best of luck.

  4. Max says:

    Plugging one router into another is not ideal. You'd be creating two private networks w/in one network. The devices plugged into router1 will not be able to talk to devices plugged into router2. Its called Double NAT.

    A switch is what you want to use to extend the number of ports behind the standard 4 on a typical router.

  5. pacman777 says:

    Quick question about this networking with routers versus switches. I'm trying to configure a patch panel where all the cat 5e cables from the various rooms in the house converge into. I want to install my cable modem in the panel and distribute internet access to several rooms in the house. Can I use a switch that connects to the cable modem and then plug in the various cat 5e cables for the respective rooms into the switch? I was going to then have a wireless router connected to the port in one of the rooms. So basically the configuration would be

    Router–>Switch–>CableModem–>Internet.

    Would this work, or do I have to have a router attached to the cable modem to distribute internet access throughout the home properly. Thanks!

  6. Colanth says:

    pacman, if the modem has a router in it you can connect it to a switch, otherwise you need a router first. Then you have to bridge the wireless router if the one in the cable room isn't where you need the wireless signal.

    Wireless Router's *LAN* jack, with DHCP disabled in the router–>Switch if needed–>Router->CableModem–>Internet

    Connecting 2 devices to a modem with a switch will give you a duplicate DNS error, or some such error meaning that 2 devices are trying to use the same IP address. (A non-routing modem only repeats the IP address you get from your provider – a router leases internal IP addresses to your computer.)

  7. theboxseat says:

    I never ceased to be amazed at the constant rehashing of something that is so wrong, yet can occasionally be right.

    Specifically, "Don't use a Second router" – you will have conflicts..blah, blah, blah

    This is well not true…Why…Many people already own a second router.

    It costs absolutely nothing to simply enter the routers configuration setup, turn off DHCP, etc and turn into a switch. It also takes no time at all to do so.

    Considering the price difference between a switch and a router, I would always look at the option of buying a router and configuring it as a switch.

    The impression that is invariably given is "Do not use that router you have stashed in the cupboard..go buy a switch".

  8. Jason says:

    Yes, Russ, simply take one of the ports from the router and add a switch. You can daisy chain as many switches as needed. Basically, the only rule is you don't want more than 1 router on a network because they will conflict with dishing out IP addresses on the LAN. It's something called NAT.

  9. Oliver says:

    Someone linked this in a forum recently so 3 years on its still relevant, but its been ages since I’ve seen hubs on sale, it seems like everything is a switch now.

  10. Bill says:

    I would rephrase theboxseat slightly: If you can follow directions well, then either a router (turn off several features) or switch will be fine. Go with what you already have (SEE CAVEAT AT BOTTOM). Well, not a hub if you are going to do any streaming or have NAS (network attached storage). You can always easily upgrade IF needed and when you see a good sale.

    An unmanaged switch will be simplest but less efficient than a managed switch. For a typical “high need” home with five desktops or laptops, a couple of networked TVs with a HTC, a shared printer, one or two USB hard drives connected directly to your router, and maybe even an extra wireless access point to reach the back bedroom and over the garage office, go unmanaged. Upgrading to gigabit will make more difference than the type of switch.

    Definitely avoid a hub (except short term) if you are going to be streaming video to or from any of the PCs on the hub. If you are going to purchase, there is no reason to buy a hub when a new switch with 4 to 8 LAN gigabit ethernet ports can be had for <$20 on sale (Xmas 2013).

    A lot of us have an old router or a cable or DSL gateway router from a prior provider that is "10/100". Or visit a few garage sales and buy one for <$3. If you need more throughput, then look for gigabit capability.

    One huge caveat: If your old unit does not automatically sense whether you are using straight or crossover cables, buy a new unit. Repeat: IF YOUR OLD BOX IS NOT AUTOSENSING, BUY A NEW ONE. Unless you are used to figuring out cables and have an assortment at hand and have a testing unit and know how to use it, repeat after me: GET AUTOSENSE feature.

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