The ability to network or connect to different devices is one of the greatest technological advancements in modern society. It allows us to transfer data from one device to another, ultimately providing our LAN and WAN.
The most reliable way to connect to a network is through cables, such as an Ethernet cable. However, as each device will have limited Ethernet ports, you will need a network switch or hub.
These network devices allow multiple computers to connect to a central station, providing a network connection. However, an Ethernet switch and a hub differ in some ways, which we will discuss below.
Ethernet Switch vs Hub: Understanding the Similarities and Differences
An Ethernet switch and a hub have many similarities. Both provide multiple ports for Ethernet (LAN) cables and options for other wired connections such as BNC and fiber optic. You can quickly identify these devices inside a network as the rectangular box-shaped device where all the LAN cables are connected.
Many people will have trouble identifying a network switch from a hub. If you’re looking for one in particular, read the labels in store or ask the seller if you’re buying online.
This is an Ethernet switch:
Although it is an Ethernet hub:
Although an Ethernet switch and hub may have a similar purpose of transmitting data from one device to another, they differ in the method of relaying those data signals. Indeed, they operate on different layers of the OSI model. The layer in which they operate dictates the capabilities and limitations of each device and their use case scenarios.
To better understand the difference between a network switch and a hub, let’s briefly discuss each device about what it is, what it is used for, and its strengths and weaknesses within a network.
Let’s start with the network switch, as these are the more commonly used of the two.
The Ethernet Switch
A simple Ethernet switch is a data processing device that operates primarily on Layer 2 (data link layer) of the OSI model. Operation at the data link layer allows an Ethernet switch to use MAC address tables.
Access to a list of MAC addresses allows an Ethernet switch to send and receive data about specific devices connected to it. The great thing about MAC addresses is that they will always be unique, reducing data traffic collisions and other issues.
Some network switches can operate on both layers 2 and 3 (network layer) of the OSI model. Thus, in addition to a MAC address table, these layer 3 switches will also have access to an IP routing table, allowing the redirection of data via assigned IP addresses within the network.
When to Use an Ethernet Switch
Many would agree that network switches are superior in every way to a hub. Although this is not necessarily true, they have very good reason to believe it.
As a full-duplex network bridge that operates at the data link layer and sometimes the network layer, a switch offers better speed, privacy, security, and versatility compared to a hub. For these reasons, a switch is used on almost any network that requires more Ethernet ports than a router can provide.
You should opt for a network switch if you are designing a network for home, school, office or business. Basically, when in doubt, use a switch. You simply can’t go wrong with one.
The Ethernet Hub
An Ethernet hub or network hub is a simple network device that extends a network by providing multiple Ethernet ports. It operates under the physical layer (Layer 1) of the OSI model and does not require additional administration as its only function is to copy and transmit data to all clients (computers, printers, smart TVs, etc.) connected to the hub.
This means that if you try to send a message to one computer, all computers on the network will also receive the message. So, as you can imagine, the downside of using a hub is the lack of privacy within the network.
Because an Ethernet hub uses simple electronics and is easier to manufacture, it can be cheaper than a network switch. However, since unmanaged switches are already relatively inexpensive, saving a few bucks on a hub and missing out on all the functionality of a switch just isn’t worth it, unless you’re using a hub to other reasons!
When to use an Ethernet hub
Although an Ethernet hub is mostly obsolete, there are still a few usage scenarios where using a hub is more practical than a switch.
A hub can be a viable option when a network is designed to be used for mass production. Maybe you have a 3D printing business where you mass produce 3D printed parts for the consumer market. Since you’re sending the same designs to multiple 3D printers anyway, a simple hub should work just fine.
Another viable use case for the mute half-duplex hub is when you need to monitor a client. Cybersecurity specialists and administrators can use an Ethernet hub to monitor data packets where the client has no ability to hide or hide the information sent or received.
Although network hubs have very few use case scenarios, they will still have a place in some networks. You just need to understand their limitations and make sure the network is right for them.
Hub vs Switch: which one to choose?
It can be difficult to identify whether a device is a switch or a hub. After all, both look alike physically and serve the same purpose of transferring data and providing Ethernet ports for client devices.
To summarize, a network switch uses MAC addresses and sometimes IP routing tables to transfer data to a specific client device. In contrast, a network hub is a device that replicates all the data it receives and forwards it to every client device connected to it.
Use an Ethernet hub if you are designing a network where you want a multitude of devices to perform automated repetitive tasks. If you don’t have a good reason to use a hub, always use an Ethernet switch because it’s full-duplex, secure, and provides privacy within the network.
Now that you understand the differences between these two devices, hopefully you will have a better idea of using a switch or hub in your network.
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