Routers, hubs and switches all perform similar functions on home and business networks. Each one, however, does the job a bit differently. Hubs used to be the only way to join network devices over an Ethernet network. As computers and software used more bandwidth, hubs needed an upgrade and switches became the standard. Routers have always performed like switches but their function is different. They are responsible for joining outside networks where switches work within a single network.
The function of a hub is simple. It takes the signal transmitted from one computer and rebroadcasts it to all the other computers attached to it. This means that if Computer A sends a message to Computer B, Computer C still gets the message and looks at it. Computer C looks into the packet and sees that the data is not for it, so it takes no action. This still takes up processor time from Computer C.
Switches are like hubs but have internal processing capacity. They are able to memorize the Media Access Control (MAC) address of all the devices attached and what ports they are on. Using this information, a switch can take the information transmitted by Computer A and send it directly to Computer B. In this case, Computer C never sees the data. Switches can also reserve bandwidth for a single conversation between computers so that the rest of the bandwidth is freed up for other conversations.
Routers perform the same functions as switches, so some are referred to as switching routers. The function that makes them routers instead of just switches is the ability to join several networks together and act as a gateway device between them. This function is used in home networking when a router joins the home network to the larger network of the Internet, providing online access.
The technologies of all three are compatible with each other. You can have a home network with a router bringing in Internet, switches below that and hubs below that. If a router will perform the job of a switch, it is much more economic to use one device instead of several.
If you have a network using several hubs that are daisy-chained together, upgrading to a single switch with sufficient ports will speed up your Internet and provide cost savings overall. More functions mean more cost, but even if it costs a little more, the savings in time and productivity could justify the upgrade.
- Photo Credit Flickr.com: bitterjug
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