What’s the difference between a Hub, a Switch and a Router?

Very simply it could be said to be “Intellegence.”

It has come to my attention that these are very easily confused by many people.  When you walk into a BestBuy or other electronic store and look at the network connectivity aisle you’ll find many different hubs, switched and routers.

So which one do you want?  What is the difference between a Hub, a Switch and a Router?

Well let’s start with looking at what’s similar about them and why they are all in that same aisle.  Hubs, switches, and routers are all devices that let you connect one or more computers to other computers, networked devices, or to other networks.  Each one has ports to plug cables to connect multiple computer or video game systems.  In addition many offer a wireless WiFi to connect even more devices to without cabling.

So that’s how they are similar now, what is the difference between a Hub, a Switch and a Router?

A Hub

a hub is typically the least expensive, least intelligent, and least complicated of the three. Its job is very simple: anything that comes in one port is sent out to all of the others. That’s it. Every computer connected to the hub “sees” everything that every other computer on the hub sees. The hub itself does not know anything about the data being transmitted.

A Switch

A switch does essentially what a hub does but more efficiently. By paying attention to the traffic that comes across it, it can “learn” where particular addresses are. For example, if it sees traffic from machine A coming in on port 2, it now knows that machine A is connected to that port and that traffic to machine A needs to only be sent to that port and not any of the others. The net result of using a switch over a hub is that most of the network traffic only goes where it needs to rather than to every port. On busy networks this can make the network significantly faster.

A Router

A router is the smartest and most complicated of the bunch. Routers come in all shapes and sizes from the small four-port broadband routers that are very popular right now to the large industrial strength devices that drive the internet itself. A simple way to think of a router is as a computer that can be programmed to understand, possibly manipulate, and route the data its being asked to handle. For example, broadband routers include the ability to “hide” computers behind a type of firewall which involves slightly modifying the packets of network traffic as they traverse the device. All routers include some kind of user interface for configuring how the router will treat traffic. The really large routers include the equivalent of a full-blown programming language to describe how they should operate as well as the ability to communicate with other routers to describe or determine the best way to get network traffic from point A to point B.

So which do I want?

Depending upon what you are looking to do you probably want either a Router or a Switch.

If you need a piece of hardware to connect your computers to each other as well as to the internet you want a router.  The router will usually have the capability to assign unique IP Addresses to all of the computers in your network and connect and share an internet connection.

If you already have a connection to the internet and IP addresses are already being assigned by a device (like the router or a server) but you need to connect more computers to your network, you most likely want a switch.  You could use a hub but switches have been coming done drastically in pricing over the past several years and as stated above they are much more efficient.  So I would highly recommend them over a simple hub.

I hope this helps give a basic understanding of some of the major differences between a hub, switch, and a router.


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