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Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch: What’s the Difference?

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Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch: What’s the Difference?

Given their similar names, you wouldn’t be wrong for confusing an ethernet splitter and an ethernet switch. Splitting, switching… Same difference, right? Actually, this notion is further from the truth than you might think. An ethernet splitter and an ethernet switch might appear — and may even be advertised — as two different ways to achieve the same goal. However, only one of these devices can seamlessly create multiple ethernet connections from one single ethernet port. Here’s the difference between an ethernet splitter vs. ethernet switch.

Infographic Ethernet Splitter vs Ethernet Switch

Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch: Side-By-Side Comparison

PropertyEthernet SplitterEthernet Switch
Number of Connections3 maximum5 to 128 or more
Max Mbps Supported10Mbps to 100Mbps1000Mbps
Average PriceCheaperPricier
Ethernet Standard100BASE-TIEEE 802.1D
PurposeReduce the number of cables in a network by sending two signals through one cableConnect multiple devices to a single local area network

Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch: Key Differences

Black RJ45 LAN ethernet network connector female splitter 1 to 2 on orange background isolated
Ethernet splitters reduce the number of cables you have to wire into your floor, ceiling, or wall.
Image: Hendrik Sejati, Shutterstock

As you can already tell, an ethernet splitter and an ethernet switch have two similar but completely distinct purposes in a network setup. Let’s take some time to outline the key differences between an Ethernet splitter vs. Ethernet switch to help make things even clearer.

Functionality

Firstly, we see that an ethernet splitter vs. ethernet switch serve two totally different functions. The former is meant to help you cut down on the number of cables you have to wire into your floor, ceiling, or wall. The latter is meant to help you connect multiple ethernet-enabled devices to a single ethernet port. Additionally, a splitter needs a corresponding combiner in order to work properly. A switch, by comparison, is ready to go right out of the box. All you need to do is attach the proper cables and you’ll be good to go. The splitter setup is a lot more involved. (More on that later).

Price

Secondly, there’s price. While less important than the difference in functionality between an ethernet splitter vs. ethernet switch, total cost nevertheless makes a difference in this debate. By and large, ethernet splitters are cheaper than ethernet switches. This is because splitters are just one part of a multi-part setup, whereas switches are all-inclusive. Everything’s contained within the box-shaped device. With a switch, all a person has to do is simply plug everything in. No extra costs or devices needed, unless you count the cost of ethernet cords, which you’ll need for both.

Connections

Thirdly, there’s a big difference in the number of connections between an ethernet splitter vs. ethernet switch. The maximum number of connections an ethernet splitter can provide tops out at three. An ethernet switch, by comparison, can support as many as 128 connections or more, depending on how much you’re willing to pay. Even a basic switch will come with five connections, at least. This increased number of possible connections is yet another advantage for the ethernet switch over the ethernet splitter.

How an Ethernet Splitter Works

Contrary to how they look and sound, an ethernet splitter is not the best way to split one ethernet connection into two. As a matter of fact, an ethernet splitter is just one part of a two-part process of sent two distinct signals through a single ethernet cable. You see, in a proper setup, every ethernet splitter should be paired with an ethernet combiner. The goal is not to allow you to connect your TV and your gaming console to a single ethernet port. Rather, it’s intended to cut down on the number of cables used when setting up a computer network.

Here’s a simple breakdown of an ideal scenario for an ethernet splitter. You have a computer and a printer, both in need of an ethernet connection. However, you only have one ethernet port in the room. What’s more, the internet router is in a completely different room. This is where an ethernet splitter and combiner will come in in handy. You’d first take two ethernet cords and plug them into the router. Then, you’d attach an ethernet combiner to the two cords and use a third ethernet cord to plug into the port in the wall.

In the other room, you’d plug an ethernet cord into the wall and then attach the ethernet splitter to the end of it. From there, you’d plug two additional ethernet cords into the splitter and wire them into the computer and the printer. This is the true function of an ethernet splitter and combiner: to save you from having to run additional wires through floors, ceilings, or walls. Despite the way many use them, an ethernet splitter is not meant to function like an ethernet switch does. It simply helps channel two signals through one cord.

Ethernet Switch Explained

Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch
Back end of Atlantis ethernet switch showing five ports.

Many accidentally buy and install ethernet splitters when what they’re really in search of is an ethernet switch. The fact remains that ethernet signals cannot be divided like audio video signals can. For this reason, ethernet switches do the closest thing possible. With one port on one side and as many as 128 ports on the other, ethernet switches plug one side into a router and allow numerous other devices to wire into to the open ports on the other side. Then, at lightning fast speeds, the switch rapidly alternates from port to port delivering ethernet signals.

Most people won’t need 128 ethernet connections, of course. That kind of massive use case is more likely in a corporate setting. Let’s return to that same scenario used above to make things simple: a room, a router, a PC, and a printer. Here, you’d plug an ethernet switch into the router, then plug two ethernet cords on the other side of the switch: one to the PC and one to the printer. Instead of constant internet access being delivered to both devices at once, the switch will alternate the signal between the two at remarkably high speeds.

To users like us, there’s no difference in quality or speeds. Inside the switch, however, only one of the two devices is ever connected to the internet at one time. The speed of the switch makes it so that the user’s connection is never noticeably interrupted. It’s almost like an illusion. Alas, the more connections a switch has, the slower the speeds will be. However, the high speeds make the change of pace unnoticeable. Unless, of course, there are dozens of connections in a single ethernet switch.

Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch: Alternative Options

Naturally, ethernet splitters and ethernet switches are not the only way to achieve the basic function of connecting multiple devices to one router. There are some alternative options available to you, as well. Let’s review some of the most prominent ones.

Ethernet Hub

An ethernet hub very closely resembles an ethernet switch. However, the technology behind an ethernet hub is a lot more dated (and a lot less dependable). Through an inefficient process called frame flooding, ethernet hubs simply blast an ethernet connection out to multiple ports in hopes that one of them will be the right one. This differs from a switch, which alternates and differentiates between ports. Ethernet hubs still exist, but have largely been phased out in favor of switches.

Ethernet Over Power Line

Also known as an EOP, this alternative is made up of a transmitter and a receiver. To get it to work, you’ll first connect the transmitter to your power outlet. Form there, you’ll attach an ethernet cable to the router and the EOP. You can now establish multiple receivers around the home or office through the power outlets in the wall. Wi-Fi has largely replaced the need for EOPs, but they’re still out there if you look hard enough.

Mesh Wi-Fi

White eero mesh wifi on a table
The Eero mesh Wi-Fi system has two WAN/LAN Gigabit ethernet ports.

No doubt the most recent technology listed here, mesh Wi-Fi networks use various mini routers to establish a number of connection points around your house as opposed to just one router. This helps spread your wireless connection more thoroughly throughout your house or office, eliminating those pesky dead zones so often associated with single-router setups.

Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch: Pros and Cons

Pros of Ethernet SplitterCons of Ethernet Splitter
Cheaper than an ethernet switchReduces data from 1000Mbps to 100Mbps
Reduces the number of cables wired into the floor, ceiling, or wallShrinks the number of wires used by a Cat5e cable
Simple to set upMaximum of two to three connections per splitter
Easily extends your internet connectionRequires a combiner on the other end
Pros of Ethernet SwitchCons of Ethernet Switch
Boost your network bandwidthMore expensive than ethernet splitters
Shares your internet connection to multiple devicesThe more connections made, the slower the connection becomes
More potential connections than ethernet splittersCan be susceptible to security breaches
Increase network performance with easeNetwork connectivity issues are harder to pinpoint

Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Wired connections, such as the ones provided by ethernet cords, are typically far stronger and more dependable than wireless ones (such as Wi-Fi). The same is true of wired headphones vs. Bluetooth headphones.
  • High-speed ethernet cables deliver much faster data than Wi-Fi is capable of.
  • Ethernet was first invented in 1973 by a group of researchers and developers at Xerox.
  • The first ethernet standard — IEEE 802.3 — was published in 1983.
  • At the start, ethernet relied on coaxial cable. Today, ethernet is better supported by fiber optic cable.

Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch: Which Is Best?

Again and again throughout this guide, we’ve seen the ways that ethernet switches triumph over ethernet splitters. To us, it’s no question: An ethernet switch is far preferable to an ethernet splitter. It turns out that the great ethernet splitter vs. ethernet switch debate isn’t all that great after all. Truth be told, once you understand the different purposes each device serves, it’s as clear as day. Ethernet switches are the absolute best way to share a single ethernet connection with multiple devices. Ethernet splitters, by comparison, are best used for other purposes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an ethernet splitter?

Ethernet splitters and combiners are devices used to run just one ethernet cord through a wall, ceiling, or floor instead of two.

What is an ethernet switch?

An ethernet switch is a tool that allows multiple devices to connect to one single ethernet cord safely and efficiently.

What's the difference between an ethernet splitter and an ethernet switch?

An ethernet splitter is used to reduce the number of cables in a network. An ethernet switch is used to connect multiple devices to a single local area network (or LAN).

Is ethernet better than Wi-Fi?

By and large, an ethernet connection is going to be faster, more reliable, and more consistent than a Wi-Fi connection.

How fast is ethernet?

Ethernet is incredibly fast, with some cords supporting data at speeds of up to 10 Gbps.

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