Ethernet Switch vs. Ethernet Hub: 3 Key Differences

Radia Perlman Ethernet

Ethernet Switch vs. Ethernet Hub: 3 Key Differences

While an ethernet connection is far more secure, far more stable, and oftentimes far faster than even the best Wi-Fi connection, there’s one major factor holding ethernet back. That’s its status as a wired connection type instead of a wireless one. Thankfully, there are ways to extend your ethernet connection and make it nearly as flexible as if it were wireless. This brings up a debate, however: What’s the better option between an ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub? Let’s examine the key differences between the two in order to come up with an answer.

Infographic Ethernet Switch vs Ethernet Hub

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

PropertyEthernet SwitchEthernet Hub
Number of Connections5 to 128 or more4 to 16 or more
Max Mbps Supported1000Mbps1000Mbps
Average PricePricierCheaper
Ethernet StandardIEEE 802.1DIEEE 802.3
PurposeConnect multiple devices to a single local area networkConnecting multiple devices under one network segment
Ethernet Splitter vs. Ethernet Switch
Ethernet switches exist to connect a number of internet-enabled devices to your local area network.

©Sub/Public Domain – License

5 Must-Know Facts About Ethernet

  • By and large, wired networks are far more secure than wireless ones. With a wired connection, the possibility of a cyber criminal hacking or co-opting a network decreases significantly. With a wireless connection, on the other hand, chances of a security breach increase exponentially.
  • The word “ethernet” comes from the theory of luminiferous ether. In the 19th century, the belief was that luminiferous ether was the substance being used to transmit electromagnetic waves through cables. Later, the theory of luminiferous ether was disproven by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Still, the ethernet name remains.
  • Ethernet was first introduced to the commercial market way back in 1980, though it was not officially standardized by IEEE 802.3 until three years later in 1983. It was officially created by researchers and developers at the Xerox Corporation a decade prior in 1973.
  • Before there was ethernet, there were a number of other wired LAN technologies used to connect computers to larger networks. These included ARCNET, FDDI, and Token Rings, among other lesser options.
  • The latest ethernet standard, Cat 8, officially defines the parameters of what an ethernet cable should meet today. This includes data transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps. Wi-Fi’s top speeds top out around 10 Gbps, and that’s only in the most advanced forms of this wireless connection. Even fiber internet falls closer to the 1 Gbps range.

Ethernet Switch vs. Ethernet Hub: 3 Key Differences

With these basic specs sorted out above, let’s take a closer look at the key differences between an ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub. From their maximum number of connections to their typical price to their ideal purpose, these three key differences help make the distinctions between the two clearer than ever.

Number of Connections

In theory, and in accordance with the 5-4-3 rule, both an ethernet switch and an ethernet hub could have up to 254 connections. However, this is simply far too many for the average consumer to need in a lifetime of connectivity. As such, it’s much more reasonable to consider what’s typical for an ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub. In this respect, an ethernet switch typically ranges between as little as five ports to as many as 52. An ethernet hub, by comparison, tends to fall between four and 12. Any more, and you’ll face serious performance issues.

Average Price

Secondly, after the number of connections, it’s worth considering the typical price for an ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub. We can se that an ethernet switch tends to be more expensive than an ethernet hub, but what does that actually look like? Well, an ethernet switch will cost you around $30 for a five-port switch and as much as $3,000 for a 52-port switch. Ethernet hubs, by comparison, will typically come in at less than $30. This price has everything to do with the tech inside. Switches are simply more advanced than hubs.

Intended Purpose

Lastly, we should consider the intended purpose of an ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub. Ethernet switches exist to connect a number of internet-enabled devices to your local area network (i.e. LAN). These switches are used to improve connectivity throughout the network, helping multiple devices enjoy the benefits of a hard-wired ethernet connection. Hubs, by comparison, connect multiple ethernet ports together and make them function as one. Basically, switches take one connection and share it with multiple ports, while hubs take multiple connections and make them act as one.

How an Ethernet Switch Works

Ethernet switches and ethernet splitters have always been confused for one another. It has to do with their similar-sounding names, not their functions — their functions couldn’t be more different. Alas, many consumers continue to purchase and implement ethernet splitters when they’re actually much better off installing a switch. Here’s the truth: a single ethernet signal can never be split in two separate but equal signals like you can with audio or video. Ethernet splitters do something completely separate. (More on this later.) Ethernet switches are the closest thing to doing the impossible.

Consisting of a single ethernet port on one end and up to 128 or more ports on the opposite end, ethernet switches allow users to connect their router to their switch and then offer space for tens or hundreds of other ethernet-enabled devices to the other end. Instead of dividing up this one ethernet signal from the router into as many as 128 different signals, ethernet switches actually cycle through the different ports at an impossibly fast speed. In theory, the switch is never sending the network signal through more than one port. In practice, you’ll notice no lapse in coverage.

It must be said that the average joe will not need anywhere near 128 ethernet connections in their home or small business. Connections in the dozens or the hundreds are better suited for corporate offices and such. Plus, the more connections made through an ethernet switch, the slower your ethernet speeds will ultimately become. In other words, you wouldn’t want 128 connections to a single switch even if you needed that many. For those of us simply trying to connect our PC, our gaming console, our printer, and our streaming box to the router, an ethernet switch is the way to go.

Ethernet Hub Explained

Ethernet hubs have gone by many different names in their time. From network hub to active hub, from multiport repeater to repeater hub, sometimes even simply hub, the ethernet hub aims to connect a number of different ethernet devices via a single device that helps them to act as one network segment. An ethernet signal cannot be split into two or more paths like you can with audio or video, which means an ethernet hub merely does something called frame flooding. This is the term for when a signal is blasted out to all ports instead of cycling through like a switch does.

In essence, there are multiple layers to an Open Systems Interconnection model. Ethernet switches engage with layers one through three, also known as the physical layer, the data link layer, and the network layer. Comparatively, ethernet hubs engage with just the first layer: the physical layer. This means it can only receive and transmit raw bit streams, no more and no less. Because it can engage with more layers, ethernet switches are more secure, efficient, and intelligent than a hub.

As a matter of fact, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers — a.k.a. the IEEE — dubbed the ethernet hub an obsolete technology way back in 2011. According to the standard IEEE 802.3, ethernet hubs are highly discouraged unless in older installations left untouched or certain special applications where an ethernet hub must still be used. With this in mind, it seems a whole lot easier to say which is the superior choice between an ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub. After all, one is obsolete and the other isn’t.

Ethernet switch vs. hub
The ethernet hub connects a number of ethernet devices via a single device to help them act as one network segment.

©George Shuklin/Public Domain – License

Ethernet Switch vs. Ethernet Hub: Alternative Options

With the differences between the ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub clearly established above, it’s worth reviewing some of the other connectivity options available to you. After all, it’s entirely possible that neither an ethernet switch nor an ethernet hub are the solution you’re searching for. Perhaps one of these three alternatives is better suited to your needs.

Ethernet Splitter

Ethernet splitters are tricky. Instead of splitting a single ethernet cord into two separate channels, it’s actually intended to send two separate signals through one single cable. In reality, it’s just one step of a two-step process. For this reason, every ethernet splitter needs to be coupled with a corresponding ethernet combiner. With this particular ethernet option, you can effectively connect two devices to ethernet using a single ethernet port in another room. It basically exists to guide two signals through one cord by splitting and then recombining the signals.

Ethernet Over Power Line

Ethernet over power line, more commonly known by the abbreviation EOP, is also a two-step process. An EOP connection consists of a receiver and a transmitter. To establish a connection, users begin by connecting their transmitter to a power outlet. After that, users need to plug in an ethernet cable into both the EOP and the router. With this, a number of other receivers can now be installed throughout the home using only the power outlets in the wall. (In today’s day and age, Wi-Fi has more or less replaced EOPs.)

Mesh Wi-Fi

Speaking of Wi-Fi, a mesh Wi-Fi network is another great alternative to an ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub. Mesh Wi-Fi networks utilize a number of mini routers throughout the home or office, effectively establishing a web of Wi-Fi connection points around the building. This is undoubtedly the newest and most advanced option on this list, serving as a far more impressive option than both splitters and EOPs alike. With a proper mesh Wi-Fi network, you can easily stretch your wireless connectivity without worrying about any dead zones or lapses in connection.

Ethernet Switch vs. Ethernet Hub: Pros and Cons

Pros of Ethernet SwitchCons of Ethernet Switch
Increases network bandwidthMore expensive than an ethernet hub
Intelligently shares ethernet signal with multiple devicesRequires a number of of ethernet cables
Offers the most secure connectionsStill faces the threat of security breaches
Boosts network performanceHarder to pinpoint connectivity issues
Pros of Ethernet HubCons of Ethernet Hub
Connects multiple devices to one routerRuled obsolete by the IEEE in 2011
More affordable than an ethernet switchUtilizes frame flooding
All ports get the same amount of connectionLess secure than an ethernet switch
Easy to set upSlower speeds with more connections

Ethernet Switch vs. Ethernet Hub: Which Is Best?

So, with all of this taken into consideration, can you say with certainty which is best between the ethernet switch vs. ethernet hub? Absolutely you can. It’s the ethernet switch, and it’s hardly even a close call. Not only were ethernet hubs ruled obsolete more than a decade ago, they’re also just flat-out worse than ethernet switches. The number of downsides with an ethernet hub — slower speeds, poorer security, excessive frame flooding — far outnumber the downsides of an ethernet switch. When all is said and done, the ethernet switch is the way to go.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an ethernet connection better than Wi-Fi?

For the most part, ethernet connections are far faster, far safer, and far more stable than a Wi-Fi connection. Not all devices can connect to Wi-Fi, of course, but for those that can, ethernet is definitely worth looking into.

Do they still make ethernet hubs?

Since being dubbed obsolete by the IEEE in 2011, new ethernet hubs are pretty hard to come by. Your best bet in finding an ethernet hub is to buy one used. However, you’re far better off investing in an ethernet switch instead. They accomplish the same goal, and they do it better.

Is an ethernet switch the same as an ethernet splitter?

An ethernet switch and an ethernet splitter might sound the same, but their functions are quite different. Switches are meant to share an ethernet connection with multiple ports, while a splitter is intended to send two ethernet signals through one port and then send them back out again through a different port.

What's the difference between ethernet and internet?

Though they do sound similar, ethernet and the internet are two different things. The internet is one single massive network that connects users across the globe. Ethernet, on the other hand, is better suited in smaller networks. It’s used to link devices on a local area network (LAN).

Can you connect an ethernet switch to an ethernet switch?

You can connect an ethernet switch to an ethernet switch using an ethernet crossover cable. However, this process — known as daisy chaining — is generally frowned upon by experts for the same reason connecting a power strip to a power strip is frowned upon.

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