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Hub vs. Switch: What’s the Real Difference?

Hub vs. Switch: What’s the Real Difference?

Key Points

  • Hubs and switches are different devices used in computer networking.
  • Hubs gather network signals and output them as a combined signal, while switches efficiently route traffic based on MAC addresses.
  • Hubs have limited uses and are less efficient compared to switches.
  • Switches are prevalent in modern networks and are preferred for their speed and efficiency.

Hub vs. switch: what’s the real difference? When it comes to computer networking, there is a slew of different devices. Now, some do have a bit of overlap, like gateways and modems. However, aside from that you’re looking at entirely different uses and functions for most of these devices.

The hub used to be a mainstay of computer networking in the earliest years of the technology. Methodologies and concepts have long since advanced from the need for hubs despite their occasional use. The switch is one of the cornerstones of modern networking, simply put. We couldn’t use modern computer networks without the advent of the router and the switch.

Today’s comparison will be taking a closer look at these two pieces of network hardware and deconstructing how they function, where they’re used, and which ones you’re more likely to find. As a former network engineer and administrator, I’m familiar with both, so rest assured that you’re in good hands.

Hub vs. Switch: Side-by-Side Comparison

HubSwitch
FunctionConnecting multiple ethernet cables into a central location.Monitoring and distributing traffic across a local area network
Types of DeviceActive and passive hubsEdge, distribution, and core switches
Support for Distributing TrafficSomewhat, but it isn’t a core function of a hub.Yes
Duplex CommunicationNot supported, hubs operate at half-duplexFull and half-duplex are supported
OSI LayerLayer 1Layer 2
Method of Data TransmissionBitsPackets
Smart FunctionalityNoneYes
Method of Handling TrafficHubs don’t have a method of traffic managementSwitches use MAC tables to distribute information across multiple different devices.

Hub vs. Switch: What’s the Difference?

As you can likely tell, there is a massive difference between the core intent behind both of these devices. You’ll still find hubs in active use across network closets, but they aren’t a crucial element. Instead, they’re something of a throwback to an era before the development of standards like the current network stack.

Use Case

hub vs. switch
A basic switch can maximize the bandwidth of a network.

In the many network closets I’ve been in, there wasn’t much of a distinct use for hubs. As a networking device, a hub simply gathers all incoming network signals from ethernet cables and outputs them as a combined signal. This is fine for use on something like a router, which might have limited ports. However, it isn’t the best way to have ideal network saturation as a whole for all of your devices.

Hubs have very limited uses, as you might imagine. The aforementioned example for routers is about the only instance where I’ve seen them deployed. It is certainly a situational deployment as well and is best suited for smaller offices and business campuses.

Switches are arguably one of the most important pieces of network hardware you’ll have in your infrastructure. It is deployed alongside a router in most cases and helps to create networks where speed and efficiency are paramount. This is accomplished in a fairly intuitive method, provided you’ve done your reading. Simply put, the switch allows for complex modern networks to be designed.

Thanks to the core function of a switch, it doesn’t lack speed or congestion either. We’ll go a little deeper into how they work, but the switch is an intelligent device. The method in how it handles traffic allows for full-speed transmission of data even among dozens of connections operating on the same overall network segment.

How Do They Work?

A hub has a single input ethernet port feeding to a router and multiple outputs that can be connected to devices on a network. Whatever traffic is being received is transmitted to all devices on the network segment. The network interface card on a computer will have to recognize whether the traffic is intended for that device or not. Because of the nature of this transmission, it operates at half-duplex speeds.

This isn’t true two-way communication, and effectively cuts the speed of a network in half. In the earliest days of networking, they were invaluable devices. You couldn’t dream of the possibility of having all the devices intercommunicating with one another. They still function in the same manner, with the bonus of amplifying signals as needed.

A switch is more robust in terms of overall functionality. Like a hub, you’ll have a single input port from the likes of a router and multiple output ports intended to go to workstations in a network segment. However, the traffic is routed efficiently thanks to the MAC addresses present on any piece of hardware.

This allows for traffic to reach its destination in an efficient, and more importantly, speedy manner. The switch operates in full-duplex mode as well. Full-duplex allows for true two-way communication so a device can send and receive packets at the same time.

Place in Modern Networking

hub vs. switch
The switch is a staple of modern networking and is part of any modern topology.

So, is the hub still in use in modern networking? Just about any edge you can get when configuring a network is handy. However, you’ll find hubs in far more limited capacities than their previous heyday. I mentioned earlier they serve a useful purpose when administering connections to smaller businesses or networks.

However, they are slow, inefficient, and rely more on the network interface card of your computer to make a stable connection. This can lead to lost bits, network collisions, and a whole other list of complaints. You’ll still find them in use, they just aren’t the most effective means of designing a network.

The switch is a massive deal in modern networking. You’ll find them in every network closet of every major corporation with an IT department. They effectively fill the same express role as the hub, but do so smarter and more efficiently. You aren’t compromising the speed or integrity of your traffic with a switch either.

As such, even smaller switches are preferable to something like a hub. You can connect multiple devices with smaller switches and still retain the same functionality. A hub is more of an act of desperation because you don’t have a switch to connect all your devices to a router. It is an outdated device that hangs on more out of convenience rather than preference these days.

Which Are You More Likely to Find in a Network Closet?

I’m not a betting person by any means. However, I would wager you could step into the network closet of any bank, firm, and so forth and find a switch. When I worked for smaller shops, we would have smaller switches. They are just more efficient as a whole for suiting your networking needs.

That said, I have seen a hub exactly one time. I managed a network for a bank that had been open in the same area since the early 80s. They had a hub, but the thing was older than I am. They certainly still manufacture new hubs, but it is simply a better choice to opt for something like a four-port switch and call it a day.

Hub vs. Switch: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Hubs have no method of network traffic management.
  • Hubs broadcast all network traffic to every connected device.
  • Switches use MAC addresses to send traffic to its intended destination.
  • Switches are prevalent in just about every network you can imagine.
  • Switches use packets as the main method of transmission.

Hub vs. Switch: Which One is Better? Which One Should You Choose?

I’ve likely made it abundantly clear during this comparison where my preference lies. If you’re setting up a larger network, I would honestly suggest getting a switch. They are going to lead to less headaches and more overall efficiency when looking at managing your network. A switch isn’t particularly hard to set up.

The hub still has its place for certain, especially if you’re in a bind and need to send multiple data streams out from a router. However, the lack of traffic management and other utilities make it a poor choice for a fast network.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are hubs and switches the same thing?

No, they are fundamentally different devices.

Are hubs capable of high-speed data transmission?

If there is only one device connected, then yes. Otherwise, hubs operate at half-duplex speeds.

What layer of the OSI Model does a hub use?

Hubs are Layer 1 devices.

What layer of the OS model does a switch use?

Switches are Layer 2 devices.

Can you use a switch in a home network?

Sure, but a wireless router is more likely to handle all of your needs.

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