Terms such as network switch, Ethernet switch, network hub and router are often used interchangeably. While these devices often serve similar bridging functions between computers, network devices and other networks, there are differences. To simplify, a network switch typically houses several input and output ports and serves as a central location controller. It examines incoming traffic from network devices like desktop computers, printers, cameras, A/V receivers, phones or a smart TV, then optimizes and distributes bandwidth where you want it to go. It’s the optimizing part that makes a switch different from a network hub. Hubs are used less and less these days because they’re less efficient than switches and are therefore liable to slow down traffic overall. An Ethernet switch is used in a wired network to connect devices using Ethernet cables. Even with a switch, you will still need a router to connect to the internet. You may want to consider getting networking cables for both the router and other component connections.
Choosing between a managed switch and an unmanaged switch is important when determining the best network switch for you. A managed switch is intended for users who want to fine-tune, monitor and manage their network settings. An unmanaged switch is designed principally to provide you with more ports and to handle the traffic without a need for ongoing maintenance. If you’re using an Ethernet network, you can choose a Fast Ethernet switch or a Gigabit switch, since both are variations on the Ethernet standard and use the same cabling. These two switches look and work similarly, but Gigabit Ethernet provides greater bandwidth and offers faster speeds.
Network switch advantages: What you should know.
Another option to consider is a Power over Ethernet, or PoE switch. This switch passes data between devices like a conventional network switch, and it also passes electrical power, simplifying the connection by providing a single cable for devices that require both data and electrical. PoE technology has many applications, including security camera systems using IP (internet protocol) cameras rather than analog cameras, and a VoIP phone, with voice over internet protocol technology that allows you to make phone calls from an internet-connected computer.
To sum up: if you run out of ports on your router, or if you have an entertainment center requiring multiple wired connections but running yards of Ethernet cables isn’t a sensible option, then you need a network switch. You probably want an unmanaged switch that pretty much takes care of everything for you and is generally less expensive than a managed version. Plus, you’ll want to determine how many extra ports you need, from 5 ports up to 52 ports. Finally, if it works for you, you’ll get up to 10 times the upload speed from a Gigabit switch than you’ll get from a Fast Ethernet switch.