Ethernet Splitter vs Switch vs Hub—What’s the Difference?

By Greg Martinez / October 8, 2020
LAN network switch with ethernet cables plugged in

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Your small home network may be fine for a couple of years, but as you add more devices and possibly other networks, you may consider expanding it (if you’ve got the technical chops!).

But how exactly to do so: by using an Ethernet splitter, a hub, or a switch?

Granted, all these alternatives offer the same basic solution to the problem of growing your network. However, they all do it in different ways, with each one having a unique set of pros and cons.

That being said, let’s take a look at the differences between all three of these types of hardware devices.

What is an Ethernet Splitter?

This is the most common—and simplest—choice among those looking to increase the number of Ethernet connections at some point in their home network.

But it’s not always the best option.

An Ethernet splitter is typically a small gizmo with three Ethernet ports: one on one side and two on the other (picture below).

It’s not actually designed to increase the number devices you can connect so much as to reduce the amount of Cat5 cable when connecting two networks in the form of a computer or LAN.

You’ll actually need another splitter at the end of that particular connection to “unsplit” it back to two cables.

Simply put, it’s a device for saving on cable. It essentially creates two lanes of cable traffic and merges them down to one cable.

When you realize that most Cat5e home network cables have a total of eight wires while the 100BASE-T needs only four of them, and that you can use a splitter to merge four wires from different cables into one Cat5e, then you’ll see why splitters are necessary.

Unfortunately, each corresponding pair of Ethernet splitters can only take on two cables since they still rely on the 100BASE-T standard.

This means that a network using Ethernet splitters can only handle about 100Mbps of traffic.

Ethernet Splitter: Example

RJ45 Splitter Connector Adapter 2 Pack

RJ45 Splitter Connector Adapter

Key Benefits

  • Divides a cable into two outputs
  • Simplistic design
  • Dual RJ45 adapter for interconnecting two devices

This RJ45 Splitter Connector Adapter 2 Pack is a good example of an Ethernet splitter designed to interconnect two devices.

It has a built-in thick PCB motherboard that’s durable and ensures excellent and secure signal transmission. Signal transmission from both cables are well insulated and won’t interfere with one another.

What is an Ethernet Switch?

You’ll probably hear terms like “network switch,” “switching hub,” or “bridging hub.” These basically refer to an Ethernet switch.

So, what is it, and what does it do?

Unlike an Ethernet splitter, a switch is a high-speed networking device with several ports that can be directly connected to an internet modem or router.

Depending on the number of ports it has, you can connect several devices from computers to cameras, printers, and a host of other electronics that can connect to the internet or your home network.

That’s why you will commonly find Ethernet switches used in home offices, business buildings, and so on.

Therefore, an Ethernet switch allows multiple devices to connect to the same single modem port or router.

How an Ethernet Switch Works

As stated, an Ethernet switch (or network switch) allows you to connect a wide range of devices to the same router or modem port.

Thanks to numerous ports a network switch has, you can connect devices by simply plugging in their Ethernet cables to the available ports, making communication between devices on different networks possible.

What makes such a switch the most intelligent networking device on this list is that it manages the flow of information or data across the entire network by sending a network packet to its intended device.

It identifies devices on the network by their assigned network address, allowing easy and efficient data flow. It also ensures network security.

Ethernet Switch: Example

TP-Link 8 Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch

TP-Link 8 Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch

Key Benefits

  • Energy saving (up to 80%)
  • Sturdy metal casing
  • Number of ports (8), which are adequate for most applications
  • “Plug and play”
  • Limited lifetime warranty

This TP-Link 8 Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch is easy to set up as it needs no software configuration whatsoever; it’s simply plug and play.

Equipped with 8 ports, this switch expands network capacity without compromising on security or speed.

It has a sturdy metal case and is designed for desktop use or can be mounted on a wall.

It gives you up to 80% savings on energy as it automatically adjusts power consumption based on link status or cable length used.

It also supports auto-negotiation between MDI/MDIX, which allows it to do away with the need for crossover cables.

What is an Ethernet Hub?

You might have heard other names like, “network hub,” “repeater hub,” “multiport hub,” “active hub,” or just simply “hub.” These all mean Ethernet hub.

It’s used to connect several Ethernet devices to make them act as a single network segment.

Equipped with several different ports, the typical Ethernet hub connects different segments of your LAN (local area network).

This gives that segment the ability to mirror each other, which means that as soon as a data packet within the network reaches one of the ports, it can be easily copied to the other ports so that every device within the network segment can see the data packet.

Currently, these devices types are slowly becoming obsolete as they get replaced by Ethernet network switches that are more intelligent and efficient.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s not good for some specialized applications.

Ethernet Hub: Example

NETGEAR 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Hub

NETGEAR 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch

Key Benefits

  • Silent operation
  • “Plug and play”
  • 5 ports
  • Versatile mounting options
  • Energy efficient
  • Three-year warranty

The NETGEAR 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Hub comes with a three-year warranty covered by one of the industry’s leading manufacturers.

With five gigabit ports and a host of mounting options, it provides efficient and effective service.

It’s a plug and play device that’s easy to set up with no complicated software configuration needed.

Couple that with its energy efficiency, and you’ve got a stellar piece of networking equipment.

Which Should You Choose: an Ethernet Splitter, Switch, or Hub?

As you may have already noticed, an Ethernet splitter, hub, and switch do different things and can’t all be used in the same way for expanding your network.

In actuality, the splitter doesn’t really expand your network, while hubs are quickly becoming obsolete.

So, which one should you go for when doing a bit of DIY network expansion?

The obvious answer would be an Ethernet switch but let’s compare them side by side just to see the differences and to get a clear picture:

Ethernet Switch Vs. Ethernet Hub—Which One is for You?

To recap, Ethernet hubs are becoming obsolete. That’s not to say they have no more use in networking; it’s just that their use is becoming more and more specialized, which makes them kind of “special purpose.”

Let’s take a look at two scenarios (both on a home network) that may determine whether you need an Ethernet switch or an Ethernet hub:

Home Network with Few Attached Devices

You’ve got a small home network that only has a few devices and is used by two or three people at most.

An Ethernet hub would actually be the most efficient option.

However, as your network grows, you’ll find that a hub may be less equipped to handle increased traffic and, and thus you might want to upgrade to a more robust, albeit more expensive Ethernet switch.

Home Network with Frequent Traffic Spikes

You’ve got a small home network with few devices, but this time you constantly experience rapid spikes in traffic.

In this case, you might want to go with an Ethernet switch rather than an Ethernet hub.

While a hub could handle the traffic on a typical day, it won’t be the most efficient option during those traffic spikes.

Conclusion

An Ethernet switch would be a better investment in any of these scenarios.

Even though they might be a bit more expensive than your typical hub, they’re not going obsolete any time soon, and offer better network performance and security.

Ethernet Switch vs Ethernet Splitter—Which One is Right for You?

Now let’s break it all down.

Ethernet Splitter

An Ethernet splitter doesn’t expand your network. It simply takes a single Ethernet connection and divides it into two distinct connections.

This means you no longer have to use two Ethernet cables when trying to connect devices from one room to another.

You can use a splitter to divide the data travelling along a single Ethernet cable to connect it with two devices, and then switch it to different rooms.

One of the biggest advantages of an Ethernet splitter is that it doesn’t need energy to work, nor does it require complicated setup procedures. In short, it’s simple and easy to use.

Ethernet Switch

An Ethernet switch, on the other hand, is a powered device that requires electricity to work.

Most Ethernet switches have multiple high-speed ports that can be used to connect a whole host of devices from your computer, laptop, game console, camera, and so on.

Once the device is switched on, it connects all these devices, making it a good choice of tool for expanding your home network without compromising speed and security.

Yes, these devices have their pros and cons, just as they all have their own specific uses and needs, as far as special networking challenges arise.

Overall, if you’re looking to expand your network, you’ll want to go for an Ethernet switch rather than an Ethernet splitter or hub.

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