The difference between an ethernet splitter a hub and a switch
- By Christopher Kielty, last updated May 22, 2018
Ethernet splitters, hubs, and network switches can all be used to expand and improve a network. Each of these devices has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. In this guide we’ll go over how each of these handy tools work, how they differ from each other, and how each one is best used.
The cables in most home networks contain four twisted pairs of wire. That’s eight wires in total. Cat 5e is a common example of this. 100BASE-T is an ethernet standard which handles network traffic at a nominal rate of 100mb/s.
100BASE-T requires only two twisted pairs. So basically half of a Cat 5e cable. Just four out of the eight available wires. So if we’re only using half of the wires in the cable, couldn’t we make one cable act as two cables? Why yes! Yes we can! And that’s exactly what an ethernet splitter does!
In the diagram below, the red wires represent data connection A and the blue wires represent data connection B. Grey represents unused wires. In other words, think of the red and grey lines on the top as one ethernet cable and the blue and grey lines on the bottom as another ethernet cable. Two cables with a total of 16 wires go in, one cable with eight wires comes out. Magic. Connect to the second splitter to revert back to two cables before reaching a switch, or a router, or a computer or what have you.
If you've got two devices in one room and a router or a switch or something in another room, and you're ok with 100mb/s, and you've got two spare ports on the other end, a splitter would be a pretty nifty way to connect everything up.
That said, considering how cheap ethernet switches are these days, that might actually be the best way to go. It really depends. But with an inexpensive ethernet splitter you can just run a single cable directly from your modem/router to the ethernet switch in another room, and from there you get several extra ports you can use to connect things up. You get more ports, maybe more speed (maybe), and these days this is pretty cheap. Maybe the same or cheaper than going the splitter route, depending on which one you get. Check back soon for specific recommendations on both cost effective and performance options.
Ethernet cables and splitters are pretty inexpensive, easy to use, don't have any software to setup, and don't require a power outlet. If you go this route you will probably want to pick up a few more short ethernet cables, especially for the modem/router side of the setup. These are fairly cheap.
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The splitter comes with several drawbacks. First there’s the 200mb/s limit (100mb/s per connection 100BASE-T). Also, you'll need to have two ethernet ports available. We’re not actually creating any more ports. All split connections (with an ethernet splitter) must be un-split on the other end. We’re really only combining two connections into one cable at one end, then un-combining those two connections back into two physical cables at the other end. Perhaps a better name would be “100BASE-T Combiner/Un-combiner”. I think that would be much more descriptive of what these things actually do.
These really aren't all that common anymore. Hubs make more ethernet ports by basically repeating network traffic. Actually, a hub kind of works like a splitter sounds like it should work. You connect a router to a hub in another room with a single cable. You then connect multiple devices to the hub.
Hubs repeat all of the network traffic that is sent to them. All of it. That’s good because it extends the network, creating more connection points. It’s bad because repeating everything uses bandwidth, slowing down the network. If you don’t have too many devices running at the same time, this probably won’t be a problem. Generally speaking, however, there are better ways to do this.
Meet the ethernet switch. It’s magic. Magic you say? Yup. Using the magic that is packet switching, these things can figure out which device is trying to connect to whatever other device and connect just those two. No need to burden the rest of the network with all that extra bandwidth! The difference between this and a hub is kind of like using walkie talkies to communicate over a distance instead of just yelling very loudly. Megaphones, maybe? Hmm...
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