How to Choose Between Network Switches and Hubs

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How to Choose Between Network Switches and Hubs

Creating and operating a computer network can be one of the most effective ways a business or organisation can facilitate internal communication, data exchange, printing, and more. Of course, in order to do this, consumers need to understand how to choose the right devices for a network to operate efficiently. Many consumers get confused about the distinction between two network devices, network switches and network hubs. Each of these devices serves its own important and useful purpose, but the differences between them is often vague for the layperson.

Understanding how each of these devices functions and their roles inside a network can help a consumer make a more informed choice when setting up a network. Once consumers are capable of making a more informed decision about a network switch or hub, they may want to explore some of the retail options open to them. Traditional, offline computer vendors sometimes carry a range of hubs and switches, but the largest catalogues of options are available via online aggregators, such as eBay.

Understanding How Networks, Hubs, and Switches Work

In order to make the most informed decision, consumers need to have a thorough understanding of the ins and outs of a network, including the roles switches and hubs play within that network. Learning this information can help them go on to select switches and hubs based on their business' needs and working parameters.

How Networks Function

In order to understand how switches and hubs work, consumers must first understand how networks function and transmit data. When a computer ported with a network transmits data on that network, it sends it in something called 'packets'. These packets are labelled with a source address as well as a destination address, commonly referred to as the MAC address or media action control address. Each computer has a MAC address that is entirely unique to it. When devices on the network encounter the data packet, they can either utilise or ignore the MAC address associated with it.

How Network Hubs Function

Hubs are multi-port repeaters that are used to connect multiple PCs together within a network. A hub is a 'repeater' because it essentially just relays or 'repeats' any data that it receives automatically and transmits it throughout the network. The delineating factor with a hub is that it is not designed to recognise or utilise the MAC address of a data package. This means that a hub passes data that it receives to the entire network without discrimination, neither verifying packet integrity nor assessing traffic quality. All ports and their associated computers receive the data, and they then discern whether the data is for them or not.

This also means that one transmission of data takes up all the ports and bandwidth in a network momentarily. Any computer on the network wanting to send its own data packet will need to queue up and wait. This can create traffic jams of sorts within a network. This repeater traffic does not cause problems on a small-scale network, but it can on a large-scale one.

How Network Switches Function

A switch is very much like a more intelligent version of a hub. When a network switch encounters a data packet on a network, it actually takes the time to assess the data, decipher its MAC address, and send that packet to its intended destination. The switch has already learned the MAC address of each computer on the network and knows which port that computer is attached to.

A network switch can receive data from all ports at once without any 'traffic jams'; moreover, a computer on a network with a network switch never needs to parse through any unnecessary data and can always leverage its own bandwidth to transmit to the network. Due to their complexity and advanced capabilities, switches are much more expensive than network hubs.

Network Switch Features

Network switches do, however, also have the virtue of coming with useful accessory features. One such feature is bandwidth monitoring. This allows users to monitor the health and efficiency of network traffic. Network switches are also stackable. This stackability means that they can be connected together in such a way that increases their performance speeds beyond the port speeds of the units.

Choosing Between Network Hubs and Switches

Once consumers understand the nature and function of hubs and switches, they can begin to determine how these devices can best serve their business' or organisation's technological demands. This involves assessing the size of a network and also understanding how many devices they might need to create a fast and efficient network.

Assessing the Size of a Network

Before purchasing either a hub or switch, consumers need to consider carefully how many users they plan on having on a network. The following table outlines some recommendations for which types of devices and set-ups to use with different size networks, along with some of the advantages of those scenarios.

Network Size

Devices/Setup

Advantages

Less Than 10 Users

One hub

Cost-efficient

Not enough traffic to cause jams in a hub

Less Than 30 Users

Three or more connected hubs

Still more cost-effective than incorporating a switch

Network traffic from this number of users will not cause jams with several hubs

More Than 30 Users

Several hubs with a switch as a centre

Switch can control traffic and eliminate jams

In some scenarios, consumers may already have a series of hubs in place and may be experiencing slow traffic. If this is the case, they can consider implementing a switch at the centre of the network to guide traffic more efficiently. With more than 50 to 100 users, a network manager may need to incorporate more switches as hubs are added since there are certain rules as to how many hubs can connect together on a network.

The Rules for Connecting Hubs Together

Adding more hubs to a network is the easiest way to allow more users to join a network as a business or organisation grows. Consumers should keep in mind, however, that there are limits to how many hubs can connect with one another and that switches have to be integrated along with additional hubs at some point. This can help consumers understand whether they need a switch or how many switches they may need. The following table outlines some of the rules and limits guiding hub implementation to help avoid collisions and jams on a network.

Connector Type

Restrictions

Ethernet 10BASE-T

Maximum repeater hops is four

Category 3 or 5 10BASE-T cables with a maximum length of 100 m

Fast Ethernet 100BASE-TX

Maximum repeater hops is two for Class II

Class I cannot connect directly to another hub

Category 5 twisted-pair 100BASE-TX

Maximum length of 250 m

Consumers constructing a large-scale network should make sure that they adhere to these requirements. Sidestepping these guidelines can cause traffic collisions and confusion in a network that make it slow and unproductive.

Buying Network Switches and Hubs on eBay

The online retail site eBay is a good choice for consumers who want to look at a variety of switches and hubs to comparison shop and make an informed decision. The site provides users with an easy start to the purchasing process with the inclusion of a search bar located on all the pages of the site. Entering a search term into this interface and clicking on 'Search' pulls up a list of all the items on the site that relate to that search term. The site also provides you with the option to refine the resulting list. Scan through the list and click on any listing title that seems relevant to your needs.

Evaluating Sellers on eBay

Another advantage eBay extends to consumers is the opportunity to evaluate a seller with whom you are interested in doing business. You can do this by communicating directly with a seller, if you like, to ask questions and make sure that they have the product you need. You can also review a seller's feedback or look at past listings on the seller's page, which can be accessed by clicking on the seller's highlighted name from the listing's page.

Conclusion

Building an efficient and reliable network is essential for many businesses. To do this, business owners may need to find and purchase network switches and hubs. Without the right understanding of these products, however, buying a network switch or hub could be confusing. Many consumers are unsure of the differences between the two devices and how they work within a network. By first gaining an understanding of these factors, a consumer can approach the purchasing process with ease.

When shopping for these devices, consumers can get a good deal of benefits out of using the retail site eBay. This site gives them the option of searching easily through a large catalogue and doing quick comparison shopping, while also allowing them to get to know the sellers on the site. Brick and mortar computer stores also offer a selection of network switches and hubs, but the comparison process can be a lot more time consuming.

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