After choosing those network cards, it’s time to start shopping for the device you’ll connect them to, namely a switch or a hub. Yes, they both look very much alike, but when it comes to performance, the two couldn’t be farther apart.
Although hubs are cheaper than switches, they suffer from a few key drawbacks – first, when multiple systems are connected to a hub, they can only communicate in half-duplex. That’s similar to a CB radio, except that in this case, a connected PC can only send or receive data at once, and not both. When PCs are connected to a hub, they are truly sharing the network, and only one system can send data over the network at a time. In other words, if one system is sending data, another can’t. If a second system tries to use the network at the same time, a collision occurs, and data needs to be retransmitted. Although this might be fine for a home network, you’re much better off moving to the next step up, namely a switch.
Unlike with a hub, multiple PCs connected to a switch can send and receive data simultaneously. When system are connected to directly to their own switch port (rather than through a hub connected a switch port), collisions don’t happen, and all systems can transmit at the maximum speed that the switch and network card allow, hopefully 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps) if you’ve planned things right. The absence of collisions and the ability for multiple systems to transmit and receive data in full duplex simultaneously are the major advantages of a switch, and that’s what you’re paying for. The good news is that a switch only costs slightly more than a hub, so spend the extra bit and do it right – trust us on this one.
How many ports does your switch need? Well, that’s up to you. A good rule of thumb is to always go for a few more ports than you think you’ll need. More switches come with a minimum of 4 ports for home users, up to hundreds for business environments. Most home users will easily get by with an 8-port model, which will also allow you to connected a home router or even a network printer later, with room to spare.
Finally, ensure that the switch you choose supports 10, 1000, and 1000 Mbps connections on every port – some will support only one or another, and that’s one mess that you want to avoid. You’ll not helping anything by choosing a lower-priced switch that only supports 100 Mbps connections. Eventually, you may have to plug in a 10 Mbps network card that will not work, so it’s better to be safe (and completely flexible) than sorry.