Technology Explained

What’s the Difference Between Routers, Hubs, and Switches?

James Frew 12-05-2016

Sometimes technology can seem, well, techie. There are so many terms, acronyms, and types of hardware 10 Acronyms and Their Meanings You Need to Know in 2015 Technology still continues to improve dramatically and 2015 is certainly no exception. But, with new technology comes new terminology, and with new terminology comes new acronyms. Read More — even when talking about one specific use case, it can be a bit overwhelming. This isn’t helped by journalists and TV shows that misuse either misuse or casually interchange terminology.


With terms like hub, switch, and router used haphazardly by the media, it can be tough to know what means what anymore. So what is the difference between each? And what are they good for?

At their most basic, all three are examples of networking devices Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Do you know the difference between an "access point" and an "ad hoc network? What is a "wireless repeater" and how can it improve your home network? Read More . As for the differences and reasons why each one exists, we’ll have to dive a bit deeper to really understand the nuances. Let’s break each one down.

1. Hub


A hub connects multiple computers together in a Local Area Network (LAN). All information sent to the hub is then sent through each port to every device in the network.

Hubs are unable to tell one computer from another, so they receive information on one port and then blindly forward it to all other ports — whether it was intended for those computers or not.


So even though you may only want to send information to one other computer, if you have five total computers on your network, then there will be four other computers receiving data that wasn’t intended for them.

What Is It Good For?

In most home cases, nothing. Because all the information is copied to every device, not only is this a security nightmare but also its a bandwidth hog.

Imagine if you needed to print a document for your boss, but instead printed one copy of the document for every single employee using the only office printer. That’s the scenario you’re dealing with here.

Although it can be viewed as a security nightmare, if you want to keep an eye on network traffic to see if someone is spending their whole day searching for cat videos on YouTube rather than working, then hubs are a pretty good option.


Recommended Hub Model

D-Link DE-805TP 10Mbps Ethernet Mini Hub 5-Port D-Link DE-805TP 10Mbps Ethernet Mini Hub 5-Port Buy Now On Amazon $70.00

Since hubs have pretty much been superseded by switches, “plain” hubs are few and far between these days. However, if you really want one, the D-Link DE-805TP is a good place to start.

Something to keep in mind when shopping for hubs is that — just like in the media — hubs and switches are often mislabelled. If you are unsure if the device you are checking out is a hub, take a look at Wireshark’s Hub Reference.

2. Switch



A switch connects multiple computers together in a LAN. After the first data transfer, it creates a “switch table” which matches ports to connected devices by their MAC addresses.

Switches, unlike hubs, are able to differentiate between computers as the first time data passes through the switch, it looks to see which MAC addresses are connected to which ports and remembers the layout.

What Is It Good For?

Creating a LAN. Hubs used to be recommended for this because they were cheaper than switches, but switches are far superior as they minimize the traffic on a network, decrease bandwidth usage, and only send data to the intended computers.

For instance Computer A wants to send data to Computer C. The switch would see that Computer A is on port 1 while Computer C is on port 4. The switch can then send data directly between them, with the data arriving at port 1 and leaving the switch at port 4. This process hugely reduces bandwidth usage when compared to a hub.


Recommended Switch Model

NETGEAR 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch (GS105NA) - Desktop, and ProSAFE Limited Lifetime Protection NETGEAR 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch (GS105NA) - Desktop, and ProSAFE Limited Lifetime Protection Buy Now On Amazon $24.00

Great switches are relatively inexpensive these days and can be found from most networking manufacturers. The Netgear GS105NA is a five port switch which you can either use to create a LAN or can be plugged into one of your router’s Ethernet ports to increase the amount of wired ports on your network.

When buying a switch, there are managed and unmanaged varieties. Unmanaged are the most common, which allow you to plug in and get using straight away with no setup. Managed switches let you set up the network and allow you to prioritize traffic, say Skype to ensure great call quality.

If you aren’t sure if you need a switch on your network, check out our guide to everything you need to know about home networking Everything You Need to Know About Home Networking Setting up a home network is not as hard as you think it is. Read More .

3. Router


A router is a device that sends packets of data between different networks.

A packet is data which also contains the address of the destination. Routers use this destination address How Does a Router Work? A Simple Explanation Routers may seem complicated, but they're actually quite simple. Here's a quick guide to routers, what they do, and how they work. Read More to send the packet between routers until it reaches its destination. This is how your LAN connects to the wider Internet. So when you enter a search term on Google, your router directs this packet to Google’s servers for processing.

Take mail as an example. If you want to send a letter to one of your housemates, you might just address it with “Room A”. But what happens if you want to send a letter to your best friend who lives in “Room A” of a different house? You would need more information to differentiate.

So you add a zip code. But they live in a different state, which you can’t easily get to. So you hand it over to your friendly mail carrier and using the address and zip code, the mail carrier will make sure it ends up at the correct destination, even if it means passing the letter over to a local mail carrier.

What Is It Good For?

Sending packets between two different networks is technically a router’s only job. However, modern routers actually include quite a lot more than that:

  • 4-8 port switch for the LAN which enables local sharing of services like printers.
  • Network Address Translator (NAT) used to assign one set of IP addresses within the LAN and one set outside the LAN to your ISP or a Wide Area Network (WAN).
  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) which assigns IP addresses to each device connected to the LAN.
  • Firewall to protect the LAN.
  • WAN Port to connect the Router to a modem which provides broadband services from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
  • Wireless broadcast letting you connect devices without cables.

Recommended Router Model

D-Link Wireless AC1900 Dual Band WiFi Gigabit Router (DIR-880L) D-Link Wireless AC1900 Dual Band WiFi Gigabit Router (DIR-880L) Buy Now On Amazon $219.99

The D-Link Wireless AC1900 is one of the best and highest rated routers out there. It has some of the best networking and wireless performance of all its peers while also being great value for money.

Before buying any router though make sure that it’ll be compatible with your ISP and suits your needs 4 Things to Know Before Buying a Wi-Fi Router for Your Home Wondering how to get Wi-Fi at home, what a Wi-Fi router is, or what kind of router you need? This introduction will answer your questions and more. Read More .

Hubs, Switches, Routers in a Nutshell

  • Hubs and switches connect computers to create a LAN.
  • Switches, unlike hubs, know which device the information is intended for and sends it there.
  • Routers on the other hand can send packets between LANs, while also assigning IP addresses, acting as a switch and protecting your LAN.

Have you ever had to explain what the difference is between these three? How did you do it? Is there any other technology terminology you want us to delve into? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credit: Ethernet Hub via Shutterstock, ByEmo via Shutterstock, PongMoji via Shutterstock

Related topics: Computer Networks, LAN, Router.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Dale Allen
    October 13, 2017 at 4:13 am

    After buying this equipment do l
    still need to pay for cable in order
    to have internet in my home?

    • James Frew
      October 13, 2017 at 6:16 am

      You will still need an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in order to get the internet at home.

  2. Susan
    May 14, 2017 at 5:03 am

    Actually, it's more of a question than a comment. I want multiple devices to be able to access the same internet connection, but they don't need to be networked together. It's a home, the main things that need to connect to the internet will be a couple of laptops in different rooms and a BluRay player. We will not be sharing a printer. I will have an internet Modem/Router that only has a couple of outgoing ports in the back, but I want to be able to connect more devices hard wired.

    What is the best type of device that will allow each device to access the internet without decreasing the bandwidth for all.

    • James Frew
      May 23, 2017 at 2:10 pm

      Probably the simplest way is to use a wireless router. Even if you don't need them to be networked together to share printers and other networked devices it is probably the easiest set up.

      In terms of bandwidth - that's most determined by what you do with the devices rather than how you network them. If you use a router you may be able to prioritize devices depending on your model. Hope that helps.

    • Konstantin
      August 21, 2018 at 2:11 am

      Susan, if you already have a router connected to an ISP, and it only has a couple of LAN ports, then the best solution is a switch (or even a hub) after the router. This way you'll get increased your local port count for your devices, and all of them will be still under the router, so having an internet access. But if you have laptops (and you have) or other mobile devices then you'd need a wireless connection to not fiddle with wires. You can use another wireless router after your modem, or replace the modem with one with WIFI. And if it'd have enough ports for your wired devices you'd need no switch at all. Note that if you have a copper twisted pair (Ethernet) wire coming from the outside (from the ISP) you might consider to use a hub (switch) _before_ your router to have a kind of lightning protection. The logic is simple. A switch is much cheaper then a router, and it will die first, giving a chance for your more expensive equipment.

  3. Jim Moore
    January 10, 2017 at 12:49 am

    Thanks, you nailed the fundamentals enough to know when to use the correct terminology and ask if it doesn't sound correct...

  4. kunwar
    January 1, 2017 at 7:05 am


    I am looking for a good performance laptop. Can you please help me deciding to choose which one is better -
    6th gen i7 quad core OR 7th gen i7 dual core ?

    I guess 7th Gen i7 quad core are not yet released. Please confirm.

    Thanks in advance!

  5. Marzooq
    December 20, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Just what is needed for a beginner!

  6. Ahmad sher
    December 11, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Thank you dear sir...
    Its a right and good explaination of these three...
    Its a wonderful and awesome information about....

  7. Anonymous
    May 14, 2016 at 12:05 am


    Which One Is It ?

    Thank You.

    • James Frew
      May 14, 2016 at 9:37 am

      From what I understand its a router.

      • Anonymous
        May 14, 2016 at 2:49 pm

        Thank You For Responding.

  8. Anonymous
    May 13, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Hubs join patch cables to create a single segment (collision domain).
    Switches segregate connected patch cables so that each cable is its own collision domain.
    Routers join distinct networks.