Router vs. Switch (And Hub): Advantages and Disadvantages

By SB •  Updated: 06/04/21 •  9 min read

Home network switches and routers

If you have a home network with a few computers, a couple of laptops, a printer, a streaming device or two, and you prefer wired connections to the Internet for optimal speed and security, odds are your network could use a switch.

A switch is a network device which allows you to easily connect multiple computers and other network devices (such as printers) together with Ethernet cables. One end of the Ethernet cable goes into the switch, and the other goes into the network interface of your various devices.

What is a Router and How Does it Work?

A home router is a network device that primarily:

  1. creates and maintains a local area network (LAN), and
  2. manages the data entering and leaving the network as well as data shared within the local network.

It can also handle the routing of traffic between multiple networks.

Your home router has one connection to the Internet (provided by your ISP), and one connection to your private local network. Many routers also contain built-in switches with at least 4 ports, allowing you to connect to multiple wired devices.

Having a built-in switch in your router saves you some hardware, space, and one extra electrical outlet! Many routers also contain wireless radios as an Access Point that allows you to connect WiFi devices.

What Does a Router Do?

What is a Switch and How Does it Work?

A network switch is a computer networking device which connects various devices together on a single computer network. It may also be used to route information in the form of electronic data sent over networks.

What Does a Switch Do?

What’s Hubs Got To Do With It?

Is it just semantics, or is a hub qualitatively different from a switch?

Hubs and switches perform a similar function, but there IS a difference:

Choose a Hub Over a Switch?

Hubs used to be common in small home networks because they were relatively inexpensive. Today, however, the price difference between a hub and a switch is not so crazy, you might as well opt for the switch:

When To Use a Router or Switch

Modem plugs into router, router plugs into switch. All your devices plug into your switch.

A switch is sort of an extension of your router — do not plug the switch into your modem directly. Plug your switch into a port (not the WAN port — that is for your modem) on your router, THEN plug all your other devices into your switch box.

Basically: Modem to Router, Router to Switch, and finally all other devices off the Switch.

If you plug the modem into the switch, and then everything else into it, it will not work.

So, use a router to establish your home network and assign IP addresses to your devices.

Add a Switch To Help Speed Up Your Home Network

If you aren’t getting near your advertised internet speed, consider utilizing a switch in each room to extend your existing network.

For example, a reader upgraded to AT&T fiber and was only getting 100 Mbps over WiFi. We all know wired is best! So, they decided to go wired and connect all their devices to a switch connected via Ethernet to their router: they wired their PCs in one room, and their Xbox, PS4, smart tv, cable box, cloud drive, etc. to another switch, and now all devices are getting close to the advertised fiber speed — the computers get in the 900 Mpbs range and the Xbox is getting around 800 Mbps through switches. A faster network, all for the cost of a couple $20 switches (the TP-Link TL-SG105 in this case).

Improve Your Home Network By Adding A Switch to Your Router

While a network switch can connect multiple devices and networks to expand the LAN, a router will allow you to share a single IP address among multiple network devices.

Router Vs. Switch

Choose a Router When:

Choose a Switch When:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a router over switch?

A router can be used as a switch (many routers have a switch designed into the same box) but a switch can’t be used as a network-creating router. To keep your network running smoothly and optimally, most homes and businesses will be fine with a single router, and several switches.

How many routers can you connect to a modem?

You really only need one router connected to a modem. Most routers can create a guest network, if that is the functionality you are looking for. While you can connect as many routers to a modem as you have ports to plug into, the performance of the separate yet overlapping networks (if they are routers with WiFi Access Points) would suffer.

But if you really wanted to, simply connect a switch between the routers and the modem. Each router would connect to the switch via the WAN port, and the switch to the cable modem’s Ethernet port. Then power on the modem, switch, and routers (in that order).

If you have many rooms and many computers, how many routers do you need?

Still just one. Expand your network with a switch, or if you want WiFi, add a few Access Points.

Quick Comparison of Router vs. Switch

RouterSwitch
Operates at Layer 3 (Network) of the OSI modelOperate at layer 2 (Data Link Layer) of the OSI model
Router will offer NAT, NetFlow and QoS ServicesSwitch will not offer such services
Store IP address in the routing table and maintain an address on its ownStore MAC address in a lookup table and maintain an address on its own. However, Switch can learn the MAC address
Networking device, sometimes with 2/4 RJ45 portsA switch is a multi-port bridge. Up to 24/48 ports
Less DuplexIn Full Duplex, no data collision occurs.
The speed limit is 1-500 Mbps for wireless, and 100 Mbps for wired connection.The speed limit for the switch is 10/100/1000 Mbps.
Helps users to take the faster routing decisionLikely to take a more complicated routing decision
Can perform NATCannot perform NAT
In various types of network environments (MAN/ WAN), the router works faster compared to a switch.In a LAN environment, a switch is faster than a router
Every port has its own broadcast domainThe switch has one broadcast domain except VLAN implemented.
Router operations revolve around IP Addresses.Switches work with MAC addresses, and operate within the confines of a single network.
Routers can work within both wired and wireless network situations.Switches are restricted to wired network connections
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SB