You’re short on Ethernet ports and want to transform one Ethernet cable into two. The first thing that springs to mind is probably Ethernet splitting. You have a few options: hub, splitter, or switch. Each solution has something different to offer, so before purchasing any gadget, it’s important to identify which one has the most to offer you. Here we show you the differences between an Ethernet switch vs. hub vs. splitter so you can make the right choice.
Ethernet Switch vs. Hub vs. Splitter Overview
All of these pieces of equipment will take one Ethernet cable and allow you to connect multiple Ethernet devices to it. How intelligently they do it is the difference. It’s important to understand the capabilities of the tech that you’re buying.
Let’s start with the thing you were probably most tempted to just run out and buy when looking to transform one Ethernet connection into several. (Hint: don’t do it!)
An Ethernet splitter looks pretty unassuming. It’s a small gizmo with three Ethernet ports – two on one side and one on the other. If you have a surplus of short Ethernet cables – but only one or two long cables – then this is where a splitter comes in handy.
Note: an Ethernet splitter doesn’t actually increase the number of devices you can connect via Ethernet, and you will need a splitter at the other end to “unsplit” the connection back into two cables, so two Ethernet splitters will be required each time.
Let’s look at an example:
You have a typical home router in one room and your desktop PC and gaming console in the other. You want to connect both to Ethernet, but there’s only one Ethernet port in each room. You can run two cables from the router, plug them both into a splitter, plug the splitter into the wall, and reverse that on the other side with another splitter that plugs into both of the devices you want to connect. That’s about all a splitter can handle.
A major downside of an Ethernet splitter is that it reduces the number of utilized wires in a Cat 5e Ethernet cable and reduces the data throughput from 1000Mbps to 100Mbps, which is barely on par with most home Internet connections. This enables you to utilize one cable for two Ethernet connections.
While Ethernet splitters are cheap and appear to offer a good solution, they do result in a slower speed for network traffic. This is likely to affect the performance of your Ethernet-connected devices. Ethernet splitters are also limited to a maximum of two devices per cable.
For some limited situations, Ethernet splitters are a good option. However, it’s almost always better to opt for an Ethernet switch or hub.
Next is the Ethernet hub, which has been pretty much outmoded by the switch (covered next). You connect one cable to your router, and the rest of your devices can connect to other ports without needing to be “split.” This sounds great, but a hub is just as unintelligent as a splitter.
Think of a hub as a huge echo chamber filled with network traffic, where packets go in and shout to find the devices they’re trying to connect to. Data goes in one port, and the hub just amplifies that out to all the other devices that are connected to it. In more technical terms, hubs cannot allow devices to send and receive data at the same time, which is called half-duplex communication.
This results in data holdups and collisions, hogging precious bandwidth and causing network slowdown, particularly when you’re using multiple devices simultaneously.
Note that Ethernet hubs look much like switches, so don’t make the mistake of buying a hub when you really want a switch.
Returning to our original topic of transforming one Ethernet cable into two, the Ethernet switch is the real star of this guide. The way it works is incredibly simple. You can use one port to connect the switch to your router via Ethernet, then connect your Ethernet devices to the remaining ports, just like a hub.
However, a switch does actual thinking, meaning that data goes in one port, and the switch learns where that has to go and sends it out that other port. This means once a switch has its switching table figured out, there’s no broadcasting like with hubs, and it just knows where to send data based on that internal table that it keeps track of. Essentially, one Ethernet port becomes multiple ports.
Switches allow for full-duplex communication between devices, which means that data can be sent and received at the same time, resulting in a faster network.
The great thing is that Ethernet switches aren’t expensive either. You should be able to pick up an Ethernet switch for around $15.
Why not try an alternative?
If you want to connect multiple devices, then a network cable is only one option. There are multiple methods to share the same signal between multiple devices, including some Wi-Fi options.
Here are three alternatives to the traditional network splitter.
1. Mesh Wi-Fi
Rather than broadcasting Wi-Fi signals from a single point, mesh Wi-Fi routers have multiple access points, sometimes called satellites. These satellites capture the router’s signal and rebroadcast it.
Since the access points all broadcast the same signal, you don’t have to switch Wi-Fi connections as you move from one access point to another. If you regularly encounter Wi-Fi dead zones in your home or office, then you may be an ideal candidate for mesh Wi-Fi. Popular mesh-router solutions include Google’s Nest Wi-fi, Netgear Orbi, and eero.
2. Ethernet Over Power Line (EOP)
An EOP is where you transfer data for an internal network (LAN) using a building’s existing electrical cables.
An EOP consists of a transmitter and receiver. Plug the transmitter into a power outlet, then use an Ethernet cable to connect the transmitter to your router. Attach the receiver to a power outlet and use an Ethernet cable to connect the receiver to your device.
The EOP transmitter converts the signal in the high frequency range onto the electrical wiring, and the receiver demodulates this signal. This creates a physical connection between your Ethernet-enabled device and your router, without the need for additional wires. Assuming you purchase compatible EOP adapters, you can set up multiple receivers around your home or office.
If you have coaxial cables installed, then you could use a MoCA adapter to send Ethernet signals over your existing cabling. If your home has been wired for cable TV, then you’ll typically already have coaxial cabling. This means you could potentially connect a MoCA adapter to your router and another close to a coaxial port in each room where you want to access the Internet.
If you need to connect additional devices via coaxial cabling, then you may also want to use a coaxial splitter.
Now that you know the differences between an Ethernet switch, hub and splitter, you will know which one is for you. In most cases, we will recommend the Ethernet switch, as it is really the most versatile solution. If you are a gamer, do also check out whether Ethernet or Wi-Fi is more suitable for gaming, and if you’re just looking to connect two computers to each other, check out our guide on connecting two computers with just an Ethernet cable.