The world of office IT can be a scary and intimidating one if you don’t understand the terminology. There is no shortage of complex machinery involved in the simple act of connecting people to the internet and to each other. But don’t be overwhelmed! Here’s a simple explanation of what each is and what functions they perform.
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.
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.
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 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.
See? That simplified it pretty well! Now you know what your IT guy is talking about when he’s working on your network.
Great Lakes Computer Corporation technicians are experts in all of your IT hardware needs. If you still don’t know the difference between these things, and don’t care to, consider hiring us as a Managed Service provider for your computing, printing, and networking. We can monitor, maintain, and repair your hardware so it works the way you need it to, whether you know what it’s called or not.