In order to form a network you need a piece of equipment whereby computers can talk to each other. Either a network hub or a network switch (along with an Ethernet cable and an Ethernet port) will do the job. We’ll examine which one is better for a small network.
Data is sent from one computer to another in the form of a “packet.” There are three parts to every packet: the header, the payload, and the trailer. The header consists of some basic information, such as which computer sent the packet, where it needs to go, and how many packets are to be sent.
The actual data being sent is referred to as the payload section. The trailer section comes last and tells the receiving computer that the end of the packet has been reached. It will also typically contain error checking, a feature which tells the sending computer to resend the packet if an error is found.
A hub or a switch is used to send these packets to the right computer through an Ethernet port. When a hub receives a packet from another computer it will rebroadcast the packet to every computer connected to its Ethernet port. The three types of hubs are: passive, active, and intelligent.
A passive hub receives a packet and broadcasts it to all computers on the network. An active hub will enhance the signal received if it is weak. An intelligent hub will monitor the hub to make sure it is working effectively and can pinpoint any problems in the network.
A switch is much more efficient when it comes to sending packets. When a packet is sent the switch is able to send that packet just to the computer it is intended for, rather than to every computer on the network. To speed up the network a switch essentially establishes two way communication between two computers.
There are three different types of switches: unmanaged, managed, and smart. An unmanaged switch is a plug and play type of switch where the user has little control over the settings; it automatically configures the network to function. A managed switch has full control over the network but is more difficult to set up. A smart managed switch is a cross between the two in that a smart switch can automatically set itself up, but the user is able to control specific settings.
Most people prefer a switch over a hub because they are quicker. They also have a great price, for as little as $10 you can be on your way to setting up your own network.
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