An Ethernet hub connects multiple computers or devices in order to form a network. Network switches have now largely replaced Ethernet hubs. There are a few instances where it’s better to use a hub rather than a switch, though none of the reasons to use a hub instead of a switch pertain to a typical network.

An Ethernet hub accepts the standard RJ-45 connector on an Ethernet CAT5 cable. Sounds like a mouthful, doesn’t it? Luckily you don’t need to worry about specifics because the typical network cable is this type. Plug one end of the Ethernet cable into the Ethernet port of a computer and the other end into the Ethernet port of the hub.

Most Ethernet hubs have 4 or 5 Ethernet ports. But it is not uncommon to find Ethernet hubs with 6, 8, or 16 Ethernet ports. Besides connecting a hub to a computer you can also connect an Ethernet hub to other hubs, routers, and switches.

How a hub operates is pretty simple, it just broadcasts whatever it receives. When a hub receives a signal from a computer on the network it will rebroadcast that signal to all other computers and components attached to the hub. But because of all this broadcasting to every computer on the router you have the potential for a data collision. A data collision is where data sent from a computer is sent at the same time the hub sends a signal to that computer.

All hubs can detect these collisions and they’ll broadcast a jam signal to all ports on the network. Because of these data collisions there are only a limited number of hubs that can be attached to one another. You can attach up to 4 hubs to each other for a network with a speed of 10 megabits a second, and only 2 hubs can be connected for a network with a speed of 100 megabits a second.

Besides detecting collisions, some hubs are able to help troubleshoot a network. They can detect if a particular port has excessive collisions or noise. More advanced hubs can automatically disconnect these ports from the rest of the system.

When using a hub the slowest device connected to the hub sets the speed of the network. For example, if you have a 10/100 megabit per second hub the entire network’s speed will be 10 megabits per second if you’re using an old computer with a 10 megabit per second network adapter. Some hubs, called dual speed hubs, have been built to overcome this problem and can operate at 10 and 100 megabits per second.

Network switches have replaced the role of hubs. A switch is superior to a hub because data is sent directly to the computer it is intended for and not to every device connected to the switch.

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