Understanding network equipment
- <LI>Hubs These guys are very basic. A hub receives data from network computers, usually via cables. It then distributes the data to all the network's other computers. The fact that the data is addressed to a specific computer on the network is immaterial. It is shared with all of them.
Sending all data to every computer stretches the network's resources. So, if your network runs at 100 megabits, and the hub has 10 ports, each port runs at 10 megabits. If only one computer is sending data, there should be no problem. But if the network is busy, things can slow down. That's why switches are better than hubs.
<LI>Switches These are more sophisticated than hubs. They do essentially the same job, but are much more discriminating. When computer A sends data to computer B, only B gets it. The data is not also sent to computers C, D and E.
Furthermore, lots of traffic does not diminish network resources. On your 100 megabit network, each of the switch's ports runs at 100 megabits. Every bit of data gets the network's full speed. So a switch is much faster and more efficient than a hub.
<LI>Routers At their most basic, routers connect networks to networks. So, say you want Internet access with your home network. The Internet is a giant network really, a network of networks. You need a router to connect your network to the Internet. The router does that through the modem.
Theoretically, you need a switch or hub, in addition to a router. You might want to send information from one computer to another. But in the real world, routers include switches. Routers are multi-talented. They can direct data between the network's computers. And they can send data over the Internet.
<LI>Print servers These machines are fundamentally different. They are middlemen on the network. On one side, a print server connects to a printer. On the other, it connects to a router/switch. It makes communication between the computers and printer possible.
A print server is handy, but not essential. A printer can also be connected to a computer. Through that computer, other network computers can access the printer. However, if that computer is turned off, the printer is inaccessible. Sometimes printers are connected directly to the router. In that case, too, a print server is not necessary. </LI>