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I have one Ethernet port that is wired directly to the router on another level. However, I want to run a desktop and a server both off this one Ethernet port. Can anyone tell me the difference between an Ethernet splitter and a switch?

Also, will either the splitter or switch slow down the connection as opposed to just one connection?

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If it were 2 computers that never accessed the network at the same time, maybe ok. But even if the workstation could access the server, it would see some serious lag. I can't even think of a viable route it might take. Better go with a switch. –  hyperslug Feb 3 '10 at 4:35

3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

An Ethernet splitter takes advantage of the fact that 10MBit and 100Mbit Ethernet only use 4 wires, even though the cable (almost certainly) contains 8 wires. The splitter consists of two pieces (see picture): one is connected to each end of the existing cable, providing the appearance of two ports at each end. Each link has 4 dedicated wires, so there is no risk of packet collisions (it will not act as a hub as heavyd suggests). Gigabit Ethernet does require all 8 wires, so 100MBit (full duplex) is the limit through a splitter; a Gigabit switch would be required to increase the bandwidth. Also, if your router only has one Ethernet port, then using a splitter is not an option.

Referring to your other question, I've listed the main pros and cons of each option:

Ethernet splitter

  • + Ought to be cheapest
  • + Passive; doesn't require a power supply
  • - Limited to providing one extra port, at 100MBit/s
  • - Destination switch/router must have two free Ethernet ports

100MBit/s switch

  • + Potential for many extra Ethernet ports
  • - Requires some set-up
  • - Requires a power supply (unless powered by PoE)

Gigabit switch

  • + Higher bandwidth
  • - Most expensive
  • - Requires the rest of the network (LAN) to support Gigabit to benefit

Hub

  • + Relatively cheap, but...
  • - ...not significantly cheaper than switches
  • - Very poor performance, especially as network load increases (due to collisions)
  • -\+ May or may not require a power supply
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If you're going to call out power supply on 100MBit switch as a minus, shouldn't that be a minus for the Gig switch and hub as well? Also, most Gig switches will support 10/100, so your other minus really doesn't count. Lastly, "higher bandwidth" is true between machined on the LAN, but might be misleading as it doesn't increase the bandwidth down through your uplink if the uplink doesn't support Gigabit. –  Shannon Nelson Feb 6 '10 at 3:50
    
@Shannon First, I do mention the power issue for hubs; I ignored it for Gigabit because it was mentioned for 100MBit and was implied, and I only wanted to summarise the main distinguishing features for each. Second, it's not clear what you mean by "other minus". Third, of course: this is exactly why I specified that the rest of the LAN must also support Gigabit for any benefit; any source/destination (such as the internet) with <Gigabit in the way will obviously be slower. –  sblair Feb 6 '10 at 4:43

I would go with a switch for sure Less / no collisions And if you ever have network congestion / problems you can more easily weed out the problem with a sniffer

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An "Ethernet splitter" is either going to be a switch or a hub depending on how it is built, but most likely more like a hub. The difference is really in the low level protocols that happen on the wire. The switch will do better at managing collisions and overlapping traffic.

As for performance, you most likely won't see any difference, unless you are using a lot of your bandwidth. You will still be stuffing two connection down 1 single wire to your router, but if all you're doing is surfing & email, etc you most likely won't notice it at all.

This other question might also be useful:

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That’s not correct – for the devices I’ve encountered the splitter allows a single link to appear as two separate links. The splitter does not act as a switch or a hub. –  sblair Feb 4 '10 at 19:35

protected by Diago Dec 20 '10 at 7:00

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