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Recently I went looking for a non-wireless router at brick-and-mortar stores, during my unsuccessful search an employee at a large "reputable" store responded this way.

 Me: "Excuse me, do you have any non-wireless routers?"  
 Him: "Um... yeah, but they are called switches." 
 Me: "Uh... NO!"

Has something changed in this area, or are routers still routers and switches still switches?

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Having worked for a "reputable" electronics store, I can tell you that most, if not all, employees could not tell you the difference between layer 2 and layer 3. If they could, they would probably be working elsewhere. – MaQleod Oct 28 '10 at 17:51
@MaQleod: If they don't know they should ask somebody else or refer you to somebody who does, Not just give incorrect information. Especially when they're only feet away from the 'Nerd Team' desk. – Tester101 Oct 28 '10 at 18:13
Very true, I agree with you there, but I doubt most of the people on the "Nerd Team" really understand the difference either. I was on a similar team, no one I worked with could have told you anything about the OSI model and how it relates to networking hardware. – MaQleod Oct 28 '10 at 18:18
@MaQleod: Do you really have to know anything about the OSI model to know that a router and a switch are different? It's not like I asked for a detailed analysis of each device and how they function. – Tester101 Oct 28 '10 at 18:32
I guess it depends on what you need to do with the knowledge that they are different. Technically, to simply tell a customer that they are not the same, one does not need to know why, just that they are, but someone should be able to explain at least the difference on how they work on a network to a customer so that the customer chooses the right product. The store rep should at least know general concepts of networking to be able to do this, which includes at least the first few layers of the OSI model. – MaQleod Oct 28 '10 at 18:56
up vote 13 down vote accepted

They are still different things.

They work at different levels of the network. Simplifying things a bit:

  • Routers work at Level 3 - the network layer - e.g. routing traffic based on IP address
  • Switches work at Level 2 - the data link layer, connecting network segments - e.g routing data based on MAC address.
  • Hubs - connect ethernet devices together to make them a single network segment, but don't route traffic.

Non-wireless routers are increasingly hard to come by these days for consumer level equipment since most people want wireless in their homes, but a wired router is different from a switch.

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We still buy Linksys BEFSR41 Router with 4 port switch for our users going home. Try Newegg if you are having problems getting one. – steve.lippert Oct 28 '10 at 14:14
Very good answer! +1 – KronoS Oct 28 '10 at 15:18

Switches are still primarily Layer 2 and Routers Layer 3. Unfortunately, wireless routers have become synonymous with routers as most consumers don't know that wired routers still exist as popular devices are advertised to be WiFi compatible(No mention of wired ethernet). Routers are still routers and switches are still switches.

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And ignorance is still ignorance. +1 – Xavierjazz Oct 28 '10 at 12:23

I have noticed that employees at "large reputable stores" act like they know more than they really do, giving false information. Switches are still different than routers. I would try buying equipment from the internet (i.e. unless it is urgent, then know exactly what you want (i.e. model number).

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I think the rule is more general. People everywhere act like they know more than they really do. It's probably the Dunning-Kruger Effect ( – CarlF Oct 28 '10 at 14:26
I ended up buying a router from newegg, since brick-and-mortar stores don't seem to carry non-wireless routers anymore. – Tester101 Oct 28 '10 at 15:03
I always had this issue with Frys Electronics. I overheard them trying to sell an i7 processor to someone because they needed to be able to run multiple office programs and the internet at once... – David Oct 28 '10 at 15:24
To be fair MS Office applications are resource hogs. – Tester101 Oct 28 '10 at 18:15
@CarlF +1 for reminding me of McArther Wheeler in the New York times article The Anosognosic’s Dilemma, a must-read! – Andy Lee Robinson Aug 10 '11 at 16:34

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