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I have a router on one end of my house. I've run one cat5 cable to the computer on the other side, and now (of course) I want a laptop to have a hard connection to the net there as well. Can I just use a switch, plugging the current cable I have into port 1, and running 2 separate cables to ports 2 and 3, plugging in my computers to it?

I.e.: Router -- switch -- 2 computers plugged into switch

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Yes. This is a very common setup, and it is the very reason switches exist.

Basically, any switch will do, provided it is as fast as you need it to be. E.g. buy a gigabit switch only if you need gigabit speed between your desktop and laptop, and they both have gigabit network adapters. Otherwise, just for the internet connectivity, any cheap simple network switch will do.

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