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What Does A Network Switch Do?

By Ace Winget_

No, not a light switch, I’m talking about a piece of network hardware that allows computers to talk to each other, called a network switch. There are several types of switches with various options. These include unmanaged, managed, and smart managed.

Switches are faster than hubs. Several years ago hubs used to be the norm because they were cheaper than switches. Another reason hubs were used was because files sent over the networks weren’t as big or demanding.

The way hubs work is similar to how radio repeaters operate. A hub projects a signal to everyone on the network after it receives it. Switches on the other hand will route the signal only to the computer that it is intended to reach. Network usage is cut down dramatically this way, especially for large networks.

For an average home or small network an “unmanaged” switch is the most common type of switch. These types are referred to as plug and play (PNP) as you do not need to configure them for use. Simply plug them in and they are ready to work.

A managed switch is more complicated than an unmanaged switch. Its ability to be modified allows it to have many functions. These include setting the port speeds, creating virtual LANs (VLAN’s), and a host of other options. A web browser or a command line interface such as telnet or Secure Shell can access the switch commands.

A mix between an unmanaged switch and a managed switch is called a smart managed switch. A smart managed switch can control some elements such as port speeds and VLANs, but it does not have as many features as a managed switch.

Additional features can be built into switches. One of these is called Jumbo Frames. It makes it possible for a packet of information to be larger than the standard size. Both the switch and the Ethernet adapter need to support Jumbo Frames in order to use this feature. Another added feature is Quality of Service (QoS). QoS prioritizes network traffic and is great for Voice over IP (VOIP).

For larger networks you can purchase rack mount switches, which make it easier to organize equipment. You can further add stackable switches if you need to increase the number of users on your network. Setting up a small home network with a switch is much simpler and can cost as little as $10.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Winget_, Ace "What Does A Network Switch Do?." What Does A Network Switch Do?. 21 Jun. 2010. 4 Aug 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Winget_, A (2010, June 21). What Does A Network Switch Do?. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Winget_, Ace "What Does A Network Switch Do?"

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