Q&A: What’s a Network Switch and Why Do I Need One?

Q: I’ve heard about network switches, but do I really need one on my home network?

A: A switch is a handy gadget that lets you add more wired devices to your network with ease.

A network switch is as easy to operate as a light switch. Each device connected to the switch is automatically connected to everything else connected to the switch. So if you hook up your cable modem to a router, then connect the router to a switch, you can connect other devices to the Internet simply by plugging them into the switch. It’s just that easy.

That’s not all. A switch gives you the power to add devices to the network at your leisure. I like to connect a variety of devices on my desk at any given moment — network storage devices I’m testing, game consoles I’ve borrowed from friends, or any of the various desktop PC builds scattered around my work space.

Here’s what I do: Instead of having to run a number of long Ethernet cables from my home office to my primary D-Link router in another room, I manage a single cable: the cord that connects my router to my desktop switch. I can now use short network cables to connect devices around my desk and it’s a lot easier to remove these cables (to reduce clutter) when I’m done. And if I feel especially daring, I can connect a second switch to that switch to extend my network to other rooms in the house.

Switches might seem simple at first glance, but their uses are limited only by your imagination. Your imagination … and the length of your Ethernet cable.

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