Ethernet switches and hubs are both used to network file servers, printers and workstations together. Each device attached to the network is called a node. The primary difference between a hub and switch is how the nodes communicate with the network. A switch has a higher bandwidth capacity, making it ideal for larger networks.
The primary advantage that a switch has over a hub is the way that bandwidth is distributed. A hub that operates at 10/100 megabits per second (Mbps) must distribute the bandwidth evenly, giving 20Mbps to each node. A switch, on the other hand, delivers the full 100Mbps to each node connecting on the network. This dramatically improves speed on the network and is especially true when large networks are operating, with multiple devices sharing bandwidth.
The duplex mode between a hub and switch varies as well. A hub operates in half-duplex, meaning that it cannot send and receive data at the same time. One operation must be complete before the other can begin. Switches function in full-duplex mode and can send and receive at the exact same time. This functionality doubles their speed when compared to hubs.
The 10/100Mbps available with a network switch allows devices on the network to reach their full capacity. Fibre optic cabling, for example, operates at speeds that hubs are not designed to handle. They will work, but a speed reduction will be detected. High-speed applications, such as streaming audio and video, also require a fast speed to operate without performance or quality differences.