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Definition: Ethernet switch


In the home or office, the Ethernet switch functions as a central station connecting computers, printers and every other wired device to each other. The switch is also wired to the router and modem to access the Internet. The wireless counterpart to Ethernet is Wi-Fi.

An Ethernet switch is one of the three major functions in a wireless router, and although stand-alone Ethernet switches have up to 48 ports, the Ethernet switch in the wireless router typically has only four ports. See Wi-Fi and wireless router.

Switches Can Be Chained
Switches can be wired to each other, each one splitting off to other devices. Additional switches become automatic Ethernet boosters, as every transmitted output gets power from the AC outlet the switch is plugged into.

Data or Data Plus Power
Regular Ethernet switches transmit data signals only; however, a powered version transmits electrical power to remote devices such as security cameras (see PoE).

10/100/1000 Switches (Gigabit Switches)
Gigabit switches support 10, 100 and 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps). The Gigabit standard added full-duplex transmission, which provides simultaneous send and receive in each line. All Ethernet below 10,000 Mbps (10 Gbps) is backward compatible and detects the highest common speed between both ends of the connection. See 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

Unmanaged Vs. Managed
A basic "unmanaged" switch has no user configuration, and there is nothing to do except plug in the cables and turn it on. In contrast, for company networks, a "managed" switch can be configured to perform various tasks such as adjust speeds, combine users in subgroups, monitor traffic and report activity. See virtual LAN, SNMP, spanning tree protocol and Ethernet.




Hubs and Switches
The first Ethernet cross-connecting devices were "hubs" that share the total bandwidth. However, the switch treats each send-receive pair at full speed, and most all hubs have been replaced with switches.






Ethernet Switch
In the early 2000s, this unmanaged 16-port 10/100 switch from Omnitron was one of the first fanless and totally quiet Ethernet switches on the market.






In the Home Theater Rack
Switches plug into other switches. This Ethernet switch connects the TV, A/V receiver and streaming box to a 16-port Ethernet switch in another room.