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Ethernet Splitter vs Ethernet Switch: An In-Depth Comparison

Ethernet splitters and switches – they sound pretty similar, but have very different purposes and functions. So what sets them apart and which one is best for your needs? Keep reading this in-depth guide as we explain everything you need to know about these two handy networking devices.‍

What Are Ethernet Splitters and Switches?

First things first, let‘s lay the foundation by explaining exactly what these devices are:

Ethernet splitters are used to send two ethernet signals through one Cat5e cable simultaneously. This reduces the number of cables needed to set up a wired network. Ethernet splitters work by splitting an incoming signal into two outgoing signals. They must be paired with a corresponding ethernet combiner on the other end to function properly.

Ethernet switches allow you to connect multiple wired devices to a single ethernet port. They work by rapidly switching connections between the various ports to distribute the signal to the correct device as needed. No extra devices like combiners are required – simply plug devices into the available ports on the switch.

So in summary:

  • Splitters reduce cabling by sending multiple signals through one cable
  • Switches expand connections by allowing many devices to access one port

Now that we know what they do, let‘s compare some key differences.

Ethernet Splitter vs Switch: Key Differences

Ethernet Splitter Ethernet Switch
Function Cut down on cabling by sending 2 signals through 1 cable Connect multiple devices to 1 network port
Price Cheaper More expensive
Max Connections 2-3 5-128+
Speed 100Mbps max 10/100/1000Mbps


The core purpose of these devices differs greatly. Splitters minimize cables, switches maximize connections. One condenses wiring, the other expands access to a network.


Because splitters only perform one part of signal transmission, they cost less than self-contained switches. Of course higher port switches tend to cost more than basic 5-8 port models.


Here‘s a major difference – splitters allow just 2 or 3 connections, switches can handle anywhere from 5 devices on basic models up to 128 or more on enterprise-grade hardware.


By splitting one signal, maximum ethernet speeds drop from 1000Mbps on Cat5e/Cat6 cabling to 100Mbps for each segment. Switches maintain full gigabit ethernet speeds of up to 1000Mbps when using appropriate cabling.

How Ethernet Splitters Work

Contrary to how it may seem, a splitter cannot actually split one ethernet signal into two separate streams like an audio or video splitter would. That‘s because an ethernet signal cannot be divided – it must flow as one continuous transmission between two devices.

Instead, ethernet splitters work by allowing two distinct ethernet signals to share one cable. This requires a corresponding ethernet combiner on the other end to merge the signals back into two distinct streams.

Here‘s a common example:

  1. Use 2 cables to connect a router to an ethernet combiner
  2. Run one cable from the combiner through the wall to another room
  3. Connect an ethernet splitter in the second room
  4. Plug devices into the splitter to access the network

So you see, a splitter doesn‘t split anything – it just carries two signals through one cable when properly configured.

How Ethernet Switches Work

Ethernet switches connect multiple wired devices to a network using one uplink port that connects to the router or modem. Inside the switch, a high-speed switching fabric rapidly shuffles the network connection between the various ports using super fast store and forward techniques.

This all happens so quickly that to connected devices, it feels like having a dedicated line into the network. No slowdowns or perceivable gaps in connectivity occur unless perhaps dozens of devices are all transmitting data simultaneously. Even then, performance degradation would likely go unnoticed in most use cases.

Here‘s an example setup:

  1. Connect the switch‘s uplink port to the router
  2. Connect devices like computers, gaming consoles, streaming boxes etc to the switch‘s remaining ports
  3. Enjoy high-speed network access from all connected devices

It‘s plug and play connectivity at its finest!

Ethernet Splitter vs Switch: Pros and Cons

Ethernet Splitter Ethernet Switch
Cheaper More expensive
Reduces cabling More connections
Simple setup Higher speeds
Extends network access Improves network performance
Max 3 connections Network issues harder to troubleshoot
Requires combiner Potential security concerns

5 Must-Know Ethernet Facts

Before deciding between an ethernet splitter or switch, here are 5 key facts you should know about ethernet networks:

  1. Ethernet offers faster speeds than WiFi – up to 10Gbps for Cat6a!
  2. Wired networks have far greater reliability than wireless ones
  3. Ethernet was first invented in 1973 by Xerox
  4. The initial ethernet standard was published in 1983
  5. While originally using coaxial cable, ethernet today relies largely on fiber optics

Final Verdict: Which is Best?

While both devices certainly serve their purpose, for most home networking applications an ethernet switch is by far the superior choice when you need to connect multiple wired devices. Switches are plug-and-play, maintain faster gigabit speeds, and allow enough ports for typical households.

Ethernet splitters can still play an important role when minimizing cabling is key, such as when wiring a home office or finished basement. However, their limited capabilities and hassle of requiring combiners make switches better for general usage.

So if you walked away from this article with one key point, it would be this:

Use ethernet splitters to condense cables, and ethernet switches to expand wired connections!

I hope this overview gave you a clear picture of how ethernet splitters and switches differ. Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions!

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between an ethernet splitter and an ethernet switch?

Ethernet splitters minimize cables by sending multiple signals through one cable, switches maximize connections by allowing many devices to access a single uplink port.

Is a wired ethernet connection better than Wi-Fi?

In most cases yes – ethernet offers faster maximum speeds, better reliability, and more consistent performance than WiFi.

How many devices can you connect with an ethernet switch?

It ranges from as few as 5 ports on basic models up to 128 or more ports on high-capacity enterprise-grade switches.

What’s the fastest speed ethernet supports?

Currently the fastest ethernet standard Cat8 supports astonishing speeds up to 40Gbps. Even affordable Cat6 cables provide a fast 10Gbps.

I hope this overview gave you a clear picture of how ethernet splitters and switches differ. Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions!