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What is the difference between active hub and passive hub?

A hub can be classified as active, passive or smart; understand the differences to help you decide what you need in your network.

What is difference between active hub and passive hub?

Fifteen to 20 years ago, hubs were the preferred method interconnecting network devices like PC's, routers, network printers and more. At the time, the enormous costs of switches prohibited most small companies and home users to consider buying one. Hubs, on the other hand, were a lot cheaper and priced more reasonably, making them the number one choice for most people.

Since the market for hubs was quite large, a few different types of hubs were introduced to cover different market needs and give the buyer a wider range of similar products to choose from, depending on what was required.

The term "smart" and "dumb" hub was born from the different features a hub supported, to help distinguish them from the rest.

I should note that three actual terms differentiate hubs:

  • Passive hubs
  • Active hubs
  • Smart hubs

The term "dumb" hub is still used but is also incorrect. When someone refers to a hub using this term, they usually mean an "active" hub.

Let's take a look at these three different types of hubs:

What are passive hubs?

These hubs are nothing more than point contacts for the wires that make up the physical network. An example of this is a punch-down block that is a simple plastic, unpowered box used to plug network cables into.

What are active hubs?

Active hubs are a little smarter than passive hubs. You might also come across the term "concentrators," which are basically active hubs that concentrate and strengthen a signal as it enters and exits the hub.

It is worth noting that today's active hubs are advertised as "hubs" or "repeaters". It is very rare to see a hub with the word "active" on it.

All about hubs

Tutorial: Hubs and repeaters

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The best setup for replacing hubs with switches

These hubs usually come in configurations of 4, 8, 16 and 24 ports, providing link and activity LED lights to show which devices are currently connected, powered on and transmitting or receiving data.

Lastly, you might be interested in knowing that all Ethernet hubs are active hubs.

What are smart or intelligent hubs?

Smart hubs are similar to the previous active ones we saw, but they also contain some type of management software to help determine possible network problems and isolate them.

The management software loaded uses protocols like SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) to communicate with various network devices and obtain real-time statistics like throughput, bandwidth, uptime, routing tables and more.

These features come at a price, however, making smart hubs a slightly less popular choice for most offices that simply want to connect a few workstations together.

Most switches now contain this software built in. Some models include web servers, allowing the administrator to manage and configure the switch using a web browser.

Next Steps

What is a "smart hub" as opposed to a "dumb" hub?

Difference between hub and switch

This was last published in November 2003

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