If you’ve ever done business with an ISP that gives you one of its routers to use for service, you may have noticed that its equipment is rarely as full featured as it needs to be. Sometimes, there are only four ethernet ports and for many geeks out there, that can be a few ports too few. Sure, that works for the average home where you have one or two computers and a set-top box, but a more tech-friendly household will fill those ports in no time. Where Wi-Fi might seem a logical solution, ISP-provided routers are typically behind the times, leaving you with slower a/b/g wireless options where wireless N would get the job done. Here is a solution that may help you increase the number of ports on a router.
In order to accomplish this, you are going to need to invest in two things. The first thing you need is a switch; preferably one with more than enough ports to connect all of your devices and possibly a few extra. For this example, we’re going to use an 8-port 10/100/1000 switch. I personally wouldn’t recommend a hub because they aren’t as efficient as a switch and may leave your network bogged down, especially if your systems tend to communicate with each other frequently. With a hub, all of your traffic is broadcast to every device on the network while a switch sends the data exactly where it needs to go.
The next thing you’re going to want to invest in are some very short ethernet cables. Where I might normally advise taking the time to learn how to make your own, extremely short category 5 and 6 cables tend to cost less than their individual components. If you are installing this network in an environment where ethernet ports are pre-installed in the walls, then you are going to want one cable for each port throughout the home. If you intend to run cables from individual devices to the network equipment yourself, you will only need one to act as a go-between for the router and switch.
Once you have everything you need, simply connect one end of the shorter cable to port 1 of the switch and the other to port 1 of the router. While you can place the web connection anywhere on the switch, having it on the first port gives you a very quick method of determining the cause of a connectivity problem at a glance.
Once you’ve made the connection and both devices are displaying a connection light, start connecting your devices (or wall ports) to the switch. An 8-port switch will give you seven possible system connections with another three (4 minus 1 used to connect the switch) on the router. In a sense, you have effectively turned a 4-port router in to a 10-port router. This method works very well for the vast majority of home networks, and comes in handy during LAN parties and other events where a sudden increase in the amount of systems in your network is expected.
As with any network setup, if you have a server system that demands a clean connection to the web, you are going to want to connect it directly to the router, bypassing the switch. Though a good switch will give you an extremely efficient connection, home servers benefit from having as direct a connection to the outside world as possible.