Often, there simply aren’t enough network sockets on a router for all the devices that need to connect to it. And while you might be able to use Wi-Fi for many gadgets, sometimes it’s preferable to use a wire for the best performance.
For example, gamers will prefer to use an Ethernet cable for their PC, laptop or games console for any online gaming to reduce lag, while a NAS drive will only really offer the fastest speeds for file transfers and streaming video around your home if you use a cable instead of Wi-Fi.
Fortunately, it’s cheap and easy to add more ports to your router by connecting an unmanaged switch.
That’s a rather grand title for a little box of network sockets, and it works much like a mains extension lead that provides multiple power sockets from just one wall socket.
In the same way, you can connect an Ethernet switch (also known as a hub or splitter) to a single port on your router and add either four or seven extra ports. Then, you can hook up your Xbox, TV, PC and any other wired network device and it will work as if it were connected directly to your router.
If you need to put the switch in a different room to your router then you could connect the two with a pair of powerline adapters - it will make the connection slower, but it will at least make it possible without running a long network cable.
Because these are ‘unmanaged’ it means they are plug-and-play. There’s no configuration necessary: they just work. And for home use, that’s absolutely fine: there’s rarely a reason why you would need the web interface and advanced settings of a managed switch: those are designed for business use.
This means that there’s not a great deal of difference between unmanaged switches from different brands. But there are subtle differences which can make one more attractive than another, whether it’s the placement of the power connector, the orientation of the ports or even the visibility of the LEDs.
Price and warranty also come into it, as does construction and aesthetics, although the latter won’t be a high priority for many.
One point you will need to be careful of: here we’ve rounded up Gigabit models. They’re full-duplex which means they can operate at 1000Mbps in both directions (i.e. sending and receiving) simultaneously.
If you see a cheaper option, it’s likely to be a 10/100Mbps version. This means the ports are limited to 100Mbps in each direction, and so are ten times slower. It’s never worth saving a few pounds or dollars for such a big compromise. Even if all the devices you need to connect are 10/100 right now, you’ll be glad you went for a Gigabit switch when you acquire a device that needs those Gigabit speeds.
None of these switches come with network cables, but we’ve taken the hassle out of choosing them: these are the best Ethernet cables.
1. TP-Link TL-SG1008D
Like most manufacturers, TP-Link offers both metal- and plastic bodied switches. This plastic one is by far the most popular and it’s easy to see why.
It’s far better looking, with a much less business-like design. The ports are at the back, but activity lights are at the front. So the cables can be routed away more neatly rather than emerging from the front of the device.
Unlike others here, the power socket is on the back, not the sides, again making for neater cable management.
If you need to, the SG1008D can be wall mounted and, again, the TP-Link is better designed than some as the release tabs for the cables remain accessible and not against the wall.
Don’t need eight ports? There’s a 5-port version called the SG1005D: it’s £12.99 / $16.99 on Amazon. Both have a three-year warranty.
2. Zyxel GS-108BV3
Zyxel’s hub is slightly unusual in that it has a metal body, but unlike most rivals it keeps the ports and power connector at the rear. It’s not bad looking, either, with its silver finish and slanted grille slots on the sides.
Another reason it’s unusual is because it offers QoS on specific ports. Ports seven and eight are for high-priority devices – such as media streamers or anything that relies on low latencies – and six and five are marked for medium-priority devices. The other four are for all other devices – and the connection to your router.
There are mounts on the underneath for wall mounting – or hanging under a desk – but bear in mind that the network ports face the wall (or desk) and so it can be tricky to release the tabs if you need to remove a cable from a socket.
There are plastic versions available, and these mirror the 5- and 8-port metal versions in design and also with their low, medium and high-priority ports. Since they’re no cheaper, it makes sense to buy the metal version, and it’s great to see a five-year warranty.
3. Netgear GS308
Netgear is another well-known networking brand which makes both plastic and metal-bodied Ethernet splitters for home use.
We’ve picked the metal version here because the GS908 – the plastic one – isn’t widely available and it tends to be considerably more expensive when you can find it. (Also, its cable management isn’t brilliant – the grooves aren’t wide enough to accommodate standard round network cable.)
The GS308, like other metal switches, has its ports on the front along with status LEDs, so isn’t going to look great if it’s on show in your living space. As the power cable plugs into the rear, you can’t simply turn it round: there will still be a cable emerging.
Tucked inside – or behind – a TV cabinet, it’s not an issue and, as you’d expect, it’s fanless for silent operation. Finally, it’s wall mountable if you need to hang it up.
4. D-Link GO-SW-8G/B
D-Link’s unmanaged switches are much like TP-Link’s. You can go for the metal version where the ports are on the front, or the plastic one that’s better suited to home use with the ports on the back and status LEDs on the front.
You might prefer it because it’s white and not black, but note that the power socket is on the left-hand side, not the rear.
Also note that it’s not easily wall mountable: there are no lugs underneath: it’s a smooth surface.
Like others here, the D-Link is fanless and silent. Also like them it uses very little power: just 3.5W. and there’s a five-port version called the GO-SW-5G which is a little cheaper. See it on Amazon.
5. Trendnet TEG-S50g
Trendnet’s unmanaged switch does come in an eight-port version, but it’s very hard to find. So this model is better suited to those on a tight budget that only need an extra four ports or less. Yes, this is a five-port hub, but don’t forget one port will be used to connect it to your router, so there are four usable ports (and seven on the eight-port hubs here).
At this price the metal body is a pleasant surprise, but note the side-mounted power connector like the D-Link.
Like the others here, it offers silent operation, low power consumption and plug-and-play setup.