Ethernet switches are an expansion of the Ethernet bridging concept. The advantage of using a switched Ethernet is parallelism. Up to one-half of the computers connected to a switch can send data at the same time.
LAN switches link multiple networks together and have two basic architectures: cut-through and store-and-forward. In the past, cut-through switches were faster because they examined the packet destination address only before forwarding it on to its destination segment. A store-and-forward switch works like a bridge in that it accepts and analyzes the entire packet before forwarding it to its destination.
Historically, store-and-forward took more time to examine the entire packet, although one benefit was that it allowed the switch to catch certain packet errors and keep them from propagating through the network. Today, the speed of store-and-forward switches has caught up with cut-through switches so the difference between the two is minimal. Also, there are a large number of hybrid switches available that mix both cut-through and store-and-forward architectures.
Both cut-through and store-and-forward switches separate a network into collision domains, allowing network design rules to be extended. Each of the segments attached to an Ethernet switch has a full 10 Mbps of bandwidth shared by fewer users, which results in better performance (as opposed to hubs that only allow bandwidth sharing from a single Ethernet). Newer switches today offer high-speed links, either Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet or ATM. These are used to link switches together or give added bandwidth to high-traffic servers. A network composed of a number of switches linked together via uplinks is termed a “collapsed backbone” network.