How to Connect an Ethernet Cable to a Laptop With a USB Adapter

By Christopher Kielty Updated Jul 16, 2020
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Ethernet is fast. Lots of bandwidth, low latency, reliable. It doesn't ride the struggle bus the same way wifi does with walls being all solid and competing wireless signals and what have you. On basically every computer I've ever used it seems like ethernet is faster than wifi. Ethernet is kind of awesome. Or, at the very least, it's nice to have. But thin and light laptops are pretty great, too. The compromise between the two? Ethernet adapters.

There are at least a few different kinds of ethernet adapters. I like the USB kind because it seems like basically all laptops have at least one USB connector. Even the laptops with just one port for plugging in external hard drives, keyboards, adapters, and what have you. That one port is probably a USB port. So I feel pretty good about compatibility buying a USB adapter. So, yeah, ethernet is awesome, USB is awesome. Moving on.

Picking the Right USB Ethernet Network Adapter

There are a lot of good options out there for ethernet adapters. I like this  USB 3.0 Ethernet Adapter from Cable Matters. It's USB 3 and gigabit. This guy is able to get really close to the kind of network performance I'd expect out of a good network interface card in a desktop. Close to full gigabit speeds are doable. Even with slower 100BASE-TX (100 mb/s) this thing can utilize most of the available bandwidth. There's also this  USB 3.0 Ethernet Adapter and USB Hub. I think both of these are a good mix of price and performance. (This page has two affiliate links . As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Both of these adapters are compatible out of the box with most current versions of Chrome, Linux, Mac, and Windows, without needing to hunt down drivers (this is something I look for, I don't like hunting for drivers). Also, like a lot of (basically all?) adapters like these, they're backwards compatible with USB 2.0, (at USB 2.0 speeds) and slower 100BASE-TX (100 mb/s) networks. This might also be a great fix for a desktop with broken ethernet, but working USB ports.

Both of these can be connected to USB-C using either a regular USB to USB-C adapter or a short USB-C to regular USB female extension cable. I like the extension cable option better because it doesn't stick out as far. I've been using this Type-C to regular USB extension cable . It's USB 3, about six inches. Works great.

Connecting to Ethernet

Just plug the adapter in and connect it to an ethernet cable and systems like Ubuntu, Chrome, Mac, and Windows should connect automatically. Make sure the other end of the ethernet cable is plugged into the router, or a network switch, connected to the router, which might also be the modem.

Most systems will probably prioritize ethernet over wifi by default. Also, it's usually possible to prioritize which network connection should be used if there are multiple connections. I usually just turn wifi off when connected to ethernet.

How Much Better is Latency Over Ethernet Vs Wifi?

A lot. It's a lot. I just tested the latency of ethernet vs wifi on my home router. I'm surprised by how much less latency there is with a wired connection vs wireless. I figured it'd be something like maybe double. Right? Yeah. No. Pinging the router, sitting right next to it, I got 1.078 ms average for ethernet and 10.729 ms for wifi. That's an average of just three pings for each, and there's a lot of variables here. But still, that's about one tenth the latency for ethernet. Pinging eastmanreference.com, (a remote server, not in my home), I got 15.265 ms average while connected to the router over ethernet and 36.642 ms over wifi. So yeah, if latency is important, like maybe with gaming, I'd go with a wired connection.

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