Selecting the Right USB-Ethernet Adapter for your Computer and Network

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You’re a consultant, and you stride into a new client’s office with your Macbook Air, only to discover they’ve disabled WiFi for security reasons.

You pull out your Windows tablet in a hotel room, but the only internet available is coming through a wire on the desk.

You’re a gamer and you’re tired of watching helplessly as your frozen character dies of WiFi-induced lag.

You plug your computer into your brand new Gigabit fiber optic connection, and it’s no faster than before.

A USB to Ethernet adapter can be the answer in each of these scenarios. All of them can add an Ethernet port to a supported computer that lacks one. Some offer speeds far faster than a typical wireless connection or an older network card. A wired connection is also more stable, more reliable, and more secure than a wireless connection.

Plugable offers six USB-Ethernet adapters to accommodate your needs, including the USB2-E100, USB2-E1000, and USB3-E1000. There is also the USB3-HUB3ME that combines a USB 3.0 four-port hub with the chipset of the USB3-E1000, the USBC-E1000 which is the same as the USB3-E1000 but with a USB-C connector, and the USB2-OTGE100, which is electrically identical to the USB2-E100, but features a micro-USB connector especially suited for tablets and smartphones that don’t have a standard full-size USB port.

Which one is right for you? Which will work with your device? How can you get the highest speeds without wasting money on unneeded capacity or buying something that doesn’t work with your computer? To make a good decision, you can think about the 3 C’s: Compatibility, Capacity, and Cost.

Compatibility

The table below gives an overview of the different Plugable USB-Ethernet adapters and their compatibility with different operating systems. Please note that even if a device is compatible with a given computer, it may need to be configured to work on a particular network, especially in corporate or institutional settings like hospitals or universities. Please consult your IT staff for details. When plugging directly into a cable or DSL modem on a home network, it may be necessary to disconnect power from the modem for 30 seconds, then plug it back in again to make it accept the new device.

Windows

All Plugable adapters can be used with all Windows computers with Windows XP and later and at least one USB port. However, while USB 3.0 adapters will work in a USB 2.0 port, they will not reach their full speed potential unless plugged into a USB 3.0 port. Also, computers with USB 3.0 ports several years old may need a driver upgrade to work properly.

The USB2-OTGE100 is especially suited to the many recently-introduced Windows tablets that only have micro-USB ports. While electrically identical to the USB2-E100, its male micro-USB connector eliminates the need for an On-The-Go (OTG) cable. However, because recent Windows tablets contain a full-featured Windows 8.1 or higher operating system, they are fully compatible with any Plugable USB-Ethernet adapter provided an OTG cable is available, and are capable of higher speeds on a Gigabit network if a Plugable Gigabit USB adapter like the USB2-E1000 or USB3-E1000 is used.

Built-in drivers are available for some adapters in Windows 8 and later. If no driver is present, Windows will download the drivers automatically if the computer is connected to the Internet. If no connection is available, for example, because you are connecting a WIFI-only computer in a location with no WIFI, you can install drivers from the included CD disk, or download them to another computer from the Plugable website, copy them to a flash drive, plug it your computer, and install from there.

Mac

OS X versions from OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) to OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) should already contain drivers that are compatible with all Plugable USB-Ethernet adapters. However, if for some reason the drivers are missing, they can be easily downloaded from the Plugable website. Unfortunately, these USB-Ethernet adapters are not compatible with Apple devices like the iPhone or iPad that use iOS.

Chromebook

Chromebook computers already have the necessary drivers install for all Plugable USB-Ethernet adapters and should work out of the box.

Linux

In Linux systems, support for the different chipsets in Plugable USB-Ethernet adapters depends on the kernel version, as shown in the table above. However, expert Linux users can add support to earlier versions by rebuilding the kernel module from the source code. You can find your kernel version by opening a terminal window and typing uname -r.

Android

While the chipsets in several Plugable USB-Ethernet adapters are supported in Android itself after version 4.0, they will actually work only if the maker of the phone or tablet has installed the necessary drivers. If the drivers are not already included by the maker, installing after the fact is extremely difficult and requires professional-level expertise with Android.

On the Plugable.com product pages for the USB2-E100, the USB2-OTGE100, and the USB2-E1000, there is a list of known compatible and non-compatible devices. The USB2-E100 and USB2-E1000 require OTG cables to connect. USB 3.0 devices are not supported for Android at this time.

If your device is not on the list and you’ve tested it with one of our adapters, email us at support@plugable.com or leave a comment below. We’ll add it to the list.

iOS

Sadly, iPhones, iPads, and other Apple mobile devices using iOS do not support any Plugable USB-Ethernet devices at present.

Capacity and Cost

Everyone wants the fastest possible network access, whether for connecting to the internet or downloading files from an office server. But there’s no point spending money on capacity you can’t use. For example, if you are accessing the internet through a cable connection that promises a maximum 25 Megabits per second (Mbps), there is no reason to invest the extra money to buy a USB3-E1000 adapter that can reach speeds 40 or 50 times faster. Our USB2-E100, with its 95Mbps maximum speed, would be a better choice. Getting a faster adapter won’t make your network faster if its speed is limited by your internet connection or other hardware on the network. For more information on maximizing speed, see our blog post about this.

The speed at which data can be transferred over a network depends on a lot of variables, and the final speed will only be as fast as the slowest thing affecting it. To get the most speed possible, be sure your router, cables, and any switches or hubs are also designed for the speed you are hoping for. If there are many computers connected to your network or if any connected computer has a virus or trojan, this will also degrade speed.

For the purposes of selecting the right adapter for your situation, you’ll want to select an adapter that exceeds the maximum speed of your network, while taking into consideration any likely future improvements. Network speeds are usually measured in Megabits (one million bits) per second (Mbps). Be careful not to confuse Megabits with the Megabytes commonly used to measure file sizes and hard drive speeds. A byte is made up of 8 bits, so it would take more than 8 seconds to download an 100 Megabyte file at 100 Megabits per second.

Generally for a home network, the most important consideration is the speed you have contracted for with your Internet service provider (ISP). Contact them if you aren’t sure. Speeds of 10-50 Mbps are common, but recently download speeds in excess of 1 Gigabit per second (1000 Mbps) have become available in some areas. In an office setting where you might be spending a lot of time communicating with another server on the same local network, the maximum speed of the local network hardware and the server you are accessing might be the most important consideration. Some offices also have fiber optic access to the internet at 1000Mbps or higher.

I hope this guide is useful. If you have any other questions, please comment here or contact us at support@plugable.com.

21 comments on “Selecting the Right USB-Ethernet Adapter for your Computer and Network”

  1. Jeffrey Plum Reply

    The improved Raspberry Pi 2 and your evolving product line means your Pi compatibility posts may need work. The Pi could be considered another special PC type, like Chromebooks. It could be listed in its own section. Another option is to update your 2014 report on Pi compatibility. Your line is broad enough this could take several reports, for networking devices, hubs /chargers, and storage options. Your products can upgrade or extend the Pi’s built-in abilities in many areas. There is even a dual screen Pi workstation video posted on Youtube. It uses one of your USB 2 video units. I hope to use a similar trick for a screen whose native resolution is not supported on the Pi itself. Plugable tech and the Pi are natural partners. I look forward to seeing where they go together from here.

    • David Roberts David Roberts Reply

      Hi Jeffrey,

      Thanks for your comment and suggestions. The new Raspberry Pi 2 is great! I will definitely look into adding a section for the Pi. The short answer is that the both old and new Pis work well with all our networking devices, although you will likely need a powered hub to connect them. For each new adapter, add a line to your /etc/networks/interfaces file to obtain an IP address from DHCP:

      iface ethX inet dhcp

      Where X is a consecutive number for each new adapter, starting with 1.

      By adding additional lines, you can connect more than one Ethernet device, for example, to turn your Pi into a router. You can also edit the file to add a static IP.

  2. Norm Hurst Reply

    The chart above is incorrect. I purchased the USB2-E100 based on the chart saying, “OS X 10.7-10.11 Built-in driver”. But when I got it, the instructions said that for Mac OS X, driver installation was required.

    • Sachiko Reply

      Hi Norm,

      Thank you for pointing that. Sorry that the instructions says differently from what we have here. Actually the instruction is incorrect. If you are using Mac OS X 10.7 and above, the device driver has been built-in, hence it should be plug & play. We’ll be correcting the instructions when we produce the next batch. Thanks again for posting this comment!

  3. John Neeting Reply

    Uuumm doesn’t really answere my questions. I have 2 belkin line drivers which I want to use together with Ethernet/USB adapters so I can locate all my back up drives off site but on the same property and same 240VAC phase. My config ATM is Ethernet from PC to 4 port Ethernet switch. The port 2 is from another PC and the output of the switch goes to a Belkin Line driver. The other Line driver is pluged in at another location and connected to the router [ internet ] this works great and I can talk to the internet from either PC and each PC can talk to each other [ as configured ] Now I want to add another set of line drivers in the following config – USB port to USB/Ethernet box to Line driver [ second set ]; other end is Line driver to Ethernet/USB box to 8 port USB switch hub [ powered ] to back up drives [ powered ]. I have tested the following – USB to USB/Ethernet box – HARD WIRED [ 2 meter cable ] to Ethernet/USB box to 8 port hub to back up drive; IT WORKS!. so putting a pair of Belkin line drivers in the middle to use the 240VAC seems to me to NOT present a problem even though I have been told by some – it wont work; and told by others – It should.

    • David Roberts David Roberts Reply

      Thank you for your comment. We have had mixed experiences with power-line adapters and our USB-Ethernet devices. Not only have we seen cases where they didn’t work, but we have also seen cases where they substantially shorted the life of the USB-Ethernet adapter. We theorize that this could be because some of the AC sine wave leaks through to the Ethernet line as noise, or possibly that the voltage levels are not kept to Ethernet specifications by the power-line adapters. Because of this, we don’t recommend using them. Since the adapters work with your set up when hard wired, but not with the power-line adapters, it would probably be a good idea to bring this up with Belkin because it appears that something in this particular set of adapters is not transparently replicating a straight-through Ethernet connection, which they are supposed to do.

  4. Das Reply

    Is it possible to get an internet connectivity in a dell laptop which has no built in Ethernet port( it’s Windows 10 and USB 3.0 port is available) Can I connect my LAN cable to this adapter and USB side to my laptop and access internet? Pls help…

    • David Roberts David Roberts Reply

      Hi Das,

      The answer to your question is yes. Any of these adapters would work to connect your laptop to the network. The only possible barriers are the possibility that you may have to contact IT support in a corporate or university environment to allow the new adapter on the network. Even though you have a USB 3.0 port, the USB2-E100 is usually fast enough in a home environment. If you have any issues, let us know, and we can help.

  5. WG Reply

    Hi All,

    Do you know which brand beside Echelon have U10 USB network interface (TP/FT-10 channel).

    Tks & regards,
    WG

  6. Bob O'Malley Reply

    Is it possible to connect a USB-only Brother printer directly to a FIOS router using an adaptor to make the printer a true network printer?

    • David Roberts David Roberts Reply

      Thanks for asking! Unfortunately, this won’t work. The adapter requires a lot of support software in the computer to connect to the network, handle traffic, and do stuff like that, and only printers that are designed as network printers have that software installed. One possibility is to get an inexpensive print server that you can connect to your network through Ethernet. You can also connect your printer via USB to a computer on your network, then share that printer in the computer so that other computers can print through it. I hope this helps!

  7. Rosa Andreas Reply

    Sir, I have read your guide and its interesting to know about plugable adapters are also good for internet connectivity. My question is “which one is best USB WiFi Adapter or Plugable Adapter for internet connectivity in a company?”

    • David Roberts David Roberts Reply

      Thank you for commenting. At present, Plugable offers only one adapter for Wifi at present, the USB-WIFINT (http://www.plugable.com/products/usb-wifint). It should work in a company environment, although if your company offers 5 GHz Wifi, you will likely reach higher speeds by purchasing a Wifi adapter that supports it (this one doesn’t). We expect to offer a 5 GHz adapter soon, so please check our product pages at http://www.plugable.com/products/ when you decide to order to see if it is available. Thanks!

  8. David Rich Reply

    Sir,
    I need to connect a laptop to a GigE camera (gigabit Ethernet camera format) and have a USB 3.0 port available. The camera manufacturer recommends an Intel I210 NIC or other NIC that supports jumbo frames. Is there a Plugable adapter for this situation, and how would I access the option to use jumbo frames?

    • David Roberts David Roberts Reply

      Thank you for asking! As you may know, Intel does not make its chips available for USB NICs. Although our USB3-E1000 has support for jumbo frames up to 4KB, we have not tested it in this application and don’t recommend it. Jumbo frames can be set by right-clicking on the adapter in Device Manager, then selecting the Advanced tab. Under Property, select Jumbo Packet, then set 2KB or 4KB as the value.

  9. CC Reply

    I have a Dell Inspiron 11-3147. It has sat on a shelf for two years because I have not been able to get any USB-Ethernet adapter to work. I have a good connection via Charter and my old laptop is doing OK for now. I wanted to use the Dell for school, but I can’t download anything because the damned USB-Ehternet adapters do not connect to Charter for some reason. I have dumped the drivers over and again. I even bought a different USB-Ethernet adapter that had the driver loaded on a CD. So then I had to buy an external CD drive. Still, it did not work. Could there be something about the Ethernet cable, so that the cable still works with my old Compaq, but does not properly interface with these adapters? I talked with Charter “tech support” and they said that the system is working normally. I have no problem with the Ethernet cable when it is plugged into the Ethernet port of my Compaq.

    Is this a class problem with Dells?

    • David Roberts David Roberts Reply

      Thank you for posting. I think the most likely reason is that Charter is rejecting the connection to the USB Ethernet adapter because its address is unfamiliar. If you are connecting directly to the modem, try plugging the Ethernet cable from the adapter into the modem, then power cycle the modem by removing its power cable for 30 seconds, then plugging it back in again. If you have a router, try power-cycling the modem, then do the same for the router. If both cases, if you don’t get a connection, try restarting the Dell while plugged in. If this doesn’t work, and you have a Plugable USB-Ethernet adapter, please contact us at support@plugable.com, and we can help.

    • David Roberts David Roberts Reply

      Hi Mike,

      We haven’t done any testing with WinCE, can’t guarantee that it will work, and will only be able to give minimal support (without a machine to test it on), but there are drivers available for our USB2-E100 on the ASIX page (they make the chip in the adapter.

      http://www.asix.com.tw/download.php?sub=driverdetail&PItemID=86

      There are also drivers available on that site for the AX88178 chipset in our USB2-E1000 and for the AX88179 chipset in our USB3-E1000.

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