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 laptop, 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, 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 7 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

As of macOS 10.15 (Catalina, Oct. 2019), we no longer support Plugable USB-Ethernet adapters with ASIX chipsets due to changes in macOS DriverKit and Gatekeeper. Earlier macOS versions from 10.6 (Snow Leopard) to 10.14 (Mojave) require drivers that are compatible with all ASIX-based Plugable USB-Ethernet adapters. Drivers 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.

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