Ethernet Vs. USB

By Ashley Poland

Ethernet ports allow a network connection with a cable that resembles a big phone cord.
i Hemera Technologies/ Images

A number of modems feature both Ethernet and USB ports for connecting your computer to the Internet. Which connection you choose comes down to preference, since most computers offer both Ethernet and USB ports. However, your connection speed also plays a role in which cable to use, as each interface offers different connection speeds.

Internet Speeds

Your Internet speed varies depending on the Internet service provider you choose and the packages they offer. What type of connection you have also changes your speed; the top speeds of a DSL connection are slower than the tops speeds of a cable connection, which is in turn slower than a fiber connection. According to Eric Geier of PC World, DSL can go as high as 15 mbps download speed and 1 mbps upload speed, while cable can reach as high as 100 mbps download and 10 mbps upload -- though home Internet connections tend to be slower. No matter what speed you are paying for, the type of connection you use from your modem to your computer or router -- USB or Ethernet -- will have an immediate effect on your browsing speed.

Ethernet Connections

If you're limited on USB ports or want a dedicated network connection, Ethernet is the way to go. Connections via Ethernet are dedicated directly to network activity, whereas USB connections on some computers share bandwidth between connected high-speed devices. The most common Ethernet cable offers 10 Mbps of bandwidth, though there are also Ethernet cables that can go up to 100 Mbps. When using Ethernet, use a cable only as long as necessary because signal strength degrades over longer cables.

USB Connections

If you can't use an Ethernet connection with your computer, USB is a serviceable alternative. If your computer uses USB 1.1 or USB 2.0, it doesn't offer as much bandwidth as the current USB standards. USB bandwidth varies depending on the age of your computer. Newer computers typically use USB 3.0 ports, which can see speeds of 4.8 Gbps, while USB 2.0 reaches speeds of 480 Mbps and USB 1.1 gets 12 Mbps. If you're using a computer with USB 2.0 connections, the controller has a 60 Mbps bandwidth limitation.

Using Your Modem

Your modem cannot use both the USB and Ethernet connections simultaneously, though you can switch between them if you change your mind later. If you choose USB, unplug any Ethernet cables from the back of the modem. Plug the USB cable directly into your computer -- not into a hub -- and connect it in the back of the computer, where ports are generally more powerful. If you're choosing to use Ethernet, unplug any USB connections from the back of the modem and connect your modem to your computer.