The Ethernet vs Wi-Fi dilemma has long been keeping us wondering how we should handle our internet needs. Is a hardwired connection really better? Maybe it’s easier to live the wireless life. As it goes with these topics, the answer isn’t always straight-forward and there are multiple factors to consider. Today we are here to clear all doubts and help you decide what best suits your needs.
Ethernet vs Wi-Fi: pros and cons
Wi-Fi is what most people use in the modern age of mobility. There are obvious reasons to go with a wireless connection, but some may prefer living without its limitations. Let’s go over what Wi-Fi can offer and what its drawbacks are.
A wireless connection will always be more convenient for those who want to use mobile devices. A wireless connection allows you to move freely throughout the covered area while staying connected. This might not be an issue if you are going to be accessing the internet with a static device like a desktop computer, but those are becoming less common among general consumers.
Modern devices like smartphones, tablets, and some laptops don’t even offer the option to go with an Ethernet connection. In many instances, laptops require a dongle, which proves to be an inconvenience. Wi-Fi has become the standard for network connections, and very few products come with a wired-only option.
Amount of connected devices
Most Wi-Fi routers can handle dozens of connected devices at once. Some mesh routers can keep a wireless connection with well over 50 gadgets. Higher-end ones can do more, and with Wi-Fi 6 gaining popularity, the number of available wireless connections will continue to grow. This is a huge advantage over Ethernet, as most routers and modems only have a few ports for hardwired connections.
You could use an Ethernet splitter to connect more devices via cable, but that can get bulky and more expensive. Not to mention it would only mean having to deal with even more cables going across rooms.
Wires are annoying!
Wires are annoying! This is one of the main reasons why wireless is so convenient. With Wi-Fi you need not deal with long cables running through your walls or getting in the way of anything. Not to mention they look ugly and can often be difficult to hide.
Modern Wi-Fi technology makes it amazingly easy for the common Joe to set up and manage his network. Routers like Google’s Nest Wi-Fi can be controlled with a simple app in minutes. Ethernet requires skill, a more complicated cable installation, and setting up controls in more complex ways.
In Wi-Fi vs Ethernet speed, there is no doubt a hardwired connection has the advantage. Cat 8 Ethernet cables can transmit up to 40Gbps. Meanwhile, the latest and greatest Wi-Fi 6 standard lags behind at a max 9.6Gbps. And that’s if you get one of the very few and expensive Wi-Fi 6 routers currently available.
Latency is also significantly lower with an Ethernet connection. It’s not rare to see 0.3ms pings in wired connections. Meanwhile, a 2-3ms ping is common using Wi-Fi.
Ethernet connections are preferred among security buffs. This is for obvious reasons. Ethernet requires a physical connection, while Wi-Fi transmits data over the air. An attacker would need to literally connect a device to your network in order to access it via Ethernet. Wired connections have their vulnerabilities, of course, but they are usually less.
If you need an uninterrupted, stable connection you probably want to plug in. Wi-Fi is highly affected by interference from other devices, electrical components, thick walls, furniture, and more. Such is not the case with Ethernet. As long as the cable gets to your device, less factors will get in the way of you reaching the network.
Ethernet can transmit power!
Power Over Ethernet (PoE) can transmit electricity to devices. This means that installing a camera outside wouldn’t necessarily require an electrical outlet. The same Ethernet cable that transmits data can also keep the camera powered. And even if there is an electrical outlet nearby, it could be saved for other uses.
Again, this requires some technical know-how and installation time, but it’s a great advantage once you have everything set up. Using Wi-Fi requires constant power or a charged battery. Both of which can be inconvenient and require more on-going attention.
Ethernet vs Wi-Fi: What matters and what doesn’t
As many performance advantages as Ethernet has, it can be overkill. Unless you are truly taking advantage of it, using Ethernet can be like buying a gaming super computer just to check social media.
According to Ookla’s SpeedTest.net result statistics, the global average download speed for fixed broadband connections is only 74.64Mbps. The average in the USA alone is 132.55Mbps. Even fourth generation Wi-Fi with 802.11n support can handle those speeds. Most modern routers now use Wi-Fi 5 (even affordable ones), which have Gigabit capabilities. In terms of transfer speeds, Wi-Fi is easily capable of meeting and surpassing most people’s needs.
Unless you are truly taking advantage of it, using Ethernet can be like buying a super computer just to check social media.
Latency is another story, but the difference could be insignificant to many users. Think of how long a millisecond is. Waiting two to three milliseconds while checking emails, browsing the web, or watching videos won’t really make a noticeable difference.
Without a specific need for it, leaving the comfort and convenience of Wi-Fi may bring you little to no improvements.
Wi-Fi vs Ethernet for streaming
Now that you know the Ethernet vs Wi-Fi differences, it’s time go into detail about which is better for more intensive tasks. Streaming video is considered to be data heavy, especially as we move to higher-resolution content and faster frame rates.
Internet recommendations for 4K content:
As you can see, those requirements are far below what both Ethernet and Wi-Fi can handle. You should be good to stream any video regardless of your preference, as long as your internet speeds are up to par. And according to the average global and USA speeds mentioned in the previous section, most people should have data speeds to spare.
Now, these data speed recommendations are for streaming 4K content. Your needs will be much less when streaming at lower resolutions.
Not only are Wi-Fi speeds good enough to stream 4K video, but it may very well be your only option. People commonly stream movies and other content using smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Most smart TVs and smartTV devices don’t have Ethernet ports either.
Wi-Fi vs Ethernet gaming
Gamers are more demanding when it comes to performance, and while gaming offline isn’t harsh on data, some online players might actually want to consider going the Ethernet route.
Many current titles can be very fast-paced and full of action. Every millisecond can make the difference between surviving or getting shot in the head. A faster ping will ensure every mouse movement and action happens with as little latency as possible, resulting in much faster response times that give you the edge over the competition.
Think of it like this: If you and your opponent shoot each other at the same time in an FPS game, the person with the least latency will effectively shoot first. Even if by a millisecond or two, you will lose.
There are other external factors that may add some latency, but reducing that ping by milliseconds using an Ethernet connection should make a difference. This is why gamers often buy expensive mice, keyboards, and other accessories with very small latency. Using Ethernet is part of the lag reduction equation.
If it’s not critical that your response times are as fast as possible, you can live gaming on a Wi-Fi connection. I have played RPG games on Wi-Fi, and though ping is slower than when using Ethernet, the difference didn’t really make me a worse player. It’s only the hard-core gamers with playing intense games that will see a noticeable difference.
Picking the right Wi-Fi router
Modern wireless technology is starting to bridge the Ethernet vs Wi-Fi gap. To make the most out of your Wi-Fi connection you need to pick the right router. There are high-performance routers that reduce latency and have increased transfer speeds. If your issue is connection strength, you can opt for a mesh router system that expands coverage area. Some products are also focused on parental controls and security. Below we will show you some of our top picks for routers.
Best Wi-Fi routers:
- Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300: With the Asus ROG Rapture you can enjoy a total internet coverage of an impressive 5000 square feet. It supports speeds of up to 5334 Mbps and takes advantage of VPN fusion, as well as having 8 Ethernet ports.
- Netgear Nighthawk X10 AD7200: This wireless smart Wi-Fi router has an impressive 4600+1733+800 Mbps of wireless speed. The 1.7GHz Quad Core processor is also one of the best for home WiFi for just about anything.
Best mesh routers:
- Google Nest Wi-Fi: The Google Nest Wi-Fi is easily one of the best mesh router systems you can buy. The set-up is as simple as they get, and it’s done with an app. To make the deal even sweeter, the secondary points double as Google Assistant speakers!
- Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 System: While you are paying nearly $600 for the router and a single satellite extender, the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 can cover up to 5,000sqft with Wi-Fi speeds of up to 6Gbps. It can also keep over 60 devices connected simultaneously.
- Gryphon Mesh Network System: This is the best mesh router for the security conscious, as it sports advanced parental controls, daily security updates to prevent the latest threats, an ad blocker, device vulnerability scanning, intrusion detection, and malware filtering.
Best VPN routers:
- Linksys WRT AC3200: You can set up a secure VPN, turn the router into a web server, detect network intrusions, and more. The router also features MU-MIMO technology for delivering a fast Wi-Fi connection to multiple devices simultaneously, and it has a companion app for creating separate guest networks, prioritizing your devices, and setting parental controls.
Now that you have solved the Ethernet vs Wi-Fi conundrum, enjoying your internet connection is only a matter of making the right choice for your needs. All we can say is most of you can live more than happy with a Wi-Fi connection. More demanding users might think otherwise, though. Where do you stand?