Wired ethernet connections are generally faster than Wi-Fi connections. This is almost universal when comparing network technologies of similar generation. The most common situation where Wi-Fi speeds may exceed ethernet speeds is when modern Wi-Fi standards are compared to older legacy ethernet standards that support lower speeds.
One of the most common legacy ethernet standards is the 100BASE-TX specification. This ethernet standard is limited to a max speed of 100 Mbps. This used to be incredibly fast, today it is slower than many of the newer Wi-Fi standards, and many peoples home broadband internet connections.
The current most commonly used 1000BASE-T ethernet standard supports up to 1 Gbps per second, and newer ethernet standards support speeds of 2.5 Gbps, 10Gbps, or even 40 Gbps.
This is faster than modern Wi-Fi standards. If your Wi-Fi speed is currently faster than your ethernet speed, it is likely due to your ethernet running at 100 Mbps or worse 10 Mbps. The following are the most common reasons for ethernet to run at slower speeds.
- Your Computer’s Ethernet Port Supports a Maximum of 100 Mbps
- Your Network Router or Switch Supports a Maximum of 100 Mbps
- Your Ethernet Cable is Damaged
- Your Ethernet Driver Is Not Working Properly
- Interference Is Impacting Your Ethernet Signal
- Your Router or Ethernet Adaptor is Set to 10/ 100 Mbps
Your Computer’s Ethernet Port Supports a Maximum of 100 Mbps
Many older desktop and laptop computers were commonly equipped with ethernet ports that maxed out at 100 Mbps. At the time this was considered fast enough and only more expensive models included gigabit ethernet ports.
Today, 100 Mbps is slower than many peoples home broadband internet connections. Modern Wi-Fi standards including Wi-Fi 6 (802.11-ax) and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11-ac) commonly supports real world speeds well in excess of 100 Mbps. Unfortunately as recently as 2018 there were computers that were still selling with 100 Mbps ethernet ports.
The easiest way to confirm the specs of your ethernet card is to look in device manager on Windows. To open Device Manager type Device Manager in to the Windows taskbar search bar. After opening Device Manager look for your ethernet adapter. Click to expand its details.
You will then likely see a reference to either fast ethernet or gigabit ethernet. Fast ethernet means 100 Mbps, gigabit ethernet means 1000 Mbps. If you do not see either listed you can simply search the model of your ethernet adapter on the web and find out its maximum speed.
If your ethernet card supports gigabit speeds you are in good shape and this is not the cause of your slowness.
If your ethernet card is limited to fast ethernet (100 Mbps) speeds, you will not be able to get faster speeds through that connection. Your options at that point would be either to accept the lower speeds, switch to using Wi-Fi, purchase a PCIe gigabit ethernet card, or purchase a USB 3 gigabit ethernet adapter.
Fortunately, these upgrades are surprisingly affordable. Here are my recommendations for PCIe and USB Adapters from Amazon.
Your Network Router Or Switch Supports a Maximum of 100 Mbps
Another common reason for slower ethernet speeds is because of an older router or network switch that maxes out at 100 Mbps. The best way to determine if this is the problem is to search your router or switches model on the internet and find its ethernet port specs. If your router or switch supports gigabit ethernet it is not likely the issue. Just to be certain, you should try plugging the cable into a different port on your router or switch.
If your router or switch maxes out at 100 Mbps it is going to limit you to that speed. Chances are if your router or switch maxes out at 100 Mbps it is likely older and due to be upgraded anyways. A quality router is an essential part of any network and not a place to try and cheap out.
Though prices have declined in recent years, and your options are numerous. There are many great options out there.
If you have decided that it is time to upgrade your router, please check out the Amazon links below to see my current recommendations.
Top Budget Pick: TP-Link WiFi 6 Router AX1800
Top Overall Pick: Linksys AX6000 Smart Mesh Wi-Fi 6 Router
Your Ethernet Cable Is Damaged
A properly functioning Category 5e (Cat 5e) or higher ethernet cable will reliability support speeds of up to 1 Gbps at distances of up to 100 meters (328 feet). There is absolutely no need to use expensive Cat 7 or Cat 8 cables to get optimal performance.
Ethernet cables can wear out or get damaged. Fortunately damaged ethernet cables are unlikely to be a fire hazard. However, when ethernet cable damage happens it can easily become the source of a number of connectivity issues.
One common issue is speeds dropping from 1 gbps down to 100 Mbps or even 10 Mbps. This is because the lower data transmission rates are more forgiving of errors in the signal. If your cable is faulty, very often your computer will automatically try connecting at a reduced speed in an effort to maintain a useable connection at all.
If the ends of your ethernet cable get damaged you may lose connectivity on one or more of the pins. The gigabit standard requires all 4 pairs of wires for connectivity. The older 100 Mbps ethernet standard only use pins 1,2,3,6. If pins 4,5,7,or 8 get damaged your connection will automatically negotiate at 100 Mbps and that will limit your speeds from going higher.
Fortunately if this is the case there are many quality affordable ethernet cables from trusted manufacturers. If you would like to try replacing your ethernet cables, please check out my Amazon links below to see my current recommendation.
Best Ethernet Cable: Cable Matters Snagless Cat6 (Choose Your Length)
Your Ethernet Driver Software Is Not Working Properly
Your ethernet driver software can sometimes have an issue that affects your connection speed. This is not as common as the previous causes listed above but does happen from time to time. If you noticed the issue began after a major Windows update or after installing some new software this is especially likely.
If your ethernet driver software needs to be updated, the two best places to download an updated driver from is either the manufacturer of your computer or the manufacturer of your ethernet card. Many times this will be either Realtek, Broadcom, or Intel. If you are unsure check in device manager to find the make and model of your ethernet card.
Alternatively you can often go to the manufacturer of your computer and run their automatic hardware detection tool. The hardware detection tools provided by Dell and HP work exceptionally well in most cases. If you have either an HP or Dell computer I would highly recommend starting here.
Generally I would recommend avoiding using Windows update to download and install driver updates and most importantly, I would never ever recommend downloading any 3rd party driver update utility. These are almost always laced with malware and should be avoided at all costs.
After installing your updated driver, make sure you restart your computer before retesting your connection speed.
Interference Is Impacting Your Ethernet Signal
Another possible cause of your ethernet running at 100 Mbps or 10 Mbps is signal interference. Although interference is much more common with wireless networks, in some cases it can also impact wired networks.
The most common issue is when ethernet cables are ran for long distances directly beside AC electrical wiring. This is especially commonly of an issue when they are ran through the same conduit often through ceilings or underground.
If this is the case you may have no other options other than to either separate the ethernet cables from the AC wiring or to run new ethernet cabling. If this is not possible, you may have to simply live with the reduced throughput or look at other communication protocols.
One option if you must run your data in very close proximity to your AC wiring is to use fiber optic cables. Fiber optic communication uses light inside of glass fibers and is therefore 100% immune to electrical interference.
Other common interference sources include fluorescent lighting, large electric motors, and power inverters. If ethernet cables are run in close proximity to these devices it is much more likely to have issues with signal interference.
Your Router or Ethernet Adaptor is Set to 10/ 100 Mbps
In most cases it is possible to change the ethernet link speed manually. It is possible that you may have in the past changed that from automatic to 10 /100 Mbps only. This will force your ethernet connection to operate at the slower speed.
You can fix this by enabling auto negotiation on your router and on your ethernet adaptor. Alternatively you could manually specify 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) manually. You may have accidentally changed this setting without realizing it.
These are the most common reasons that your Wi-Fi may be faster than your ethernet. In many cases there is an easy fix. In other cases there is nothing you can practically do abut it. In these cases you will have do decide if you want to use Wi-Fi or ethernet. In some cases it might make sense to continue using ethernet even if your Wi-Fi is faster. Often time the stability of ethernet is what matter most.
This is especially true for gaming. Despite what most people think, online gaming only requires about 5 – 10 Mbps of bandwidth for optimal operation. Ping and stability is what counts, and for that ethernet is almost always the better choice. If fast downloads are your top priority, you may want to use Wi-Fi if it is faster in your situation.