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It's tempting to think that having a wired connection to your computer would make the internet faster. It might, but typically, it doesn't.

It seems like a hardwire connecting to the internet would be faster and better performance than wireless. Is that true and how much faster?

While a wired connection can often be faster if it's truly connected to the internet, the difference between wired and wireless connections at home in practice has little impact on the actual speed of the internet.

In this audio clip from an Ask Leo! webinar, I'll discuss why that is and where you'll typically find the real "choke point" for internet speeds.

Listen:
Download the mp3 (2M)

Transcript

It seems like a hardwire connecting to the internet would be faster and better performance than wireless. Is that true and how much faster? Generally, it's not true and the reason is that the connection you have between your computers is not the choke point for speed.

The place where the speed is most slowed down...the slowest part of your system (I'll put it that way), the slowest part of your internet connection is between your home and your ISP because that's what you're paying for.

In my case, I have 3 MB right here. In other cases, you may have anywhere from 768 KB from the lowest end of DSL to somewhere upwards, gosh, maybe 20, 30 MB. Guess what? 20 or 30 MB is still slower than both common hardwire speeds which typically start at 100 MB these days and the common wireless speeds which are typically around 20 - 50 MB.

So, in general, the speed that you're seeing, the slowness that you're seeing is not a function of how your specific computer is connected to your internet, but rather the speed of your internet as it connects upstream.

So the thing there is if it's important enough to you to pay more for a faster internet connection, if indeed one is even available to you.

Article C5115 - March 14, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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13 Comments
Fred
March 16, 2012 10:10 AM

When you use MB in this article, I think you really
mean bits-per-second. MB, to me, means Mega
Bytes, which is not a measurement of speed.
And, it is Bits per second, not Bytes per second.

The basic point that you are making in the article
is a good one.

Snert
March 16, 2012 12:12 PM

Personally, I don't see the need for speed. Some need it, some don't.
I have two computers I use, one's hard-wired and one's wireless through the same Linksys router.
I have never noticed a difference but I haven't made any timed comparisons

Nils Torben
March 16, 2012 1:48 PM

I cannot follow Leo's considerations about wireless speed.
I have a 35Mb/s up and down fiber supply. When I take a speed test on my PC supplied through cable from the router, it shows the right speed.
Using a 10.n wireless connection from the very same router gives 13-15 Mb/s, sometimes a little more, also depending on the distance between sender and receiver.
Am I talking of something else?

No, you are correct. You are also blessed with an exceptionally fast internet connection. I and many others are jealous. Smile
Leo
17-Mar-2012
Joel Kerney
March 16, 2012 2:27 PM

Wired or wireless ? Where's the choke point ?
I prefer short, concise answers.

The connection provided by your ISP to the internet is the choke point.
Leo
17-Mar-2012
Charlie Griffith
March 16, 2012 3:07 PM

Joel,

Re: "Wired or wireless ? Where's the choke point ?
I prefer short, concise answers.
Posted by: Joel Kerney at March 16, 2012 2:27 PM ..."

Since my own Dickensian-era apprenticeship "working" with these sometimes infernal instruments of the devil-machines called "computers" which started in 2003 when I was only 72 years old...[I'm not making that up].....I've learned that there are absolutely no short, concise answers to any of our questions. Moreover....there is more often than not.... seldom one "answer".

The onion-skin layered complexity of of the pathways of these +- "charged" bits and bytes along their labyrinthine routes fraught with the ambushes lurking at every turn makes me think that we're privileged to have what we have.

We're lucky that they work at all. Think of those poor DARPA guys with their vacuum tubes.

My main gripe is that the cryptic, terse and truncated "english" [note low case 'e') used used by these 'programmers' and marketing guys is prone to raise more questions than their "instructions" are supposed to answer. Who're they writing for? I'm convinced they're writing for each other......and leaving us mere mortals with no Rosetta Stone. So, we, I, throw our pith helmets to the ground and stomp 'em.

Let us now praise Leo for his deciphering these codes for us.

Petr Janecek
March 17, 2012 6:11 AM

There is definitely a difference between a wired and a wireless connection. I live in a concrete house, am not sure what they filled the walls with. The wireless connection between the router upstairs and a notebook downstairs is much more unreliable than the one over the cable I eventually had to install between the two. It also seems to be slower, but that's difficult to assess with the constant breakages in the connection. Installing a USB adapter with external antenna from TP-LINK did not help.

Jim
March 17, 2012 6:21 AM

I have Time Warner Cable. They advertise 5 Mb / sec. I've used their bandwidth measuring website, and I RARELY get more than 260 Kb / sec downloads on either of my machines. Peak I have seen was 600 Kb. That hasn't reoccurred in a long time. I have complained to T.W. about this, but their standard response is, "Must be your equipment."

Granted, my wireless router is only 802.11B, but I believe it is rated at 11Mb / sec. So I don't think that is the bottleneck. I've also noticed no difference when I bring a new computer home from the store.

Time Warner is the ONLY high speed internet supplier in our area, and most of the houses in the neighborhood have TW service. My speeds are always better very late at night or very early in the morning. It's logical to think the bandwidth is divided down by the number of people using the service. Time Warner should upgrade their cables and equipment to give people, at minimum, the bandwidth they advertise.

grump3
March 17, 2012 8:16 AM

Guess it all depends upon your location.
Here in Australia outside of the major cities most are struggling to get a decent BB service either wired or wireless.
The best ADSL service I can obtain here tests out at 150Kb/s (not KB/s) max & it is not available to my neighbours due to lack of ports at our exchange.
They are limited to wireless at constantly varying speeds, usually testing out at 75Kb/s or less.

Jerry
March 17, 2012 11:27 AM

NOTE: B = Byte, b = bit.
I use Time Warner Road Runner. I have the 30Mb down/5Mb up. I checked with speedtest.net and either computer, as long as the other is not actively online, downloads 30 - 31 Mbps. The desktop is hardwired to the router and the laptop is wifi /n. Improtant note: The wifi laptop was within 8 feet of the router while testing so distance was not a factor and I ran this test many times, different times of day and night with the same results.

John Butler
March 17, 2012 1:17 PM

In my experience (UK) wired connections may be much faster. I have not found wireless connections faster than 10mbps.
I have a home network with the workstation ethernet connected via a Draytek router to two broadbands, one is nominally 20mbps ADSL the other 100mbps co-axial (the router uses the fastest and auto switches as necessary. The wireless connects two laptops and a smartphone and the maximum speed I can obtain is 5mbps.
For those with rather slow broadbands the wireless may be as good as the wire.

James
March 18, 2012 10:40 AM

I found a program to check your true connection speed. Go to Georgia Tech and a program by Partha Kanuparthy. ShaperProbe is a program he developed to check if your provider is chocking or limiting the speed you paid for. I am not a very skilled computer user so some of this is over my head. I did run 2 programs and the reports were very detailed ( someone with advanced skills would have a field-day ) Try these links and check it out for yourself. Once again I hope that this is on track and helpful. http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~partha/ and http://www.measurementlab.net/usage MLAB check Additional Resources. and Test your internet connection.
Maybe someone can explain how to best use some of that advanced report information about your connection.

Graham
March 18, 2012 2:39 PM

This article and the comments following show why the term "wireless" should never be used without qualifying what is meant. Wireless LANS eg 802.11 is what the article is actually about but many readers have interpreted the article as about "wireless internet" eg 3G or 4G or "Mobile BB". I find it best never to use the term "wireless", but rather use terms that clearly define whether we are talking about the ISP link or the local (LAN) link.

Interociter Operator
March 19, 2012 5:43 PM

In our household there are usually eight wireless devices downloading things at the same time. Is my 20Mbps connection still the choke point?

Quite probably, but it's difficult to say for sure.
Leo
20-Mar-2012

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