How to Add an Ethernet Connection to Your Laptop

Once upon a time, when laptops were a far bulkier affair, Ethernet ports were standard. Ever more slender laptop designs eschew the Ethernet port these days but that doesn’t mean you have to go without: read on as we show you how to cheaply and easily add in Ethernet accessibility to even the most razor thin ultrabook.

Dear How-To Geek,

I love my new Windows ultrabook. It’s super light, super thin, and all around the laptop I dreamed of back in the 1990s when I was hauling around a thirteen pound monster of a portable computer. That said, there is one thing I really miss: Ethernet. The ultrabook has USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI port, and other connection ports but Ethernet is nowhere to be found. I really like jacking in my computer at work directly to the physical LAN as Wi-Fi in my area of the building is quite flaky.

I know back in the day you could get docking stations that added in all sorts of functionality to your laptop when you docked it at your workstation, but I don’t think they really make that kind of stuff anymore (and probably not for laptops sold on the merit of their super-duper thinness anyway).

You guy always have a solution for the people that write into Ask How-To Geek, so I’m pretty sure you’ve got a handy solution ready that I just haven’t thought about. Help!

Sincerely,

Ethernet Envy

Although many (if not most)  laptops no longer come with an Ethernet jack it’s a problem that is easily remedied for those of us that still prefer Ethernet connections. While you could go the expense of buying a docking station (they do still make them), docking stations are overkill for your application both in functionality and price. A quality USB 3.0-based docking station like the Plugable UD-3900 runs $99 and includes the Ethernet port you’re looking for (as well as USB expansion ports, audio ports, and ports for external displays). That’s great if you’re looking to setup an easy-to-connect-to workstation for yourself wherein one cable connections you to external displays, hard drives, and peripherals but it’s more than a bit of overkill for a simple Ethernet-connectivity fix.

For that there is a solution that is less expensive, more compact, and certainly more laptop bag friendly: a simple USB Ethernet adapter. For a mere $12 you can pick up the Plugable USB 2.0 Fast Ethernet Adapter; this is the adapter we use and we’re quite happy with it. (It’s the adapter seen in the header photo of the article.)

It’s plug ‘n play on Windows and supported by OS X and Linux. Further, you can use this particular AX88772 chipset-based adapter on more than just desktop operating systems: you can use it for Chromebooks, the Microsoft Surface Pro, many Android phones and tablets, and even consoles like the Wii and WiiU.

If you want gigabit Ethernet speeds you can pick up the Plugable USB 3.0 Gigabit adapter ($18) for a few dollars more. You’ll gain gigabit speeds for Windows, OS X, and Linux, but you will lose a little bit of the cross-platform functionality (you can’t use this adapter for game consoles, tablets, etc.)

Aside from plugging the device in (and visiting the drivers section of the Plugable web site if the drivers fail to automatically install for you) there’s only one other thing you’ll want to do. Windows should, by default, prioritize the Ethernet connection over the Wi-Fi connection. If it doesn’t you can adjust that by navigating to “Network and Sharing Center” in Windows (the easiest way to do so is to right click on networking icon in the system tray next to the click on your taskbar or to type “Network and Sharing Center” into the Windows menu search box.

When you’re in the Network and Sharing Center navigate to Advanced -> Advanced Settings in the menu bar (if you don’t see the menu bar press the ALT key to unhide it).

Under the Advanced Settings menu you’ll find the “Adapters and Bindings” tab. At the top of that submenu you can select a network connection and use the up/down arrows to move it to the top of the list.

That’s all there is to it really; we live in the golden age of plug ‘n play compatibility and it’s never been easier to just slap a USB addition (even a network connection as we’ve just seen) onto your laptop.


Have a pressing tech question? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.