Wireless connectivity, commonly known as Wi-Fi, has rendered networking so convenient that we often take it for granted.
Nevertheless, when wanting to ensure you have the fastest speed, you know that plugging your device into your Local Area Network (LAN) using an Ethernet cable is the best bet.
What if hard-wiring your PC or gaming console actually reduces your speed, though?
While such a scenario can be frustrating or downright infuriating, take heart.
Here are ten possible reasons your Ethernet is slower than Wi-Fi—and what to do about it.
Why Is My Ethernet Slower Than WiFi? (10 Possible Reasons)
1. Maybe Your Ethernet Isn’t Slower (How To Test)
The first premise is that Ethernet is intrinsically faster than Wi-Fi.
Is this always true?
Check out reason ten below for some scenarios in which your wireless speeds might actually outpace your wired network connection.
These outliers aside, we’ll assume for the duration of this article that Ethernet should be faster than Wi-Fi.
The second premise, then, is that, when you plug an Ethernet cable into your router, switch, or modem, your Internet speeds actually decrease.
How do you know this is the case?
Are you just going off of feel?
Does your streaming video feel laggier when hard-wired?
Does your video game seem to stutter less when you’re on Wi-Fi?
Your instincts might be correct, but it’s always good to have hard data to back up your suspicions.
When you have an accurate way to test your network speed, you can measure and verify that the steps below actually resolve the problem rather than assume the issue is resolved.
The best way to check your Internet speed is by using an online speed test.
We’re fond of Speedtest.net, but several tools exist to help you check your connection.
On the site, click the “Go” button and watch the tool go to work.
You’ll get two numbers: download and upload speeds.
Be sure to test each type of connection—wired and Wi-Fi—independently and record the results somewhere so you can refer to them later.
Also, be sure that your wireless adapter is disabled or disconnected from the Internet when testing the Ethernet connection to prevent an invalid test.
Once you’ve confirmed that your Ethernet speed is indeed slower than your Wi-Fi, continue reading for possible causes.
2. Operating System Problems
You’ve probably heard the old joke that rebooting your computer resolves all problems.
While this isn’t true, you’d be surprised how many times a simple reboot can resolve weird issues with your computer, console, or just about any device with an operating system.
If a reboot doesn’t resolve the problem, you might be tempted to jump to the conclusion that the problem is a hardware issue.
You just might be right, but before going there, there’s actually a pretty easy way to help narrow down the cause of the problem.
If you have another computer nearby, you can plug it into the same Ethernet cable and run a speed test.
Do you get the same results as with the first computer?
If your speed with the second computer is significantly faster than the first, then you know the problem lies somewhere with your PC.
The issue could still be hardware-related (more on that below), but at least you know the source of the problem doesn’t lie in your cabling or network infrastructure.
If your speed is about the same, we’ll have to do some more digging.
Don’t have a second device?
Another possible software-related issue is a corrupt or malware-infected operating system.
Do you notice other problems with the computer like intermittent Blue Screens of Death, kernel panics, or other types of crashes?
If so, you might have a more serious problem than just a slow Network Interface Card (NIC).
It is recommended to run a malware scan (Malwarebytes is a good place to start) and, if necessary, reinstall your operating system.
Before performing the latter, check out the rest of this article and circle back to this solution if all else fails.
Oh, and be sure to back up your data, too.
If you’re experiencing the problem on a gaming console, you can try resetting all the settings back to factory defaults.
Again, it’s worth taking a peek at the rest of this article before going to extremes, but keep this option in the back of your mind.
Of course, crashes could also indicate hardware problems, so it is advisable to run hardware diagnostics if you’ve got them.
If you suspect the problem might be OS-related, you can also check that your device is up to date.
Microsoft, Apple, Nintendo, Sony, and just about every manufacturer of Internet-connected devices regularly release updates to fix bugs and even update drivers.
Updating your system might resolve the problem.
As always, run a speed test after each change so you can verify whether your action had any effect on the problem.
3. Software Misconfigurations
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with your software or firmware, but the issue is still software-related.
How is this possible?
In these cases, the software may be misconfigured, so the hardware is acting exactly as it should, based on its settings.
It would be like owning a Ferrari, but installing a governor to limit its speed to 60 MPH.
There’s nothing mechanically wrong with the engine, it is just being prevented from driving any faster.
Here are a few things to check.
First, disable and re-enable the NIC.
This is kind of like rebooting the computer as mentioned above, and it’s easy to do.
On a Windows computer, go to the Settings app and then select “Network and Internet.”
From there, look for “Change adapter options.”
On the resultant screen, locate your Ethernet adapter, right-click on the icon, and choose “Disable.”
Wait a few seconds, and then right-click again and “Enable.”
Still no luck?
Your NIC may be misconfigured.
While most Ethernet adapters can support up to 1000 Megabits per second (Mbps), it is possible to limit the speed to 100 Mbps or even 10 Mbps.
Head back to the “Change adapter options” page, right-click on the Ethernet adapter and choose “Properties,” and then click the “Configure…” button.
Click on the “Advanced” tab and click on the “Speed & Duplex” option.
Make sure the option is set to “Auto Negotiation.”
One other common problem on Windows computers involves the driver for the NIC.
I once had a network card stop working for no apparent reason.
When I reinstalled the driver, all was well.
Why Does This Happen?
Occasionally, Windows Update will install drivers it believes are newer or better than the ones you have installed on your device.
Many times, this can cause hardware devices to cease working.
If you suspect driver issues with your network card, your best bet is to get the latest driver directly from the manufacturer.
Intel’s the big dog these days, but you’ll also see Broadcom and Realtek network cards among others.
Sometimes the NIC manufacturer will direct you to your PC maker’s website (e.g., dell.com) because they have written custom drivers for your system.
You can identify your PC’s network card model by booting into the BIOS or UEFI setup program and looking at the system configuration.
The steps to do this vary by model and make, but you’ll typically see instructions on the splash screen when you first start up your PC—just before Windows begins to load.
4. NIC Limitations Or Hardware Issues
If you’ve exhausted all software and driver possibilities, the network adapter itself may be the problem.
This does not necessarily mean there is anything wrong with your Ethernet adapter.
Your NIC’s capability may be limited.
Network adapters come in speeds by factors of ten: 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 1,000 Mbps (also known as 1 gigabit per second, or 1 Gbps), and 10,000 Mbps.
If your card’s max speed is 100 Mbps or less, then it is likely your Wi-Fi is outperforming your Ethernet.
The Wi-Fi standard known as 802.11n or Wi-Fi 4 has been around since 2006 and has a theoretical maximum throughput of 450 Mbps.
The 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) standard, published in 2013, maxes out at 1300 Mbps.
(That’s not even mentioning 2021’s 802.11ax.)
Therefore, if your device was manufactured any time after 2006, chances are high that your Wi-Fi card is 802.11n compatible or higher.
Keep in mind, these throughput numbers are theoretical, and only a device under perfect conditions would achieve such results.
Nevertheless, with a theoretical max of 450 Mbps, you’re going to surpass the 100-meg mark.
Check Your NIC
Now, the chances are low—unless your device is pretty old—that your NIC maxes out at 100 Mbps, but it is a possibility and worth verifying so you’re not left chasing your bandwidth tail for no reason.
If you’ve verified your card supports 1 Gig (or higher) connections, then you might have a hardware malfunction.
If you haven’t already, run hardware diagnostics with your Ethernet cable plugged in to check for problems.
Many NICs these days are soldered directly onto the system board of the computer, so if the NIC is faulty, your only recourse is to replace the entire board.
Check with your manufacturer for repair options.
Another alternative—either for troubleshooting or for a workaround—is to purchase a USB-to-Gigabit Ethernet adapter.
These handy devices plug into a USB-A or USB-C port and deliver gigabit speeds for around $25.
To keep bezel profiles low and due to the increased reliability and speed of Wi-Fi, many laptops don’t even include a NIC these days, so it is nice to have one of these adapters around in case you might need one in the future.
We still recommend working through the rest of this guide before purchasing any hardware, but one of these adapters could be a quick and painless fix.
5. Check Your Cables
Cabling also plays a critical role in network speed.
Although Ethernet cables may look the same on the outside, they can vary greatly.
One cable that looks similar to the next might actually be capable of 100 or even 1,000 times the speed!
Ethernet cabling standards come in categories, referred to as “Cat” followed by a number.
Cat5e—the “e” stands for enhanced—was the first standard to support 1 Gbps, and it is the minimum threshold to shoot for.
Cat5 is limited to 100 Mbps and Cat3 to 10 Mbps.
If you’re using either of these cables, your Wi-Fi will probably be faster than your Ethernet connection.
How can you tell which type of cabling you’ve got?
Most Ethernet cables have the category standard printed on the cable jacket.
Look for “VERIFIED CAT6” for example.
Sometimes the standard will be stamped somewhere on the plastic connector piece.
If neither of these is present, your next best bet is to use a cable tester.
However, unless you happen to have one of those lying around somewhere, it would be cheaper to purchase a new cable that meets the standard you need.
One other word about cabling.
It’s important to consider all cabling between your computer and your router.
If your home or office is wired with CAT5 (limited to 100 Mbps), it does no good to use a CAT5e cable to plug your PC into the wall jack.
If you suspect that this might be the problem, plug your computer directly into your router to eliminate the middleman.
If your connection speed jumps, you’ve found the source of the problem.
Time to re-cable.
Aside from speed limitations, your cabling could be faulty.
This will often result in no connection at all rather than a reduction in speed, but it’s worth examining your cables for kinks, nicks, or breakage.
6. Your Networking Hardware Is To Blame
If your speed is still painfully slow, check your networking hardware.
As with cabling, if your switch, modem, or router is the source of the problem, two explanations are possible.
Hardware limitations or hardware malfunction.
If you suspect the former, a call to your Internet Service Provider might be in order.
A couple of years ago, my ISP contacted me to tell me my modem was out of date, and they sent me a new one (pro bono!) to ensure I was taking advantage of the fastest possible speeds they had to offer.
Your ISP might not be proactive, so reaching out to them may be to your advantage.
That said, if your Internet source is limited, then both Wi-Fi and Ethernet would experience the same limitations—unless you’re getting Wi-Fi from a different source.
(See number ten below.)
Still, your ISP might be able to help troubleshoot problems with any of their equipment.
A word of warning, though: be prepared to wait and for the call to last a long time.
If you have any devices between the modem and your PC, these could be the source of the problem.
Is your switch up to snuff, or is it limited to 100 Mbps?
If you plug your device into a switch, try moving the Ethernet cable to a different switch port.
The port on your switch could be faulty.
Here’s another thing to try.
Plug your computer directly into your Internet modem.
Doing this bypasses all other points of failure and can help you identify the source of the problem.
7. Router Misconfiguration
Perhaps your router is misconfigured.
Try rebooting all of your networking hardware and then test the connection speed again once it comes back up.
Just like your PC, the router runs on software, and while more stable than a computer operating system, these devices need to be rebooted occasionally.
Another thing to consider is whether you’ve made any configuration changes to your router.
If so, try to undo them and see if this resolves the problem.
If all else fails, you can factory reset your device.
This usually involves pressing a recessed button with a pen for several seconds, but the methodology varies by device.
Check your documentation.
Be warned, though.
If your router also serves up Wi-Fi, you’ll have to set up your SSID and all other settings again, so don’t perform a factory reset unless you know what you’re doing.
8. Your VPN Is Causing The Problem
Do you use a VPN?
A Virtual Private Network uses tunneling to give you a secure connection to another network.
Many work-from-home scenarios require VPNs to access corporate networks, and VPNs have become common among security-minded surfers.
Nevertheless, VPNs always slow down your connection because some overhead is required to create a secure connection.
Why would this slow down your hard-wired connection but not Wi-Fi?
It’s possible that the VPN is only piggybacking off of the NIC connection and not your Wi-Fi.
Try disabling your VPN and run another speed test on both Ethernet and Wi-Fi to what effect it has on network speeds.
9. Check The Firmware
Just like your operating system needs updates, so does your router.
Log in to your device by inputting its IP address into the address bar of a web browser.
The default address on most devices is 192.168.1.1, but this can vary.
Consult your documentation for the credentials.
Once logged in, look for an update tab or button.
If there are updates available, it’s a good idea to install them.
Be prepared to lose network connectivity for a while once the update process starts.
This can take a while, but whatever you do, don’t unplug or power off the device during a firmware upgrade.
If you do, you might permanently destroy your device.
10. Your Wi-Fi Is Blazing Fast
Do you use different sources for Wi-Fi and Ethernet?
If so, your Wi-Fi might just be blazing fast—faster than your hard-wired connection.
Say you have a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service for your home internet, but you just signed up for a 5G Wi-Fi hotspot in your home.
DSL is limited to around 100 Mbps max speed, while 5G comes with the promise of faster speeds.
Don’t Live With Slow Ethernet
Slow Ethernet speeds can be frustrating, but by examining all components, from ISP to the operating system, you can find out why you’re not getting the speed you expect.
Don’t settle for a slow network connection.
Be methodical in your troubleshooting approach, and you’ll be back to lightning-fast speed in no time.