How Do I Connect My Router to My Computer?
Most modern devices connect wirelessly—even desktops now ship with Wi-Fi connectivity. Just connect to the router’s 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band, and you’re good to go.
But there will be times when you need a wired connection, like testing your internet speed or improving your video stream quality. Tethering your computer to a router is easy, and we’ll show you how in two steps. We’ll also explain why a wired connection is best for specific uses.
How do I connect my router to my computer?
You can connect a computer to a router using a wired or wireless connection, depending on the model.
For instance, most laptops support Wi-Fi connections, but thin-and-light models like the MacBook Air may not have an Ethernet port for wired connectivity. In that case, you will need a USB adapter.
Desktops always have an Ethernet port—sometimes two in configurations designed for gaming and workstations. Wi-Fi is more common now in desktops than in recent years, thanks to Wi-Fi 5.
If you’re using an Ethernet cable to connect a computer to a router for the first time, you should have all the cables you need. Manufacturers typically bundle at least one with the router but double-check that you have all the cables listed on the parts list. We provide a list of the best Ethernet cables if a cable didn’t ship with your router.
Here are the steps for how to connect your router to your computer:
Part 1: Connect your router to the modem
Is your internet plan up to speed with your wired connections? If not, you may need a better plan. Enter your zip code below to see what’s available in your area.
Part 1: Connect your router to the modem
Chances are, you already completed this step. But if you’re setting up your router for the very first time, you need this connection first before you tether your computer to the router.
If you have a standalone modem
Connect your router to your modem using an Ethernet cable. Most routers have multiple Ethernet ports, but there’s one specifically labeled “Internet” or “WAN” (wide area network) used for connecting directly to the modem. It typically has a different color than the other Ethernet ports.
If you have a wireless gateway (a combined router/modem)
Be sure that you properly secure the wireless gateway to the internet connection entering your home. The connection type depends on the internet you have.
For example, cable internet comes into your house via a coaxial cable, whereas connecting to DSL requires you to connect your modem to a filter, which then plugs into any phone jack. We provide more information about cable types below.
Part 2: Connect your computer to the router
With your router connected to the modem, it’s time to connect your computer to the router.
Step 1: Plug one end of an Ethernet cable into the Ethernet port on your computer. If your computer does not have an Ethernet port, you will need a USB adapter. Here are two examples:
Step 2: Plug the cable’s other end into one of the grouped Ethernet ports on the router. These are often labeled “LAN” (local area network), or “LAN1,” “LAN2,” etc.
Platforms like Windows and macOS should automatically connect to the local network—no logins required. If this doesn’t happen, restart the computer so your router can give it a working private IP address. Your Ethernet connection doesn’t use the same private IP address as your computer’s Wi-Fi connection.
Wait, my router has a USB port!
Although many routers now have at least one USB port, it doesn’t support internet connectivity. Instead, it adds shared devices to your network, like printers, external hard drives, and network attached storage (NAS) devices.
Cables you’ll need to connect
Ethernet cables are the primary type of cable used in computer networking. But, depending on the kind of internet connection you have, you might have to deal with several other kinds as well. There are also different types of Ethernet cables, so it’s helpful to know some details.
Ethernet cables connect computers, game consoles, streaming boxes, and more to a local network. They have a connector on either end that looks like a phone jack but wider. The cable itself is thicker than a telephone cable and contains four twisted pairs of insulated copper wires.
Ethernet cables are also known as RJ45 cables. The “RJ” term is short for registered jack, a type of interface that connects equipment to a telecommunications network. The number means it was the 45th interface registered with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Ethernet cables use an 8 position 8 contact (8P8C) connector.
Telephone cables connect a phone to a landline. Phone jacks are still fairly common in most houses in the US, but you probably won’t use it or the cable unless you have dial-up internet or DSL.
Telephone cables can contain up to 12 twisted wire pairs of plastic-covered copper wire. They use the smaller RJ11 connector with up to six pins.
Keep in mind that a telephone cable connector is smaller than an Ethernet cable connector. It can easily fit into an Ethernet port, but doing so can damage the port, so make sure that you have the correct cable that looks like it fits into the jack before you plug it in.
Coaxial cables (also called coax cables) look very different from other networking cables. Rather than a boxy end, they end in a circular connector with a single sharp pin in the middle.
Coaxial cables are used to connect cable modems to the internet and for connecting some TV antennas and cable TV boxes. They also have a screw-on connection, so make sure that once you plug the coax cable into your modem, you screw the cable on securely.
A coaxial cable has a copper core encased in an insulator, a metallic shield, and a black plastic jacket.
More info on Ethernet cables than you probably need
Ethernet is the primary type of network connection, but there are seven different “generations” of cable that you might encounter.
Category 5 (CAT5), CAT5e, and CAT6 are the most common Ethernet cables today. CAT5 cables support 100 Mbps while CAT5a maxes out at 1,000 Mbps. CAT6 introduced shielding to reduce interference while CAT6a increased the maximum speed to 10,000 Mbps.
CAT7 cables are the newer generation, reaching up to 100,000 Mbps at a range of 49 feet. The latest generation, CAT8, can hit 40,000 Mbps at a longer span of 131 feet.
If you’re buying a new cable, it’s easy to get the right kind. But it’s harder to tell if a cable is suitable for the job if you’re just pulling one out of a tangle in your closet.
Fortunately, cables usually have their information printed right on the sheath, including the manufacturer, bandwidth, certifications, and much more. Look for the words “CAT5” or “CAT6” to find out what kind of cable it is. If in doubt, you can always just replace an old cable with a new, reliable one, as they’re relatively cheap.
Finally, special “crossover” Ethernet cables can connect two PCs directly without using a router. These cables have reversed pins on one side and are not commonly used in a home setting. They won’t work if you try to use them in place of a standard straight-through Ethernet cable.
We detail the various Ethernet cable types in our guide about the best Ethernet cables.
How to get faster connections using Ethernet
Once you establish your home Wi-Fi network, adding new devices is a snap and doesn’t require additional cables. But there are a few situations where physical connections might be the better choice. Here’s how to know if that makes sense for you.
Bypassing Wi-Fi bottlenecks
If you’re paying for the fastest internet connection money can buy but you haven’t upgraded your router since 2005, all that precious bandwidth is simply going to waste. Using an Ethernet cable to connect your computer directly to your router rather than relying on Wi-Fi might be the key to improving your connection speed.
Be wary of the cables you use. We suggest using a CAT5a cable or newer, as CAT5 and older don’t support more than 100 Mbps. Also, if your router only supports 100 Mbps through an Ethernet connection, you should upgrade to a newer model that supports at least 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps).
Maximizing gigabit internet
Upgrading to gigabit internet is a huge leap in speed, especially if you’ve been using DSL or satellite internet. But it won’t do you much good if your router can’t put out a gigabit Wi-Fi signal. If you’re already paying for gigabit internet, we highly recommend that you upgrade to a gigabit router.
However, if you’re taking your time considering your options or just saving up to get the router you really want, make sure that you plug your computer into your current router in the meantime. Even if your Wi-Fi can’t handle your connection speed, Ethernet cables (from CAT5e and above) can. CAT6a, CAT7, and CAT8 cables can handle even higher speeds, technically, if you can find an ISP that offers multigigabit speeds.
Of course, if your router’s Ethernet ports only support 100 Mbps, the cable you use won’t matter.
Avoiding dead zones
Connecting with Wi-Fi is much easier than using physical cables, but one downside is that Wi-Fi networks often have dead zones. You have two primary choices for dealing with these troublesome areas.
Solution #1: Invest in Wi-Fi extenders
The best Wi-Fi extenders will stretch your Wi-Fi signal to your basement, the backyard, or simply around an unfortunately placed corner.
However, most Wi-Fi extenders broadcast weak signals. Why? Because all Wi-Fi signals degrade as they travel from the source. If the extender resides 20 feet away from the router, it receives and rebroadcasts a degraded signal, translating to lower speeds. This solution becomes less practical when the dead zones in your house are simply too far away from your router to get a good signal.
That said, if you’re dealing with just one pesky dead zone, a better option is to spend $10 on an Ethernet cable rather than $100 on a fancy Wi-Fi extender that doesn’t solve your problem.
Solution #2: Install Ethernet cables throughout your home
Ethernet cables are both relatively cheap and relatively easy to make since they don’t require any soldering. If you want to physically wire your whole house with Ethernet and are tech-savvy enough to attach your own connectors, you can get 1,000 feet of fancy CAT6 cable for less than a single Wi-Fi extender.
While speed and signal strength are the main concerns when building a home network, there’s one category where wired connections always beat Wi-Fi: latency.
Latency is the amount of time data uses to leave your device, reach its destination, and return to you.
Activities like streaming video, while bandwidth intensive, aren’t impacted much by latency since the software can buffer the video stream to keep it running smoothly (learn more about bandwidth vs. latency).
On the other hand, online gaming must account for every action in real time, so it’s susceptible to latency. High latency can cause lag in your games and can even disconnect you during a multiplayer session.
The best solution is to place your computer or console next to your router and plug it in with an Ethernet cable. If your router is in an inconvenient location, don’t use a Wi-Fi extender. Instead, install a long Ethernet cable for less latency and an overall better experience.
Troubleshooting network problems
Even if you opt for Wi-Fi instead of physical cables, having a spare Ethernet cable on hand can be helpful. For example, it can help you troubleshoot and fix connection issues—or at least keep you connected while you work on a more permanent solution.
We also recommend using an Ethernet connection to run our internet speed test. Just use the cable to connect your computer directly to the modem, and then use it again to test the router.
No Wi-Fi? Try plugging in
Wi-Fi problems can be frustrating to fix since there’s not much to do when you can’t connect. Fortunately, you can fix some Wi-Fi problems by changing your router’s settings or updating its firmware.
But if Wi-Fi isn’t working, you will need an Ethernet cable to connect. In the rare case when there’s a physical problem with your router, like a broken antenna, you can stay connected using your Ethernet connection until your replacement part, or a new router arrives.
Oh, no! My Ethernet cable is broken
Since they’re inexpensive and ubiquitous, it’s easy to take Ethernet cables for granted. Even if they’re not the fanciest tech you own, it’s important to remember that they’re not indestructible. A tight kink can sever the tiny copper wires inside the cable, and there’s usually no way to tell from the outside. Even cats and puppies—teething toddlers too—can be their biggest adversaries.
If you still can’t connect with an Ethernet cable attached, try swapping out the cable for another. There’s a good chance it might be damaged. This problem is relatively common, so it’s always worth checking.
Author - Peter Christiansen
Peter Christiansen writes about satellite internet, rural connectivity, livestreaming, and parental controls for HighSpeedInternet.com. Peter holds a PhD in communication from the University of Utah and has been working in tech for over 15 years as a computer programmer, game developer, filmmaker, and writer. His writing has been praised by outlets like Wired, Digital Humanities Now, and the New Statesman.
Editor - Cara Haynes
Cara Haynes has been editing and writing in the digital space for seven years, and she's edited all things internet for HighSpeedInternet.com for five years. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. When she's not editing, she makes tech accessible through her freelance writing for brands like Pluralsight. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span.