What Cables Do I Need to Connect My Router to My Computer?
Nowadays, most devices connect wirelessly, so dealing with a pile of network cables for the first time might seem a bit daunting. Whether you’re setting up your own router or trying to fix an issue with your network, we’re here to help. You might even discover that there are some situations where using a cable might work better for you than connecting wirelessly.
How do I connect my router to my laptop or PC?
If you’re connecting your router to your computer for the first time, you should have all the cables you need in the box with your router. Double-check that you have all the cables listed on the parts list that came with your router, and you’ll be ready to connect.
Here are the steps for how to connect your router to your computer:
- Connect your router to the internet using the connection from your internet provider (DSL filter, coax cable, etc).
- Connect your computer to the router using an Ethernet cable.
- Turn on your computer.
Connect your router to the internet
The first step is making sure that your router is connected to the internet. If you have a separate modem, you’ll want to connect your router to your modem with an Ethernet cable. Most routers have multiple Ethernet ports, so the one that you connect to your modem will usually be labeled “internet” or “WAN” (wide area network). It might also be a different color than the other ports.
If you have your router and modem combined in a single device (sometimes called a gateway), then you just need to make sure that device is connected to wherever your internet connection enters the house. The type of connection depends on the type of 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 is then plugged in to any phone jack. More information on cable types can be found below.
Connect your router via Ethernet cable
With your router connected, it’s time to connect your computer. Make sure your computer is off, plug the Ethernet cable into the network port of your computer, then plug the other end into one of the Ethernet ports on the router.
If your router has an Ethernet port for connecting to a modem, make sure you plug it in to one of the other ports. These are often labeled “LAN” (local area network), or “LAN1,” “LAN2,” etc.
Once you have all the cables properly installed, you can turn your computer back on. You should now be connected to the internet.
Connect your router via USB
Although many routers come with USB ports, these are typically used for connecting devices like a shared printer or an external hard drive, not for connecting to the internet. Even though your computer and the router both have USB ports, you’ll want to use the Ethernet ports instead, following the steps above.
Cables you’ll need to connect
Ethernet cables are the main 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 vs. telephone vs. coax cables
Ethernet cables are the most common cables you’ll use in computer networking. They have a boxy connector on either end that looks like a phone jack but wider. The cable itself is also much thicker than a telephone cable.
Telephone cables are what you use to connect a phone to a landline, and phone jacks are still fairly common in most houses in the US. You probably won’t use telephone cables or jacks unless you have dial-up internet or DSL.
It’s also important to note that the smaller telephone cable will fit into the larger Ethernet port but doing so can damage the Ethernet device, so make sure that you have the right cable that looks like it fits 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 routers to the internet and for connecting some TV antennas. 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.
More info on Ethernet cables than you probably need
Ethernet cables are the main type of networking cable, but there are several kinds that you might encounter. Standard Ethernet cables are also called Category 5, or CAT5, cables. Most network cables today are actually CAT5e, which is an improvement of the old CAT5 standard. Now there are also CAT6 cables, which is the next generation of Ethernet standards. Although most connections don’t require the increased performance of CAT6 cables, CAT6 is backward compatible with all CAT5/CAT5e devices, so those interested in future-proofing their wired network can make the leap to CAT6 without any issues.
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 right for the job if you’re just pulling one out of a tangle in your closet. Fortunately, cables usually have a bunch of information printed on the sheath, which includes 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. Ethernet cables are relatively cheap.
Ethernet cables are also sometimes referred to as RJ-45 cables. Technically, RJ-45 is referring to the connector on the end (telephones use an RJ-11 connector), so if someone is talking about an “RJ-45” cable, they really just mean any Ethernet cable.
There are also special “crossover” Ethernet cables that are used for connecting two PCs together directly without using a router. They are basically just Ethernet cables with the pins reversed on one side. They aren’t used very much these days, but if you try to use one in place of a normal straight-through Ethernet cable, it won’t work properly.
How to get faster internet connections using an Ethernet cable
Once your home Wi-Fi network is set up, 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
Your connection is only as fast as the slowest element. 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 laptop directly to your router rather than relying on Wi-Fi might be the key to improving your connection speed.
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. CAT6 cables can handle even higher speeds, technically, if you can find an ISP that offers multigigabit speeds.
Avoiding dead zones
Connecting with Wi-Fi is much easier than using physical cables, but one downside is that Wi-Fi networks often end up with dead zones. You have two primary choices for dealing with dead zones.
The first, and most convenient option, is to invest in Wi-Fi extenders. These can boost your Wi-Fi signal to your basement, the backyard, or simply around an unfortunately placed corner.
But if you’re dealing with just one pesky dead zone where your work computer sits, it might be better to spend $10 on an Ethernet cable rather than $100 on a fancy Wi-Fi extender.
This solution is less practical if the dead zones in your house are simply too far away from your router to get a good signal. Still, it’s worth noting that while Ethernet cables are relatively cheap, they’re also fairly easy to make since they don’t require any soldering. If you wanted 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 beat Wi-Fi hands down: latency. Latency is the time it takes for a signal from your computer to make a round trip from your computer to a remote server and back again.
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). Playing online games, on the other hand, has to account for every action in real time, so it’s extremely sensitive to latency. High latency can cause lag in your games and can even disconnect you in the middle of playing.
The best solution is to place your PC or console right next to your router and plug it in with an Ethernet cable. If your router is in an inconvenient location, installing a long cable might give you a better experience with less latency than going with a Wi-Fi extender.
Troubleshooting network problems
Even if you opt for Wi-Fi instead of physical cables, having a spare Ethernet cable lying around can be handy. If your Wi-Fi connection goes down, a spare cable can help you troubleshoot and fix your problem, or at least keep you connected while you work on a more permanent solution.
No Wi-Fi? Try plugging in
Wi-Fi problems can be frustrating to fix yourself since there’s not much you can do when you can’t connect to anything. Fortunately, Wi-Fi problems can sometimes be fixed by just going into your router’s settings or updating its firmware. But if the Wi-Fi’s not working, you’re going to 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 cable until your replacement part or a new router arrives.
Oh, no! Now 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 the most durable cables out there. A tight kink can sever the tiny copper wires inside the cable, and there’s usually no way to tell from the outside. If you’ve plugged in to your router with an Ethernet cable and you still can’t connect, try swapping out the cable for another. There’s a good chance it might be broken. This is a pretty common problem, 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.