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Ethernet vs Thunderbolt / USB?

4,331 1,438 October 9, 2017 at 08:12 PM
I apologize for my noob-iness on this one. I video conference for work. I live in a rural area where Verizon DSL is my only option for Internet (obv not ideal). I currently use a laptop with an RJ-45 Ethernet port.

Looking at newer laptops, less and less of the higher end models are coming with an RJ-45 port since the trend is thinner/lighter (and everybody else uses Wi-Fi). My question is this: my router (from Verizon) has 1 USB port in addition to the Ethernet ports. If I:

1) Use a USB cable from the laptop to the router (or thunderbolt/USB cable)
2) Use a USB Ethernet adapter

Would either of those be any faster than or at least equal to using a straight Cat 6 Ethernet cable from the router to an RJ-45 port on the laptop? I'm using a 25' Cat 6 cable at the moment. I can't afford to give up one iota in terms of latency or up/down speeds.

I'm looking at newer 8th-gen i7 or 7th-gen quad-core i7 laptops and trying to find one that fits. I'd consider the Dell XPS line with one of the above two solutions, but I don't understand the technology well enough to know if I'd be giving something up by connecting to the Internet via one of those methods.

I really appreciate any insight.

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Your DSL speeds are going to be the limiting factor. Choice of cable isn't likely to matter, but I'd choose the ethernet port on the router over the usb port.

While a wired connection will be more reliable, another option worth considering is adding a second wireless router and turning off the wifi on the verizon one. You can often get better wifi coverage and speeds this way.

One last thing to consider would be enabling QoS on your router to make sure your work laptop always gets priority.

What kind of DSL speeds do you get?
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Quote from jkee
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Your DSL speeds are going to be the limiting factor. Choice of cable isn't likely to matter, but I'd choose the ethernet port on the router over the usb port.

While a wired connection will be more reliable, another option worth considering is adding a second wireless router and turning off the wifi on the verizon one. You can often get better wifi coverage and speeds this way.

One last thing to consider would be enabling QoS on your router to make sure your work laptop always gets priority.

What kind of DSL speeds do you get?
I get slow speeds...lol. About 2 Megs down and .6 up. I am basically at the farthest point from the co-location where DSL will work. Wi-Fi won't work for what I'm doing. Latency is too variable with Wi-Fi. I need a steady ping to a server overseas....that's why I was wondering how the built-in Ethernet port would stack up against a USB Ethernet port. I did some more Googling and it looks like a USB connection is likely to experience increased latency due to it being de-prioritized when the computer's resources get bogged down. I can't have that, so I guess I'll have to stick with finding something with an RJ-45 port.

As for enabling QoS on the router., I don't have anything else connected to the Wi-Fi/Internet when I'm conferencing (everything else gets powered down / disconnected from Wi-Fi), so I don't imagine that will do me any good, right?

Thanks for your response!
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Quote from Parachute07
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I get slow speeds...lol. About 2 Megs down and .6 up. I am basically at the farthest point from the co-location where DSL will work. Wi-Fi won't work for what I'm doing. Latency is too variable with Wi-Fi. I need a steady ping to a server overseas....that's why I was wondering how the built-in Ethernet port would stack up against a USB Ethernet port. I did some more Googling and it looks like a USB connection is likely to experience increased latency due to it being de-prioritized when the computer's resources get bogged down. I can't have that, so I guess I'll have to stick with finding something with an RJ-45 port.

As for enabling QoS on the router., I don't have anything else connected to the Wi-Fi/Internet when I'm conferencing (everything else gets powered down / disconnected from Wi-Fi), so I don't imagine that will do me any good, right?

Thanks for your response!
Not all high end laptops are missing RJ-45 ports. Most ultrabook though are because of their desire to be thin and light. Desktop Replacement style machines should have ethernet ports.

Yes your internet speed is by far the limiting factor. Thats quite slow especially if your working through a terminal type server. My guess it's all your DSL and not wireless where the variability is.

Without knowing what your router is it's hard to expand more. However USB ports on a router is almost never used for networking and instead is often used to plug in a hard drive or flash drive to use as mass storage and share across your LAN. They tend to be pretty slow anyways. Knowing your router model would be helpful. Honestly I really don't think a USB Ethernet adapter (Quality one) that's over USB3 you will notice any difference because your internet is by far the weakest link assuming you have a decent router.
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Quote from LiquidRetro
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Not all high end laptops are missing RJ-45 ports. Most ultrabook though are because of their desire to be thin and light. Desktop Replacement style machines should have ethernet ports.

Yes your internet speed is by far the limiting factor. Thats quite slow especially if your working through a terminal type server. My guess it's all your DSL and not wireless where the variability is.

Without knowing what your router is it's hard to expand more. However USB ports on a router is almost never used for networking and instead is often used to plug in a hard drive or flash drive to use as mass storage and share across your LAN. They tend to be pretty slow anyways. Knowing your router model would be helpful. Honestly I really don't think a USB Ethernet adapter (Quality one) that's over USB3 you will notice any difference because your internet is by far the weakest link assuming you have a decent router.
Thanks for the response. You clearly know more about this than I do.

As for whether it's my DSL or Wi-Fi where the variability is....here's what i mean about not being able to use Wi-Fi (and my concern with the USB dongle, which might be unfounded - hopefully you can tell me). If I run a continuous ping test to the company server in Asia, on my wired connection, I get a pretty consistent ~233ms (usually within a range of +/-3ms). When I'm on Wi-Fi, it sometimes spikes up 50ms or 100ms or 200ms for a couple of seconds here and there. I can't have that (it causes my sound/video to come out choppy and words are on top of each other). My fear with a USB dongle is that I'll get those occasional spikes of 50ms or 100ms or more because I'm adding a middle-man (the USB port) between the Internet and the machine and that USB port isn't going to get prioritized when system resources are being used heavily. Am I wrong in thinking that it will add latency? I'd love to be wrong....it would make laptop shopping a lot easier. But I don't want to drop $1K+ on a laptop only to find out that I can't use it.

I know that most people wouldn't notice the difference with latency increased by fifty or a hundred ms for three or four seconds, but I'm video conferencing and people are tuning in from different places (for example, I just did a video conference with 1200 attendees tuning in from different cities/countries). If I get a couple of seconds of 100ms spikes, everyone is going to notice that.

Don't get me wrong -- I know that Verizon DSL isn't doing me any favors. And every year, something breaks in their system and I start getting wacky latency all over the place when wired in via RJ-45 and I have to cancel stuff for a couple of weeks while Verizon "fixes" whatever happened. I wish I could get something better where I live, I just can't. My T-Mobile hotspot is faster than my home Internet, but a wireless connection has too much variability.

Anyway, I think you're right that the USB port on the router is for a printer/hard drive. The mode is Westell 7500.

What do you think? Am I wrong to worry about the USB dongle? Will it be less likely to introduce latency with a USB-C or thunderbolt port for some reason?

Do you think a USB dongle will provide as consistent results as an RJ-45 port in terms of ping times?
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The fastest computer in the world won't make up for your very slow internet connection. All of the different connection methods you've dreamed up are many times faster than your internet speeds. Even USB 2.0 is about 800 times faster than your DSL. You're focusing on the wrong things.

The wifi built into most DSL Gateways is pretty bad, if you were to connect a better router as an access point you'd have no problem maximizing your very slow connection via wifi. Again wifi issues are dwarfed by your connection.

I'd expect you to be able to get faster more reliable cellular internet from verizon or at&t especially in rural areas.
It's expensive (hundreds/mo) but you may want to look at availability of a T1 or T3 in your area.

Satellite internet is likely a lot faster depending on where you are but your at the mercy of the weather.

If there are any WISPs in your area that could also be a good option.
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Quote from Parachute07
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....2) Use a USB Ethernet adapter...
1 I echo pretty much everything that jkee has brought up.
2 Before dropping some $$$ on that proposed laptop that won't have an Ethernet port on it, have you considered getting the USB Ethernet adapter and try that on your existing laptop to see what if any speed hits you take?

Far less riskier to try that 1st before dropping the cash on the new laptop.

~~~~
Question for you:
When you are doing your little ping test while hooked up to the wireless router are there ANY OTHER devices either WIRED or WIRELESS connected to your router while that test is running??

Q: Why DC should that matter?
A: Because EVERYTHING that is connected via wire or wireless gets a chance to talk to the router, even if they aren't transmitting any data.
So if you had a phone in the next room that was BARELY connected to the WiFi, it gets a turn and the wireless router MUST give every device a chance to talk...and so it has to wait for that phone to answer via that poor connection and that slows you whole Local Area Network down...including your laptop running the PING xxxxxsite -T -4 command.
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Quote from DC
:
1 I echo pretty much everything that jkee has brought up.
2 Before dropping some $$$ on that proposed laptop that won't have an Ethernet port on it, have you considered getting the USB Ethernet adapter and try that on your existing laptop to see what if any speed hits you take?

Far less riskier to try that 1st before dropping the cash on the new laptop.

~~~~
Question for you:
When you are doing your little ping test while hooked up to the wireless router are there ANY OTHER devices either WIRED or WIRELESS connected to your router while that test is running??

Q: Why DC should that matter?
A: Because EVERYTHING that is connected via wire or wireless gets a chance to talk to the router, even if they aren't transmitting any data.
So if you had a phone in the next room that was BARELY connected to the WiFi, it gets a turn and the wireless router MUST give every device a chance to talk...and so it has to wait for that phone to answer via that poor connection and that slows you whole Local Area Network down...including your laptop running the PING xxxxxsite -T -4 command.
Thanks for all the thoughts, guys. My response here got long-winded just because I think leaving out the detail made it sound like I'm trying to solve a problem with my Internet, and that's not it. So the detail below isn't for argumentative purposes -- hopefully it casts enough light on the situation to understand where I'm coming from.

First: I'm not looking to buy a new computer to "speed up my Internet". I know that's not going to make a difference in terms of my Internet. I just need a new laptop. Mine is about 5 years old and has started to randomly bluescreen / lock up, and I can't have that during a video conference. It's time to upgrade. I'm looking at higher-end laptops because in addition to web conferencing, I do other things and I've wanted a quad-core/SSD for basic multi-tasking/switching between programs/etc. The new laptop isn't trying to solve an Internet problem, I just need a new laptop and since I use mine a good 12 hours a day, I'd rather buy the latest and greatest and hope to have it last another 5 or 6 years if I'm lucky.

My problem is that my company requires a wired connection -- the IT department won't let me use Wi-Fi. We've got about 1500 employees who do this kind of thing in multiple countries around the world. No Wi-Fi is company policy and I'm not going to convince someone to change that. So I need a wired connection and I need it to pass a ping test when the IT department remotes my computer. That ping test will involve a continuous ping to a server in Asia. I need the ping to be stable (not varying more than a few ms, preferably no more than 2ms running for 40 minutes straight). Right now, I'm able to do that with my DSL connection and an RJ-45 with a Cat 6 cable.

Totally agree that buying a dongle and testing it for myself sounds like a great idea in theory - but as my computer is several years old, I don't have the latest USB / thunderbolt technology with which to test it. From what I've read, I doubt that the older USB adapters will work as well as the RJ-45, so I imagine I'd be wasting money on a dongle test that won't tell me much about how the newer ports will work. But of course, to test that for myself, I'd need to buy the laptop with the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port....so I figured I'd ask here in case someone here knows for sure how those newer technologies stack up against the RJ-45 port.

Again, it's not the "speed" I'm looking to improve per se. I know I can't make my DSL "faster" in terms of uploading/downloading. I'm looking to avoid adding any latency between my computer and my DSL modem, so my purpose here was to determine whether using a Thunderbolt/USB-to-Ethernet dongle is going to add any latency/unpredictability/instability over an R-45 port.

A T1/T3 is out of the question. I'd be willing to pay a couple/few hundred a month for a faster, more stable connection, but I approached Time Warner a few years ago -- just to run cables from town to my house (I live just outside of town) for regular cable Internet they wanted more than $10,000. Ten grand on top of the hundreds a month doesn't make sense -- I don't intend to live here forever.

Side note: I do have a T-Mobile hotspot. It is a HECK of a lot "faster" than my DSL Internet and everything else in the house is connected to that when it's connected to something. But the ping isn't stable. I'm connected to it right now. In the last 10 seoconds, my ping times have ranged from 284-506ms. That won't work. The upload/download is much faster, but the latency won't pass. I'll say a sentence and hit that 506ms latency and they'll hear that sentence at the same time as my next sentence when the latency drops back to 284ms and then it's just a garbled mess.

Oh, and to answer your question DC, no -- nothing else connected to the router when I'm doing a test (or when I'm video conferencing for that matter). Everything else in the house runs on the T-Mobile hotspot if it's on anything...we also have T-Mobile phone plans -- up to 50GB/month before throttling means I never connect to Wi-Fi with a phone anymore. I can't have other stuff connected to my DSL router -- I know it causes problems.

So, I guess my original question simplified is this:

Will a USB 3.0 / USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 (I know they are 3 different things) to Ethernet adapter add any latency vs, having the RJ-45 port?

I know most people will say "you won't notice any difference" or "it won't really make any difference" -- but that's not really what I'm asking. I don't notice it when my latency spikes to 506ms on the T-Mobile hotspot at all...the people on the other end do. I'm not at all concerned with what I perceive on my end -- it's whether or not those technologies can be at least as stable as the RJ-45, and I'm measuring in a much tighter range than most people will ever care about (10 or 20ms over thousands of miles? Crazy, I know). I know that people in this forum know a lot more about how this stuff is built and operates internally than I ever will, so I was just hoping someone would know.

I also know that the easiest solution would be moving somewhere that I can get a dedicated T1/T3/fiber connection. I'm not necessarily all that far off of doing that, but I need to replace my computer pronto, so I'm trying to figure out what to buy based on whether I think I can make it without the RJ-45 (since that's much less common in laptops these days).
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Quote from Parachute07
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Will a USB 3.0 / USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 (I know they are 3 different things) to Ethernet adapter add any latency vs, having the RJ-45 port?

I know most people will say "you won't notice any difference" or "it won't really make any difference" -- but that's not really what I'm asking. I don't notice it when my latency spikes to 506ms on the T-Mobile hotspot at all...the people on the other end do. I'm not at all concerned with what I perceive on my end -- it's whether or not those technologies can be at least as stable as the RJ-45, and I'm measuring in a much tighter range than most people will ever care about (10 or 20ms over thousands of miles? Crazy, I know). I know that people in this forum know a lot more about how this stuff is built and operates internally than I ever will, so I was just hoping someone would know.

I also know that the easiest solution would be moving somewhere that I can get a dedicated T1/T3/fiber connection. I'm not necessarily all that far off of doing that, but I need to replace my computer pronto, so I'm trying to figure out what to buy based on whether I think I can make it without the RJ-45 (since that's much less common in laptops these days).
Onboard will generally give you the lowest latency, then thunderbolt, then usb-c. The differences are negligible and should be consistent as opposed to the spikes you would see with most wireless mediums. We're talking nano seconds. Personally I'd say make sure the laptop has thunderbolt and get a decent adapter/dock.
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Quote from Parachute07
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Thanks for the response. You clearly know more about this than I do.

As for whether it's my DSL or Wi-Fi where the variability is....here's what i mean about not being able to use Wi-Fi (and my concern with the USB dongle, which might be unfounded - hopefully you can tell me). If I run a continuous ping test to the company server in Asia, on my wired connection, I get a pretty consistent ~233ms (usually within a range of +/-3ms). When I'm on Wi-Fi, it sometimes spikes up 50ms or 100ms or 200ms for a couple of seconds here and there. I can't have that (it causes my sound/video to come out choppy and words are on top of each other). My fear with a USB dongle is that I'll get those occasional spikes of 50ms or 100ms or more because I'm adding a middle-man (the USB port) between the Internet and the machine and that USB port isn't going to get prioritized when system resources are being used heavily. Am I wrong in thinking that it will add latency? I'd love to be wrong....it would make laptop shopping a lot easier. But I don't want to drop $1K+ on a laptop only to find out that I can't use it.

I know that most people wouldn't notice the difference with latency increased by fifty or a hundred ms for three or four seconds, but I'm video conferencing and people are tuning in from different places (for example, I just did a video conference with 1200 attendees tuning in from different cities/countries). If I get a couple of seconds of 100ms spikes, everyone is going to notice that.

Don't get me wrong -- I know that Verizon DSL isn't doing me any favors. And every year, something breaks in their system and I start getting wacky latency all over the place when wired in via RJ-45 and I have to cancel stuff for a couple of weeks while Verizon "fixes" whatever happened. I wish I could get something better where I live, I just can't. My T-Mobile hotspot is faster than my home Internet, but a wireless connection has too much variability.

Anyway, I think you're right that the USB port on the router is for a printer/hard drive. The mode is Westell 7500.

What do you think? Am I wrong to worry about the USB dongle? Will it be less likely to introduce latency with a USB-C or thunderbolt port for some reason?

Do you think a USB dongle will provide as consistent results as an RJ-45 port in terms of ping times?
Quote from jkee
:
The fastest computer in the world won't make up for your very slow internet connection. All of the different connection methods you've dreamed up are many times faster than your internet speeds. Even USB 2.0 is about 800 times faster than your DSL. You're focusing on the wrong things.

The wifi built into most DSL Gateways is pretty bad, if you were to connect a better router as an access point you'd have no problem maximizing your very slow connection via wifi. Again wifi issues are dwarfed by your connection.

I'd expect you to be able to get faster more reliable cellular internet from verizon or at&t especially in rural areas.
It's expensive (hundreds/mo) but you may want to look at availability of a T1 or T3 in your area.

Satellite internet is likely a lot faster depending on where you are but your at the mercy of the weather.

If there are any WISPs in your area that could also be a good option.
Quote from DC
:
1 I echo pretty much everything that jkee has brought up.
2 Before dropping some $$$ on that proposed laptop that won't have an Ethernet port on it, have you considered getting the USB Ethernet adapter and try that on your existing laptop to see what if any speed hits you take?

Far less riskier to try that 1st before dropping the cash on the new laptop.

~~~~
Question for you:
When you are doing your little ping test while hooked up to the wireless router are there ANY OTHER devices either WIRED or WIRELESS connected to your router while that test is running??

Q: Why DC should that matter?
A: Because EVERYTHING that is connected via wire or wireless gets a chance to talk to the router, even if they aren't transmitting any data.
So if you had a phone in the next room that was BARELY connected to the WiFi, it gets a turn and the wireless router MUST give every device a chance to talk...and so it has to wait for that phone to answer via that poor connection and that slows you whole Local Area Network down...including your laptop running the PING xxxxxsite -T -4 command.

I agree with the things people are saying here. Your Westell 7500 is time to be replaced it's 6+ years old. As someone mentioned combined Modems and wireless routers tend to be all kind of problems. Use the replacement as just a modem and buy your own mid range wireless router. Wireless can cause some lag but it's going to be much smaller and less frequently with a modern decent quality router. Congestion tends to cause the most problems and since your in the middle of no where you will likely won't have much of that. A dual band router is the norm now and I would definitely recommend it.

I don't think a USB Wired dongle will have a significant impact on your performance. If you are just giving a talk over video conference, a modern system won't be under much load. Again I would go with an adapter that's USB3 based so you can get a full gigabit speed even though your actual speed will be much less as your DSL is your limiting factor. What model laptops are you looking at? If this won't be moving much you might consider a desktop and not worry about any of this.

I am honestly surprised you can do a video and audio steam on such a slow connection (Upload is the important factor) in a manor thats acceptable in 2017. 230ms is a quite a high ping for being the presenter on such a call. Even so it tends to be jitter and dropped packets that cause the stutters and drops.

Have you looked into other options for a connection? In many rural areas WISPS are an option that can deliver more bandwidth then DSL.
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Quote from Parachute07
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Thanks for all the thoughts, guys.

....
Totally agree that buying a dongle and testing it for myself sounds like a great idea in theory - but as my computer is several years old, I don't have the latest USB / thunderbolt technology with which to test it. From what I've read, I doubt that the older USB adapters will work as well as the RJ-45, so I imagine I'd be wasting money on a dongle test that won't tell me much about how the newer ports will work. But of course, to test that for myself, I'd need to buy the laptop with the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port....so I figured I'd ask here in case someone here knows for sure how those newer technologies stack up against the RJ-45 port.
...
USB is backwards compatible with 2.0

Get the Adapter you*think* you'd be using going forward should you get a netbook instead of a full laptop.

Test it with your current system. I assumed you would infer that's what I meant...sorry I wasn't direct about that...text on a screen doesn't lend tone very well to a conversation, especially a tech one.

So if it passes muster with ping times on your existing system, your new system will be head and shoulders better between the dongle and the keyboard. We all know from the dongle to the internet service provider is the "challenged" part.


As to the laptop vs. netbook (DC's Def of a Netbook: slim and generally have no optical drive or a lot of times are without the network port).

Have you considered just getting a small form-factor desktop and a nice monitor instead of your netbook? You say you are in front of it 12hrs a day...that's a lot of time to be limited to a small screen, etc...*I don't recall you saying anything about an external monitor)

/more ideas and clarification.
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Quote from DC
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USB is backwards compatible with 2.0

Get the Adapter you*think* you'd be using going forward should you get a netbook instead of a full laptop.

Test it with your current system. I assumed you would infer that's what I meant...sorry I wasn't direct about that...text on a screen doesn't lend tone very well to a conversation, especially a tech one.

So if it passes muster with ping times on your existing system, your new system will be head and shoulders better between the dongle and the keyboard. We all know from the dongle to the internet service provider is the "challenged" part.


As to the laptop vs. netbook (DC's Def of a Netbook: slim and generally have no optical drive or a lot of times are without the network port).

Have you considered just getting a small form-factor desktop and a nice monitor instead of your netbook? You say you are in front of it 12hrs a day...that's a lot of time to be limited to a small screen, etc...*I don't recall you saying anything about an external monitor)

/more ideas and clarification.
The netbook term is generally one of the past. Ultrabook would be what the OP will see now for a similar type machine. Ultrabooks tend to have better specs and SSD's. There have been very inexpensive black Friday machines that kind of it this category but are beyond slow and in my opinion are definitely not worth buying at pretty much any cost. Both are not to be confused with Chromebook's which don't run Windows and likely won't do what the OP is wanting.

As mentioned above I second the recommendation of a desktop if possible. Another option might be a laptop with a Doc put out by the manufacture (Not a generic 3rd party one). These tend more to be business class machines and costly.
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Quote from Parachute07
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So, I guess my original question simplified is this:

Will a USB 3.0 / USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 (I know they are 3 different things) to Ethernet adapter add any latency vs, having the RJ-45 port?
It should be a negligible difference on the order of less than a millisecond. If you don't have built in Ethernet I'd probably go for a usb or thunderbolt dock with an ethernet jack.

Again, while I understand your concerns you don't seem to really grasp where the bottlenecks are. This is kind of like worrying whether you have a gigabit connection to your router when your internet connection is a only couple megabits.

Honestly most any new i3, i5, or i7 laptop will easily meet your needs. Business class machines tend to be a bit more durable and have longer warranties.

Anything you can do to improve the telephone line conditions between the modem and demarc could help a little. I'd seriously look into wisps in your area (might help if you told us your zipcode).

You could do things to maximize the performance of cellular internet too. You can get routers that you plug a usb cellular dongle into that provide wifi and Ethernet jacks or even a cradlepoint router. If you put it as high as possible in your house you'd likely improve the signal outdoor cell antennas are also and option.
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As to the DSL connection...see if they will do a line conditioning check on it.

If there are any half-taps, etc hanging off the line, that will degrade the connection and you need every little bit of performance.
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#15
I agree.. I'd look at upgrading modem and specifically the router so there's no slow downs there. Probably won't make any difference whether you go USB 3.0/C for the dongle - all will work just fine. Last time I bought an Asus ultrabook a few years ago it came with a USB 2.0 ethernet adapter and it works great. They're inexpensive anyway so just test it.
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