Ask LH: What Awesome Things Still Require A Wire?

Ask LH: What Awesome Things Still Require A Wire?

Dear Lifehacker, Everything is going wireless nowadays. Optical drives are being removed from computers in favour of getting content from the internet, mobile data is becoming fast enough to replace wired connections for the average person, and there are few peripherals I really use anymore. Am I missing out by ignoring the wired world? What’s still worth plugging in?

Sincerely, Plugged Out

Photo by 3DStock (Shutterstock).

Dear Plugged Out,

Although Gigabit Wi-Fi is just around the corner and mobile broadband is fast enough for the average consumer, the wired world still matters. Wireless is on the verge of achieving some incredible speeds, but that’s only really relevant when it comes to internet connectivity. While I’m a MacBook Air owner and couldn’t care less about an optical drive and most peripherals for the computer, that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of things that really need to operate over a wire. So what ports do you actually need and what’s worth keeping around? Let’s take a look.


I’m terribly excited for Gigabit Wi-Fi because wiring up a home can get pretty annoying. That said, without stellar wireless reception and plenty of patience, Wi-Fi just isn’t fast enough for a lot of things. Streaming HD video through a wall from my server and router’s location to the TV in my bedroom just isn’t very reliable over Wi-Fi, and the signal doesn’t have to travel very far. The problem is worse for people in houses or large apartments, especially when dealing with several floors. Even when Gigabit Wi-Fi is a reality, reception will still be something of an issue. While Ethernet may not have a place on ultramobile laptops, there are still tons of reasons to use it. Here are a couple that will continue to matter even as Wi-Fi speeds improve.

Back Up Faster Over The Network

backing up your data is important

Network backups go a whole heck of a lot faster if you just plug in the Ethernet cable. It’s also less of a strain on your computer and its battery. So if you can backup over Ethernet, do it. That fast, gigabit connection makes a big difference and, if your network backups are automated, you can just plug it in and let the computer take care of everything in the background much more quickly.

Keep Up with Your Ultra-Fast Internet

Cable internet speeds are rising fast. I’m currently paying the same amount of money for a 100Mb connection as I did for a 3Mb connection 10 years ago. Although 802.11n is theoretically capable of handling high-speed internet, I’ve found that it tends to cap out around 25-30Mbps in general use. If you love fast internet and want to make the most of it, you need an Ethernet connection. Wireless just can’t keep up.

If you want to use Ethernet as your primary network connection but aren’t sure of the best way to do it, check out our guide to going completely wired in your home.

USB 3.0 (and 2.0)

USB 3.0 is fantastic. It’s super-fast and few days go by when I don’t wish my laptop had it. One of the reasons I built Hackintoshes instead of buying official Apple hardware is because I wanted USB 3.0 in my machines. You barely have to wait for most data transfers, the technology uses fewer resources than USB 2.0, and USB 2.0 devices still work just fine. But even USB 2.0 has its place with loads of useful devices available. You already know you can plug in a hard drive and transfers will be faster than if you were copying files over a wireless network, so let’s take a look at some of the other cool stuff you can do over USB.

Remote Control Your Camera

DSLR ControllerandDSLR Remoteplenty of great ways to remote control your camera

Record High Quality Audio

Setting up a home recording studio can be pretty inexpensive

Anything That Can Be Done with a Thumb Drive

so many great usesthe best character on hit TV show Revenge

Charge Your Other Gadgets

Audio and Video Cables

Wireless video isn’t great. Wireless HDMI exists and is better than you might expect, but it’s still not nearly as good as the wire. You definitely can’t expect to hook up a monitor over a wireless connection, and the apps that turn tablets and other computer displays into a wireless monitor still come with a lot of lag. Video conferencing is one of the few awesome things you can do with video wirelessly, leaving so many more reasons to plug in. Here are a few favourites.

Put Your Tablet or Smartphone On Your TV

turning your phone or tablet into a retro arcade

On top of that, you can play any regular games, give presentations and mirror just about anything very easily. While some devices will allow for this over a wireless connection — namely iDevices with AirPlay mirroring support — you can only stream to other compatible devices and the quality and reliability isn’t quite as good. Wired gives you many more options here.

Get the Highest-Quality Sound

perfect pair of headphones


PS What wired stuff is still awesome and important to you? Let us know in the comments!

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