One of the most hotly contested debates in networking is between USB networking and PCI networking. While there are valid points on either side of the equation, and a number of factors that can influence the performance of either option in positive and negative ways, most networking experts will still argue that USB networking has some distinct advantages over PCI.
Before getting into the discussion about the advantages of USB, it’s useful to explain what each type of networking protocol actually means.
USB networking requires actually physically connecting devices, using Universal Serial Bus (USB) connectors. Most of us are familiar with USB devices and use them on a regular basis. Whether you are connecting two computers, a computer and a mobile device, or any other combination of devices using a direct cable connection, it’s usually a USB connection.
If you are connecting to a network, such as an intranet or the internet, you might use a USB-to-Ethernet connection, which allows you to connect to an Ethernet port using a USB cable. Most computers and (some) laptops come with a pre-installed Ethernet, but not all devices do, and these ports can break or become non-functional, leading to the need to use an Ethernet adaptor.
PCI, on the other hand, stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect, and at the risk of oversimplifying, allows for Ethernet connections without a direct cable connection. In essence, the PCI is what allows your computer to connect to the internet wirelessly, and depending on its specifications, ensures reliable and fast service.
Why USB Still Matters
Now, you might be thinking, “Why would I want to connect to the internet via a cable? Isn’t wireless better?” The answer is, there are times when a direct cable Ethernet connection is necessary. For example:
- You need to connect your home wireless router to a cable box or modem in order to get internet
- You’re traveling, and your accommodations do not offer wireless internet — only an Ethernet cord to plug in
- You need to access a secure VPN, and cannot use a public wireless connection
- You are using an older machine with a less powerful (or even nonexistent) PCI card
- Your PCI card is nonfunctioning
- You have to connect a second device to the internet, and it does not have wireless capabilities
These are just some of the reasons that you might need to use a USB-to-Ethernet adapter to directly connect a device to an Ethernet port. In fact, even if you have a PCI card in your device, it’s often a good idea to have an adapter as a backup.
The Advantages of a USB Adaptor
In today’s world of wireless everything, some may question the need for a USB-to-Ethernet adaptor. After all, why would you want to actually connect your computer or other device to a port? While that is a significant consideration, there are some other issues that device designers must take into account as well — some of which have major implications for connectivity.
- Cost. In general, a USB to-Ethernet adaptor is less expensive than a PCI card.
- Compatibility. While USB-to-Ethernet adaptors have some issues when it comes to backwards compatibility, they are generally designed to be future compatible. In other words, while the adaptor may not be compatible with older technology, it is meant to be compatible with new and future technology.
- Power. Again, PCI does have some advantages in terms of wireless speed and latency, but USB-to-Ethernet is reliable and generally not noticeably slower than PCI.
- Flexibility. USB-to-Ethernet adaptors offer high levels of flexibility, as they can be used with multiple devices, whereas PCI cards are limited to hardware.
In the end, there is room for both USB and PCI in the world of networking. Each has their advantages, and applications in which one is preferable to the other. However, when you need maximum flexibility, the ability to connect to both current and future generations of devices, and lower costs, USB networking is a viable option. Network engineers and device designers must weigh all of the options when making decisions, but in most cases, a hybrid approach that doesn’t ignore the substantial benefits of USB is preferable.
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