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What are the advantages / disadvantages of the "Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adaptor" over something like the "Apple AirPort Express"?

As a frequent traveller (with a retina-macbook-pro) I am simply looking for a lightweight and reliable way to connect to a wired network.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Thunderbolt Adapter


  • Cheaper
  • No software configuration
  • Faster (although depending on the speed of the internet connection, this may be less of a factor)
  • More reliable (no interference, etc.)


  • Only usable with Macs with Thunderbolt
  • Mac is physically tethered to the cable
  • Sharing connection with other devices requires leaving the Mac on all the time

Airport Express


  • Works with any device that has Wi-Fi
  • Multiple devices can be connected at once, without additional setup
  • Allows your device to be free of wires


  • More expensive
  • Requires some configuration
  • Requires an additional power outlet
  • More gear to keep track of
  • Subject to interference from other Wi-Fi networks

If all you need to do is connect to a wired network, the Thunderbolt Adapter is probably the way to go. It's really no different than plugging into a dedicated ethernet port on older machines.

You should really only consider the Airport if you definitely need wireless capability or other devices need access when the Mac may not be available. Your Mac can create its own hotspot to share the ethernet connection with other devices, (like an iPhone).

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If you are not downloading 5 gig movies in 10 minutes, then airport express is better choice. – Buscar웃 Apr 16 '13 at 22:23

Speed is the biggest differentiator. The thunderbolt adapter is capable of 1Gbps, whereas the AirPort express would only be capable of 802.11n which is 300Mbps on good days. Both capable of serving most home/office internet connections, if speed isn't a concern, the next issue would be portability - obviously with the thunderbolt adapter, you would be tethered to the wall by the cable.

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