Things we need to consider:
- The maximum recommended length of a single stretch of ethernet cabling is 328 feet. Anything beyond that will result in signal degradation and other problems.
- A gigabit ethernet card has a theoretical maximum throughput of 1,000 Mbps.
- Wifi signals can be degraded by walls, mirrors, metal pipes, furniture, etc. A wifi network using the 802.11-N draft spec ought to have a range of between 50-150 feet with a theoretical maximum throughput of about 144Mbps.
- You will never, ever actually get the theoretical maximum throughput. Not even close.
- Even if you could get the theoretical maximum throughput, no residential connections in the USA could utilize it. For the purposes of this topic, I'll assume that your maximum download rate is around 5Mbps, a fairly common maximum rate.
Those things being said, the answer to your question depends a great deal on the physical layout of your house. How far is it from the phone jack to the computer? Consider both the distance you would have to cover if you ran an ethernet cable (basically the same as the walking distance) as well as the distance a wifi signal would have to travel (which is more direct as the signal goes through walls and such.) If, for example, your computer is only ten feet away using wifi but 75 feet away using a cable, then obviously go for the wifi.
Another consideration is that of security. While the current standard of wireless security, WPA2, is light years better than the original WEP system (which was horribly, horribly broken) you still are sending data from one point to another by broadcasting it on a radio frequency. Someone could theoretically intercept such data while traveling from your computer to your router (especially if you don't use WPA2, which you should). A wired solution doesn't suffer from this potential problem.
Another consideration is expandability and malleability. If you have any plans to add devices to your network at some point in the future, or plans to move your current computer around, then wifi presents some strong advantages in that you wouldn't have to lay new cables or relocate existing ones.
When you get right down to it though, it's very hard to determine the potential quality of a wifi network in a given environment without actually setting it up and watching it in action. I myself use a wireless connection (802.11-G, an older version of wifi) to my router which is about 15 feet from my computer. My connection is strong and my downloads max out at around 200KBps which is just as good as my other computer which is connected via ethernet to the same router.
Then there's price: a 100m ethernet cable runs around $20 on Newegg. A 802.11-N router/PCI card setup will run at least $40 on Newegg. So...
Edited by Amazing Andrew, 30 July 2009 - 08:38 AM.