Am I forever stuck in wireless?
February 28, 2006 4:15 PM   Subscribe

The ethernet connection doesn't work on my laptop.

It's a Dell Inspiron 5100. When I plug in the ethernet cord to my on-campus ethernet socket (for lack of a better terminology, sorry), it doesn't recognize being plugged in. No web-related programs connect, and it says that a plug is disconnected. Trying IPCONFIG turns up the same thing - that something's unplugged. Any idea on how to make this work?
posted by itchie to Technology (19 answers total)
I've had the same problem for several years. I haven't been able to figure it out. I've been lucky enough to have a wireless connection, so that I haven't had to look into the problem.
posted by erd0c at 4:26 PM on February 28, 2006

Does it work when you plug it into anything else? Does your on-campus ethernet require you install any software? Contact the people who run it is the best way to get it working.
posted by Orange Goblin at 4:26 PM on February 28, 2006

I recently had this problem on another dell laptop. It may be that when the laptop is on battery power, the ethernet port turns itself off. I had to click on the Dell Quickset icon in the system tray and tell it to not turn off the ethernet port on battery.
posted by rsclark at 4:29 PM on February 28, 2006

Try to reinstall the driver -- go to and find the downloads page.
posted by k8t at 4:33 PM on February 28, 2006

Is it enabled in the Network Connections panel?

I have a Latitude D600 and sometimes when I plug the ethernet cable back in, it doesn't recognize it. If I disable/re-enable the LAN connection, presto, it works. Dunno why.
posted by GuyZero at 4:37 PM on February 28, 2006

I work in a college IT office. See if the card is disabled or has a red "x" next to it in Device Manager (right click My Computer -> properties -> hardware). You may need to reinstall or update your drivers (check the website like k8t suggests.) Next, call your college's IT helpdesk for ideas. If all else fails, call Dell (if its under warranty) or you can buy a network card that fits into your PCMCIA slot (on the side of the laptop) or in your USB ports for like $20.
posted by fvox13 at 4:37 PM on February 28, 2006

Did your ethernet ever work?

I suddenly had the same problem on my Powerbook and it turned out to be a broken pin inside the ethernet port. I had to send it in to get the part replaced. It was expensive and sucky.

If none of the software-related fixes work, you may need a network card like fvox13 suggests. I suspect that'd be a lot cheaper than getting a faulty part replaced.
posted by katieinshoes at 4:49 PM on February 28, 2006

Definitely try (even though you should not have to) booting up with the ethernet plugged in. Also try and test the cable somewhere else, and test the jack with another computer. Is it possible that the jacks you are plugging into aren't actually live?

If it is truly broken, you can always buy a pcmcia ethernet adapter - They're pretty cheap these days.
posted by mzurer at 5:17 PM on February 28, 2006

Don't forget to try a different cable.
posted by cellphone at 5:19 PM on February 28, 2006

Can you get someone to test the adapter with a loopback plug?
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 5:28 PM on February 28, 2006

Response by poster: Okay, to answer a few questions. :)
It does not work when I use another wire, or if I'm doing it at a different location. They (the campus) do not require me to install anything to enable it - just to IPCONFIG/RELEASE and IPCONFIG/RENEW. (They're helpless, otherwise, sadly enough.) The warranty ended long ago. It's enabled in Networks, and (at one time long ago) actually worked. I'm going to try to boot it up with the ethernet plugged in (as mzurer suggested) and, if that doesn't work, see if I can update the drivers (or reinstall them altogether). If all else fails, I'm going to try NucleophilicAttack's idea of trying to find someone to test it.
(That was the most horribly formed paragraph ever.) I'll keep you all updated. Thanks so much thus far.
erd0c, was yours also a Dell Inspiron 5100?
posted by itchie at 5:58 PM on February 28, 2006

It's entirely possible the thing is, in technical terms, hosed.

The cable modem in my dorm room stopped working one day, and my iBook's ethernet, plugged in at the time, died along with it. Lightning? Power surge? I'm not sure. But I've troubleshooted software endlessly, and turns out the hardware is just ... hosed.

I'm lucky enough to still be in warranty. Apple's fixing it for free when I send the iBook in next week.

I'd just pick up an ethernet card to plug into your PC Card (fancy term is PCMCIA) slot, if you have one. Should work just as well as the original ethernet, albeit with the annoyance of a little dongle thing to mess with.
posted by Sfving at 7:05 PM on February 28, 2006

Best answer: I periodically have this problem with my Dell when on the road... I think in your case it is probably a dodgy driver.

Your best bet is to uninstall the ethernet adapter entirely:

In XP, right-click "my computer", select properties, hit the hardware tab, select device manager, scroll to network adapters, expand the list, right click your ethernet card entry, and uninstall.

Then reboot. Your system will re-detect it and install a fresh driver when windows boots and you should be off to the races. Have your driver disk handy, or pre-download the driver from dell first, just in case.

This usually works for me, but if you are still having issues it may be a hardware profile issue. I have had this with my docking station, so if you aren't docking then it likely isn't this.

Good luck!
posted by sonicgeeza at 8:06 PM on February 28, 2006

Just a shot in the dark, but it could be a problem with the wired port itself. Is there someone else with an ethernet port that could plug into the wall socket to see if they are able to get a connection? If someone else experiences the same thing, it's possible that either the network drop is faulty, or there's a problem with the line.

But I definately recommend booting up with the ethernet cables plugged in. I've had problems like this with two Dell laptops of my own. Won't recognize that a "live" cable has been plugged in after Windows has booted. Maybe it's an issue with the hardware and their device drivers.
posted by Jim T at 11:33 PM on February 28, 2006

Response by poster: Update 2: Tried booting up with the ethernet wire plugged in (both on battery and plugged into a wall), as well as reinstalling the driver. Had the ethernet plug in the wall tested and reset by maintenance. No dice. Still says "A network cable is unplugged," making me think that it's an internal problem. It must've been damaged somehow.
So, here's a question: If I get something for my PCMCIA slot, will it work with the ground ethernet? They offer those? (I'm obviously behind on the times.) Another additional question: do they offer anything that can be plugged into the USB to interact with the ethernet connection? Is there any hope for me to get a connection without having to completely tear out the innards of this computer?
posted by itchie at 8:06 AM on March 1, 2006

itchie, you say you re-installed the driver... did you actually uninstall the ethernet adapter and reboot as per my suggestion?

Your symptoms match exactly the problem I had with my Dell 2 weeks ago, so I want to make sure you try the same thing that worked for me before resorting to drastic measures.
posted by sonicgeeza at 8:24 AM on March 1, 2006

Best answer: Inspect the ethernet jack on your laptop. Sometimes a pin gets nocked out of position, either jammed in or pushed left or right. A paperclip formed into a teeny tiny hook can straighten stray pins. I've done this with great success a handfull of times.
posted by kc0dxh at 8:47 AM on March 1, 2006

Is it possible that you are using crossover cables to make the connection instead of staright through cables? This certainly wouldn't be the first networking problem caused by this situation.
posted by Neiltupper at 9:58 AM on March 1, 2006

Response by poster: Update: I tried kc0dxh's advice about looking at the ethernet jack itself. Turns out, one of the pins is knocked out of place. I've been trying to straighten it out a little bit, but it doesn't seem to want to move. Is it possible to get a new jack for this computer (and do the work myself)? Or is there something I can do (like using heat to maybe move the pin into place)? Thanks, everyone, but I think that was the main problem - it's not working (because one of the pins refuses to work), but the connection is at least being recognized for attempting to connect.
posted by itchie at 12:03 PM on March 5, 2006

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