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How to Choose the Right Network Adapter for Your Needs

Learn about and explore the different options for network adapters/NIC's, their benefits and differing features with flow chart of different adapter types for different needs.
July 23, 2019

What Type of Network Adapters Do I Need?

Knowing the range of different network adapters makes it easier to understand which type of adapter best suits your personal or business needs. From Ethernet adapters to network interface card options and more, network adapters allow devices to connect to a local computer network through either WiFi (wireless) or Ethernet (wired) formats.

How Does a Network Adapter Work?

The network adapter allows the device to communicate over the local area network (LAN), connecting to the internet or to other computers.

Wireless network adapters, such as those on laptop computers and tablets, take the computer's signals and convert them into radio waves that transmit via antenna (visible or hidden). The radio frequency signals are actually electromagnetic waves that vibrate as they travel through the air on the appropriate bands or frequencies. The frequencies usually tend to be 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, with 14 channels available. The radio waves go to routers and then broadband modems or internal networks.

The adapters for desktop computers typically come preinstalled. If a desktop doesn't offer a preinstalled adapter, a card can connect to the PCMCIA slot or a mini PCI slot. Likewise, old desktop computers may allow a retrofitted Ethernet adapter that plugs into a PCI slot. Some electronic cards even fit into a memory card port. As another option, a USB style Ethernet adapter complies with both desktop and laptop computers, or into an Ethernet port using an Ethernet network cable, as was common at colleges and universities in the recent past.

Different Types of Network Adapters

Depending on your needs, you can find a suitable network adapter for use on either wireless or wired networks. Discover more about different network adapters to guide your decision on the best choice for your home or business network.

Also known as an Ethernet adapter, a network interface card (NIC) is a chip or circuit board that generally comes preinstalled on a computer or device. The NIC allows the computer to connect to a network while also providing support for various technical functions such as data transmission, partitioning and direct memory access, to name a few. The network card is the layer between the device and the network.

Wireless NICs rely on an antenna to communicate through radio frequency waves on a Wi-Fi connection. Wired NICs rely on an input jack and a wired LAN technology, such as the most popular one, Ethernet. It may connect via USB.

The different wireless network adapters include:

 PCI Adapter


The PCI adapter is an add-in card that can fit within a desktop computer. The intended computer's motherboard must have an open PCI slot in order to use a PCI adapter. These adapters offer cordless convenience and good speeds.

PCMCIA Adapter


Also known as the PC card, this adapter works well for notebook computers. The antenna sticks out of the body of the notebook. PCMCIA adapters offer scalable expansion capabilities and support for various storage, memory and communication functions.

 Mini PCI Adapter 


This adapter needs to be installed inside the desired laptop. The antenna of the mini PCI adapter is built into the device for a more compact look and feel.

Wireless USB Adapter


Perhaps the easiest solution, the wireless USB adapter offers a plug-and-play solution. Simply insert the device into the USB port and enjoy your connectivity.

Transceivers offer the best of both worlds with transmitting and receiving capabilities.

Ethernet Transceiver


Also known as a media access unit (MAU), an Ethernet transceiver handles both transmitting and receiving of information. This piece of hardware allows computers and devices to connect over a network. The transceiver is able to detect collision, convert digital data, process across the Ethernet interface and allow network access. These transceivers can connect a hub of workstations or a discrete device.

 Transceiver Module


transceiver module functions as an integrated technology. This device operates as both a sender and a receiver of signals. The transceiver module is an external component of the network yet still functions like other computer accessories providing input and output. The transceiver module may also be a purely standalone piece of technology as well.

Choosing the Best Network Adapter

The most important factor to consider when searching for the right Ethernet adapter or network interface card is to ensure your existing devices remain compatible with your network adapter. Look into compatibility and high-performance network interface card (NIC) / Ethernet adapters that will serve your needs.

Workflow:

Basic Home Wireless Network

Need standard speeds and performance

Choose Devices with Preinstalled Wireless Cards or Plug-and-Play USB adapters.


Still Using an Old Computer

Need entry-level access on an older machine

Choose USB Wi-Fi Adapters.


Rebuilding for a Gaming Environment 

Need great graphics and top speeds

Choose PCI adapters.


Business Enterprise

Need speed and high performance

 Choose NIC Fiber Internet Ethernet Card Adapters.

Workflow:

Basic Home Wireless Network  >  Need standard speeds and performance  >  Choose Devices with Preinstalled Wireless Cards or Plug-and-Play USB adapters.


Still Using an Old Computer   >  Need entry-level access on an older machine  >  Choose Devices with Preinstalled Wireless Cards or Plug-and-Play USB adapters.


Rebuilding for a Gaming Environment  >  Need great graphics and top speeds  >  Choose PCI adapters.


Business Enterprise  >  Need speed and high performance  >  Choose NIC Fiber Internet Ethernet Card Adapters.

Learn more about wireless networking solutions from CDW

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