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- LAN Adapter
- Network Adapter
- Network Card
- Network interface controller
What Is a Network Card?
The Network Interface Card or “NIC” as it is commonly called, is a hardware device that when plugged into your computer (on the motherboard), allows you to connect to a computer network.
Note: This write-up deals primarily with stand-alone network cards. However, in many cases the network card is built directly onto your computer’s motherboard. This type of network card is an “integrated” or built-in card. Even-though it is built-in, it works and functions the same way as a stand-alone card or wireless card.
Below are images of an integrated network card:
Click on the above images to enlarge them!
What Does a Network Card DO?
A network card allows you to connect to a computer network. A computer network is a collection of two or more computers with communication between them through a medium. The communication medium can be through radio waves, wires, infrared, optical fibers, etc. By connecting to a network you can:
- Share or access resources (data files, pictures, videos, etc)
- Get on the Internet (surf websites, like YouTube, Facebook and search on Google)
How Do Network Cards Work?
Just like any other expansion card (e.g. Video card, Sound card, etc.) the network interface card must also be inserted into an open and available slot on your computer’s motherboard. After it has been configured, the proper drivers installed and your computer has obtained security access to a computer network, you are done.
Now a days configuration mostly consists of inserting the NIC and letting your modern day operating system do the work via what’s called Plug-and-Play (PnP). Plug-and-Play means that the operating system automatically senses what settings and software needs to be installed in order to make the NIC work properly. Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows 98 and many Linux distributions are Plug-and-Play operating systems.
OK I think I get it… But What’s a Network?
Computer networks are an integral part of our daily lives, with the most important reason being that of communication. The use of computer networks is to share resources like printers, data files, pictures, etc., and its other uses are database servers, computer servers, email, chat, Internet use, etc.
For a network to function, there are a few devices and other items that are needed, The networking hardware basically consists of wiring, network cards, a switch and a router. Computer network cards are required so that one computer can understand what the other computer is “talking”. Network cards have a unique MAC address to identify computers on a computer network.
Wired vs Wireless
The traditional computer network is primarily a wired network using cables, switches, routers and NICs. But you can’t drag a wire with you everywhere you go. That’s where wireless technology comes into play. Wireless networks work using radio waves instead of wires to transmit data between computers.
Connecting to a wireless network, is done by using a wireless network adapter, which has been configured to communicate using radio waves to what is called a “Wireless Access Point” or WAP.