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Network Cards

Network Card Buying Guide

It seems everyone has internet access anymore, we're al...
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Network Card Buying Guide

It seems everyone has internet access anymore, we're all connected in one way or another, be it via phone lines, satellite, cable or other means, we're a connected society and I think we like it that way. When people think of the word network, most think it's the internet, but it's not, a network is more than just the internet, yes it can connect to the internet, and yes the internet is just one big network really, but when we're talking about a network card, it can be more than just for connecting to the internet.

The term network anymore has become a generic term really, it can pertain to hard wired ethernet based, wireless or even bluetooth, so it can get confusing at times when you're looking to purchase a networking related accessory. Most people will try to find 'a network', when they say this they usually mean a wireless internet connection, so the term has become something used to name or describe several things.

Today most all computers come with some sort of network connection built into them, desktops usually have one or more ethernet ports and most laptops usually have ethernet, wifi, and maybe bluetooth and some even still come with a dial up modem/phone jack built in as well.

All of these types of networking devices come in several formats, and styles of connections, they can be USB, PCI, PCIE, PCMCIA, Expresscard, or even mini-pcie/pci to be installed inside of a laptop.

They can also go by several names, Network Card, Network Adapter or NIC (network interface card), but they're all the same thing, and they do essentially the same thing, provide access for your computer to a network, either wired or wireless.

Wired networks can come in three 'flavors' as well, 10, 100 or 1000, which are essentially numbers representing transfer rate speeds in Megabits per second, and depending on your network, is the number you'll need to buy, but most card sold today support all speeds.

Wireless networking cards have letters and numbers associated with them, if you're familiar with wifi, then you know 802.11b and 802.11g are the most common wifi frequencies today with 802.11n becoming the new, faster standard for wifi.

With Bluetooth it can get just as confusing as well, with 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 2.1 and even EDR or A2DP attached to it along the way. Bluetooth 2.1 is the latest standard, offering the fastest speeds, EDR means Enhanced Data Rate and A2DP which means Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, or basically stereo enabled.

While it might seem confusing with all of these different letters and numbers, the main thing to remember is to make the match to be compatible. The newer versions are backwards compatible of course, but for optimal efficiency you'll want the same specs for all of your wired or wireless devices.

Desktops:

Most any desktop motherboard you buy today comes with one of more ethernet jacks built in, which can be used to connect to a home network or to the internet via a cable or dsl modem though some in rare cases, do come with a wifi card bundled as well, but normally if you want to add wifi or bluetooth to a desktop you'll need to buy a separate adapter for it.

The USB style of adapter is, in my opinion, the most versatile as it can easily be transferred to another computer if need be, and you don't have to open your computer to install it, just plug it into a free USB port, install the drivers and you're ready to go. USB network adapters can be for wireless/wifi, bluetooth or even a standard ethernet connection to allow access to a network. Some of the USB wifi adapters even include a wifi finder built in as well, which is a useful and rather cool feature.

Of course the most common way to add either wired or wireless networking capabilities to a desktop PC is to add a PCI or PCIE card internally, of course this means opening up your computer and physically installing it. It's still pretty easy to do, just install the card in a free slot, install the drivers and you're ready to go, very easy really.

Laptops:

When you've got an older laptop though you might need to purchase an additional network card to provide you with wifi, bluetooth, dial up or maybe even additional ethernet jacks. There are several types of cards out there for this purpose, and depending on what types of card slots you have on your laptop is the type you'll need to be looking to purchase.

PCMCIA cards are the older standard for laptops, these are being replaced by the smaller Expresscard style that basically perform the same purpose, they're just a bit smaller, and they can provide higher bandwidth as well. These are the most common way to add additional networking capabilities to a laptop, they're easy to use, plug it in, install the drivers and you're ready to go. You can get these types of cards for most any add-on type of network, you can add more ethernet connections or wireless to your laptop if need be.

If you're tech savvy you can also get internal cards to add networking functionality to your laptop as well, it's similar to the desktop in that you've got to open it up, but depending on the configuration of the laptop itself it can be a daunting task to install one of these cards.

You can also get network adapters in USB dongle form as well just like you can for a desktop, that's one thing great about the USB form of these adapters, they can be used for basically any computer you have.

When buying a network card it's hard to give advice about something like this, most of them use the same chipset, or variations or them int heir manufacturing. I can tell you though that you're obviously better off with a name brand product than you would be with an off brand, generic type. The main reason of course is the warranty you'll get from a big company like Netgear, Dlink, or Belkin, to name a few, and you'll also get good support from them as well, and regular updates to the firmware if need be. If you purchase a no name brand you'll most likely have very minimal support,and probably a substandard product overall.

I would mention to look for reviews, but you don't see many reviews for ethernet networking cards, but you will find reviews for wireless types for both laptop and desktop computers and you'll find reviews for the UBS type as well out there.

Most reviews about bluetooth networking devices you'll find will pertain to the USB dongle style, the trend lately is companies trying to make the smallest adapter possible, which is nice really as it doesn't take up much space, especially when it comes to laptops.

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