An Overview of Network Adapters – Wired and Wireless

Do you know what a Network Adapter is? A network adapter is the unit of a computer’s internal hardware that a computing device employs for interfacing over a network with another computer. It helps a computer to connect to another computer, server or any networking device over a network.

A network adapter for wired networks includes an RJ-45 port that utilizes twisted or untwisted pair cable for network connectivity. In case of Wireless adapters, connection happens with the network through a built-in or externally attached antenna.


Both wired and wireless network adapters support popular LAN protocols such as TCP/IP.

Most desktop and laptop computers you see today have a built-in network adapter.

So, now let’s discuss in-depth about the network adapters and their types.

What is a Network Adapter?

network adapter is a segment of hardware that acts as the interface for a computer to a network. It is usually the only component within a computer for connecting with a net.

The term was popularized initially by Ethernet add-in cards for PCs.

It acts like an additional device that enables wireless or wired capabilities on a machine that did not earlier support it. For instance, a wired-only desktop computer, which doesn’t have a wireless NIC, can use a wireless network adapter to connect with Wi-Fi.

It is sometimes also known as a network interface controller, LAN adapter or a physical network interface.

The network adapter implements the electronic circuitry necessary to communicate using a specific physical layer and data links layer standard such as Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

It allows computers to communicate over a computer network, either by using cables or wirelessly.

What are the different types of a Network Adapter?

Adapters are a necessary component to include when building a network. There are several types of network adapters, so choosing the one that best suits your requirements is essential.

Network adapters are relatively inexpensive and are available in a variety of forms, such as:

Wireless Network Adapter

Many new computers contain built-in wireless network adapter chips.

Some wireless network adapter may have an antenna attached to it to increase its potential for reaching a wireless network. On the other hand, others may have the antenna hidden away within the device.

USB Adapter

A USB Adapter is a minuscule device with a USB interface. It is generally the size of a thumb drive. You plug it into the standard USB port of any computer or network device with a USB port.

Some examples include the Linksys Wireless-G USB Network Adapter or the TP-Link AC450 Wireless Nano USB Adapter.

USB adapters are useful in cases where the device doesn’t have a working wireless network card but does have an open USB port.

The wireless USB network adapter plugs into the port and supports wireless capabilities without installing the network card.

Some USB network adapters can also support wired connections, such as the Linksys USB 3.0 Gigabit Ethernet Adapter.

PCI Adapter

If you want to have a network adapter that connects directly to the motherboard, you can think of PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) network adapters.

You will find them in both wired and wireless forms and are somewhat similar to the built-in NICs present in most computers.

You can install them in an empty PCI or PCI-E (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) slot on your desktop computer’s motherboard. A PCI Adapter is also sometimes known as a NIC (Network Interface Card).

PCI and PCI-E are both computer expansion card standards.

Some examples include the Linksys Wireless-G PCI Adapter, D-Link AC1200 Wi-Fi PCI Express Adapter, and TP-Link AC1900 Wireless Dual Band Adapter.

PC (or PCMCIA card)

It is a variant of PCI adapter and is also known as PCMCIA cards. The size of PC cards is the same as of a credit card, but it is much thicker.

You insert it into the PC (or PCMCIA) Card slot of your computing device.

The original name for these cards was PCMCIA Card, which stands for Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. Later on, it became PC Card, and now they are officially popular as  ExpressCard. Most people still call it PCMCIA cards though.

Another well-known network adapter is Google’s Ethernet Adapter for Chrome cast, a device that lets you use your Chrome cast on a wired network.

You require it if the Wi-Fi signal is too weak to reach your device or if there are no wireless capabilities set up in the building.

Virtual Network Adapter

Some network adapters have no hardware component but instead, contain software only. These types of adapters are known as virtual adapters in contrast to a physical adapter.

Virtual adapters are commonly present in virtual private networks (VPNs).  Computers or IT servers that operate using virtual machine technology may also use a virtual adapter.

It is a program that allows a computer to connect to all the computers on a local area network (LAN) to a more extensive network.

An excellent example of the implementation of a virtual network adapter is the Microsoft’s Mesh Connectivity Layer (MCL) technology.

In MCL, there is a wireless mesh network using WiFi or WiMAX that connects computers scattered out over a community or other local geographic region.

How can you know whether a Network Adapter is present?

Modern computers often include a network adapter when sold. To know whether a computer already has a network adapter, look for an RJ-45 jack on the back of your desktop computer, or on the back or side of your laptop computer.

It looks just like a telephone input jack, but a bit wider.

If your computer is running Windows that may contain integrated adapter chips, open the Windows Device Manager.

You can access the Device Manager from the Hardware tab of the System Properties section of the Windows Control Panel. In the Device Manager, go to Network adapters and see all the built-in adapters.

How can you install a Network Adapter?

If you want to install any network adapter, you have to perform two steps:

  1. First, you need to connect the adapter hardware to the computer
  2. After that, you should install any required software related to the adapter

In case of PCI adapters, first power down the computer and unplug its power cord before performing the installation. A PCI adapter fits into a long, narrow slot inside your computer.

Make sure that your computer’s case is open and then firmly insert the card into this slot.

You can attach other types of network adapter devices while a computer is running regularly.

Nowadays, modern computer operating systems can automatically identify newly connected hardware and perform the necessary software installation needed.

However, some adapters may demand custom software installation. These kinds of adapters come with a CD-ROM containing the installation media.

Or else, you can also download the necessary software for free from the manufacturer’s Web site.

Software installed with a network adapter also contains a device driver that helps the operating system to communicate with the hardware.

Besides, there can also be a software management utility to provide a user interface for advanced configuration and troubleshooting of the hardware. These utilities mostly come with Wi-Fi wireless network adapters.


You can disable a network adapter through its software. Disabling an adapter gives a natural alternative to installing and uninstalling it. You must always disable Wireless network adapters when not in application, for security reasons.


To summarize, the network adapter is a vital integrant in both wired and wireless computer networking. It interfaces a computing device, such as computers, print servers, and game consoles to the communication network.

Generally, network adapters are tiny pieces of physical hardware, albeit software-only virtual adapters also prevail.

Sometimes you need to buy a network adapter separately, but often the adapter is built-in into a computing device, especially modern devices.

Installing a network adapter is not rocket science and often is an effortless plug and play feature of the computer operating system.


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