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Connect your PC to your network with a network interface card (NIC).

What is a network interface card or NIC?

Your computer is much more useful when it’s able to communicate with other computers and devices over a network. That’s where a network interface card (or NIC) comes in. It’s the component that allows the computer to be connected to the network, whether that’s wired (via Ethernet), or wireless (via Wi-Fi). NIC’s can also be installed in some peripherals such as printers. Every network interface card has a unique, 48-bit identifier called a MAC address that identifies it on the network.

What does a network interface card do?

The network interface card acts as the intermediary between the computer and the network. It has three primary functions.

It provides the physical connection to the network for the computer. The most common connection is Ethernet, in which case the NIC would include an RJ45 port to plug in an Ethernet cable. The NIC also prepares the data for transmission and “translates” the data that comes back. It processes the signals that are sent over the network, converting these to data that can be understood by the computer, and vice versa. Finally, the network interface card manages the flow of data from the computer to the network to prevent “collisions” that would occur if two computers transmitted data at the same time.

How do I know which NIC I need?

There are several factors that determine which network interface card you should choose.

The first is the network you’re connecting to. Usually, this will be Ethernet or Wi-Fi. The NIC must support that network.

The second primary concern is the interface, or how the network interface card is going to be connected to your computer. Modern NICs typically plug into a computer’s PCIe slot. You need to be certain of the specifics of your computer’s slot (especially older PCs that might be equipped with PCI or PCI-X slots instead). You also need to make sure a PCIe slot is available. If your PC lacks an open PCIe slot, or you are trying to connect a laptop, then you could use a network adapter that plugs into a USB port instead.

Other factors to consider when choosing a network interface card include the number of ports required, the transmission speed (most Ethernet NICs support 10/100/1000T or Gigabit Ethernet), and compatibility with the computer’s operating system. In some cases, a computer may need a driver (software) installed in order to recognize and make use of the network interface card.