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Connect your PC or laptop to your Wi-Fi network with a wireless network card.

What is a wireless network card?

A wireless network card is a hardware component that connects your computer (or device such as a printer) to a Wi-Fi network. For this reason, wireless network cards are often referred to as a Wi-Fi adapter or a Wi-Fi card.

What does a wireless network card do?

A wireless card connects your computer to your WiFi network so it can communicate with other PCs and a devices connected to the network, and access services such as the internet. The Wi-Fi card processes and manages the data going in both directions. Each Wi-Fi card is also equipped with a unique MAC address that identifies it on the network.

Some wireless network cards may also include support for Bluetooth wireless, used for connecting PCs to accessories such as headphones.

How do I know if I need a wireless network card (or Wi-Fi adapter)?

The primary reason for picking up a wireless network card is if your computer lacks one and you want to take advantage of Wi-Fi wireless connectivity.

The Wi-Fi card is also one of the most frequently upgraded components in a computer. Wi-Fi standards are constantly improving. Speeds increase with every new generation. While an older wireless network card card is still compatible with a new Wi-Fi router, it can’t take full advantage of new speed capabilities or other new features. However, replacing an older Wi-Fi adapter with a new one (for example upgrading from 802.11n to Wi-Fi 6) lets the computer take full advantage of the Wi-Fi network.

Different types of Wi-Fi adapters

There are different types of wireless network cards available. The most common are PCIe cards that are slot-mounted in a desktop PC. These will often include external antennas to maximize wireless connection strength. When choosing one of these Wi-Fi cards, make certain it’s compatible with your computer’s PCI slots.

USB Wi-Fi adapters are very popular among laptop owners. Because the Wi-Fi card on a laptop is soldered to the motherboard and can’t be upgraded, a Wi-Fi adapter that plugs into a USB port offers the ability to upgrade to a newer, faster, Wi-Fi standard.

Variations on wireless network cards include versions with integrated Bluetooth, Wi-Fi cards built into a SD cards, and cards that offer cellular network connectivity.

Before choosing a wireless network card, ensure it is compatible with your computer and operating system, and keep in mind that you may need to install new software drivers.