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Tips for Buying a Network Interface Card

Selecting a good network interface card is not a tough task if you can decipher its technical specifications and know what to look for. This Buzzle article will give you some very useful tips for buying a network interface card.
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Tip for buying a network interface card
What is a Network Interface Card?
An NIC, or a network interface card, or a network interface controller, or a network adapter, is an electronic circuit which is used for connecting a computer to a network.
These days, for an average Joe, buying electronic hardware has become a nightmare. As soon we open any online shopping portal and enter our keywords, we are greeted with too many results matching our search terms. If you too do not have much interest in electronic or computer hardware, then it is likely that you are perplexed with the number of choices you have.

One such piece of equipment is the network interface card. This card can be used to connect a computer to a hub, a modem, a router, etc. These network devices may in turn connect the computer to a PAN, LAN, MAN, WAN or the Internet. Before we turn to the points to consider before buying one, let's first try to understand the basic types of NICs.

Types of NIC
Based on the type of medium that network interface controllers use for communication within a network, they are broadly classified into 2 categories:

➥ Ethernet Network Adapter: Ethernet is a wired networking standard (IEEE 802.3) for network communication. If you are a fan of a hard-wired network adapter, then this is the way to go.

➥ Wireless Network Adapter: Wireless network cards use IEEE 802.11 standard for transferring data within a network wirelessly.

Both types of adapters have their own pros and cons. But, as a general rule of thumb, you should know that Ethernet network adapters are faster than wireless adapters, having higher transfer speed rating. This is because of the fact that, wireless transmission is more prone to interference than wired communication. Now, here are the five most useful tips for selecting a good network interface card for your computer.

Tips for Buying a Good Network Interface Card

Determine the compatibility of connection interface
The interface support by the NIC must be compatible with the motherboard. If you have a very old computer, then you must find a card with either PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect), or an ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) interface. If you are assembling a new computer, or are upgrading that old faithful home PC, then you should go with a card supporting either of the following interface:

➥ PCI Express (PCIe): It is the advanced version of the now outdated PCIi card. Almost all the latest motherboards support PCIe, and so do the latest NICs. PCIe cards can support either Ethernet or Wi-Fi standards. Unlike old laptops which supported only the PCMCIA interface, modern laptops support PCIe.

➥ USB: If you are planning to use your home Wi-Fi network on your old desktop computer, then you should buy a USB wireless network adapter. Some of these USB network adapters also support attachable antennae. A card with an attachable antenna is an ideal choice if you have low signal strength at your workplace. You can simply swap the stock antenna with a high gain antenna and say good-bye to packet dropping.

Check for supported connector types
Types of connection supported by a card also plays a major role in its selection for a particular purpose. For e.g.:

If your network devices are connected via coaxial cable, then you should buy a card supporting BNC (Bayonet Neill-Concelman) connector.

If your network uses Ethernet, then you should buy an NIC supporting RJ45 connector.

Check data rate requirements
Different Ethernet and wireless standards support different data rates. Higher data rate means lower file transfer times.

Wired Communication
Standard Data Rate (Mbps)
Ethernet 10
Fast Ethernet 100
Gigabit Ethernet 1000
10-Gigabit Ethernet 10,000
Wireless Communication
Standard Data Rate (Mbps)
802.11a up to 54
802.11b up to 11
802.11g up to 54
802.11n up to 600
802.11ac up to 1000

For a gaming PC, it is advised that you stick with an Ethernet network adapter. If it is not feasible to connect the gaming computer via Ethernet, then always choose a wireless card supporting the latest IEEE 802.11 standard. The latest network cards support data rate of 10Gbps, but their high asking price has limited their use only to servers.

Check required number of ports
For normal home usage, Ethernet network adapters with a single RJ45 port are okay. However, if you plan to use a VoIP phone with your computer, or wish to extend the network further, then get a network card with multiple ports.

Other Factors
Besides the important factors listed above, sometimes the below-mentioned factors can also affect your decision.

➥ Availability of Good After Sales Support: If you are not an avid tech enthusiast, then you must always buy products from manufacturers providing good after-sales experience so that if you experience any problem with the network configuration, then you know whom to contact.

➥ Type of Network Cable: The type of network cable is not a major deciding factor for choosing a network interface card. However, sometimes, it might happen that you have several meters of good quality cable lying around in your house. For such cases, the cable type can be deciding factor while choosing an NIC.

So, now you know what to look for when buying a new network interface card. Just go through the technical specifications of the NIC carefully, and you'll know if it meets your requirements or not.
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Published: June 26, 2014
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