The Network Interface Card or Network Interface Controller (NIC) card plays an important role in the function of your computer as it is the network adapter. Your internet connection comes through the NIC card as does all other network connectivity. The NIC card is a type of PCI expansion card as it is plugged into the motherboard's PCI port. Learning more about the different types of NIC cards can help you to better understand how your computer's network connection functions.
How NIC Cards Function
NIC cards are effectively the middle man between your computer and the network. They are responsible for translating data on the computer into a form that can be transferred via a network cable or wireless network signal. NIC cards also control the data as it is sent to other devices on the network. NIC cards therefore have a big influence on how quickly network data is sent and received, so if your computer's internet speed is slow, it's possible that the NIC card may be to blame. This is particularly the case if your NIC card is an older model as older NIC cards may not be able to adequately support top network speeds today.
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Types of NIC Cards
There are two main types of NIC cards with specific configuration types: ethernet and wireless. Ethernet NIC cards require that you plug an ethernet cable into the card to transfer network data and connect to the internet. The other end of this cable is either plugged into your modem or a router. Wireless NIC cards come with a small antenna attached to the card. The antenna picks up the wireless signal from your router and turns this into a usable internet connection for your computer. Note that the wireless NIC card requires additional setup on your computer as you will need to connect to the network on your computer by typing in the WiFi password for your wireless network.
Jumper Configurable NIC Cards
Jumper configurable NIC cards are common in older computers and don't tend to be used with most computers made after 2003. This type of NIC card has physical jumpers. Physical jumpers are small devices that control computer hardware without a need for software and these determine the settings for the interrupt request line, input/output address, upper memory block and type of transceiver. Jumper configurable NIC cards are more likely to fail because of relying on these physical jumpers, so you may need to replace these more often than other types.
Software Configurable NIC Cards
Software configurable NIC cards were the next innovation in cards after jumper configurable cards. These require a manual configuration with software made by the NIC card manufacturer. You can configure this type of NIC via the software by following the manufacturer's directions. This is recommended if you want to have complete control over how the software manages your NIC card. You can also choose the auto configuration mode if you are less tech savvy, because auto configuration will determine what options work best.
Plug-and-Play Configurable NIC Cards
Unless your computer is very old, you will most likely be dealing with a plug-and-play NIC card. As the name suggests, you plug the NIC card into your computer's PCI port and the NIC card will automatically configure itself without the need for additional software. You can still manually configure your NIC card's settings by following the manufacturer's directions on how to do this. You typically will not have to touch the settings, though, as the automatically loaded settings are usually optimal.