An Ethernet adapter connects a computer to the Internet or to a local network via a wired connection. Most computers include an Ethernet port on the motherboard and do not require a separate adapter, but some laptops only support Wi-Fi connections out of the box. For these situations, or to replace the integrated network adapter on a desktop computer's motherboard, you can buy and install a separate Ethernet adapter.
Types of Ethernet Adapters
For laptops or desktops without an Ethernet port, you can buy a USB Ethernet adapter that connects externally. Mac computers alternatively support a Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter. Desktop computers can also use internal Ethernet cards, which connect to either a PCI or PCIe slot on the motherboard. Some manufacturers claim their adapters work better and improve system performance, but in most cases, one Ethernet adapter is as good as another.
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Using Ethernet Adapters
Ethernet adapters require a driver to operate. Often, the operating system will automatically install a compatible driver after you add an adapter. If the system can't find a driver on its own, you'll need to download the driver from the adapter manufacturer's website. After installation, connect the adapter to an open port on your router -- or directly to your modem -- with an Ethernet cable to connect to a network or the Internet.