What Is an Ethernet Controller Used for?

By Heather Lindsay

An Ethernet controller is a computer processing device used to handle network communications. Ethernet controllers come in several varieties and operate on several speeds depending on the controllers used throughout the network. Ethernet controllers have become a standard piece of system hardware that often have a lower speed variant integrated directly into the motherboard.

History

Throughout the history of computing technology, the ability to have two or more computers communicate between themselves has been of monumental importance. Though there are and have been many different types of networking protocols, Ethernet became the industry standard in the mid 1990s and is installed on virtually every computer manufactured today.

Types

Ethernet controllers are differentiated by their connection type used to interface with the system and their operational speed settings. Connective protocols include motherboard integrated, ISA, PCI and PCIe. The operational speeds obtainable range between two megabytes (Mbs) and several hundred gigabytes. The most common desktop speeds are 10, 100 and 1,000 Mbs.

Significance

Though often overlooked, the Ethernet controller provides a common and very reliable hardware resource with which anyone can easily set up and use a networking environment. The Ethernet protocol is the networking backbone for important networks such as company intranets, some wireless cell phone communications and even the Internet. Ethernet controllers have literally become the networking backbone of the 21st century.

Features

Ethernet controllers handle every aspect of of network communications and do not require a steep learning curve to utilize. Ethernet controllers handle initiating, refusing and maintaining a network connection. They also handle bandwidth matching for dissimilar transfer speeds and error correction for data transferred. Furthermore, Ethernet controllers are plug and play compatible, meaning that if you plug a network cable into the adapter, the operating system will initialize with the Ethernet controller and auto-configure your networking configuration.

Warning

Though Ethernet controllers handle every aspect of starting and stopping a network connection and utilization, it does not monitor network security. Ethernet controllers should always be coupled with a thorough and well thought out security design to prevent unwanted network access and data theft or destruction. Tools such as firewalls, routers and IP filters should be used to prevent these network intrusions from occurring.