An Integrated NIC (Network Interface Card) is an Ethernet controller included as part of the motherboard of a computer. As Ethernet has become pervasive in connecting computers to everything from a local network to the Internet and printers, network cards are routinely built into most computers at the factory. The plug (or jack) for an Ethernet connection looks like a somewhat larger version of a typical household telephone jack, and like the telephone jack, it has a clip to hold the Ethernet (or network) cable into the plug.
What is Ethernet?
Ethernet is a method of transporting data that takes a file that contains digital information and breaks it down into small "chunks" known as packets. These packets are wrapped in "an envelope" and addressed with what is known as a header. The header contains the address where the data are being sent as well as where the packet came from, and also includes several pieces of information specific to this package. When the intended recipient receives the packet, it sends what is known as an acknowledgment (ack) back to the sender confirming the data have arrived and that it have been examined to ensure it was not corrupted during transportation. This process is repeated until all the packets that make up the entire data file have reached the recipient where they are reassembled into their original file format. This process begins at the sender's computer that sends this information through an NIC (which is very likely to be integrated) across an office, or possibly the entire world, being relayed, bit by bit, until it reaches the recipient's computer.
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Ethernet was first developed at Xerox's PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) in 1973 and is credited to Robert (Bob) Metcalfe. In 1980, Digital Equipment Corp., Intel and Xerox formed a consortium to develop the first Ethernet standard, which was ratified by the IEEE in 1983.
From Add-on to Integrated
At the beginning of the personal computer revolution, when a user wanted to send a file from one computer to another, the data were usually put onto a disk and carried from one location to another. For long-distance data transportation, a modem could be used, but this was expensive and slow. With the introduction of network cards in the mid-1980s, it became possible to connect several computers so they could not only share information but also resources, such as a printer. Originally, network cards were added to personal computers using the internal slots designed into every PC with the intention of allowing the end user to add whatever nonstandard component a user might require. At that time, networks were extremely expensive and not required by the overwhelming majority of users. As computers found their way into more offices and many of these offices began to have more than one computer, the demand for networking capability grew. As the demand grew because of the scale of economics, the price of networking components dropped. Once broadband became prevalent, network cards began to be included into almost every machine with the feature becoming integrated soon after.
Originally, Ethernet was capable of delivering 10 Mbps (megabits per second), but the speed rapidly increased in the mid-1980s when a standard was introduced that set the speed Ethernet communicated at 100 Mbps. Now, the speed is 40 Gbps (gigabits per second) in larger connections, with terabits per second working in the laboratory.
It is unknown if there is an upper limit to the speeds Ethernet is capable of delivering. There is also discussion as to whether Ethernet will remain the preferred transportation method utilized as the basis of the Internet. But for another standard to replace the current Ethernet-based Internet to be put in place, an entirely new Internet infrastructure would need to be built, something that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.