What is a Network Interface Card?
A Network Interface Card (NIC), also known as an Ethernet Card or Network Adapter, is a computer expansion card that allows your PC, laptop or server to connect to a network via an ethernet cable.
A NIC therefore, is essential to allow your different devices to communicate together and share information and data for a more productive and efficient IT system.
NICs are plugged directly into your motherboard, either located near the USB ports on the back (for an onboard NIC) or on the back of the computer (for external network expansion cards), plugged into a PCIe port. This position allows you to easily plug an ethernet cable into the back of your device to connect to a router or network switch. When choosing a Network Interface Card we have a choice between single, dual or quad ports depending on the number of connections needed in a computer network.
However, NICs can be integrated or use internal slots to keep PCIe ports for future upgrades. These slots are referred to as FLR or FLB (Flexible LOM Rack or Flexible LOM Blade) in HPE servers. Dell have also adopted their own ports for the Network Interface Card known as NDC (Network Daughter Card).
What does a Network Interface Card do?
The connected ethernet cable can be plugged into a network switch in order to connect your computer to other devices within a network, for example, other computers, servers, printers, security cameras etc. The cable can also be plugged into a router to connect the computer to the internet.
Network Interface Cards support various different speeds, from 1GBe up to 40GBe. For a faster network, you will need a NIC that is capable of supporting the speed of your switch, as well as cabling that can process data just as quickly.
A NIC is often mistaken for a broadband card or internet card which allow your computer to connect directly, and wirelessly, to a network, such as the internet. A network interface card however, gives your device the ability to communicate to a router or network switch via a cabled connection.
What is a Wireless Network Interface Card?
A wireless network interface card, or wireless network interface controller (WNIC) connects to a wireless network, such as Bluetooth or WI-FI by using an antenna to communicate via radio waves. WNICs therefore communicate using layers 1 and 2 of the OSI networking referencing model.
Most PCs and laptops will have a WNIC built into the motherboard to allow wireless communication between the device and wider networks. This means that your computer will be able to connect to the internet and to other devices via Bluetooth, wirelessly.
Do I need a Network Interface Card?
A network card is important to consider for custom servers and custom-built computers as it allows this device to communicate with other technologies within your network. The wired connection of a NIC is often quicker, more efficient and more secure than wireless communication and so remains popular in both a professional setting, as well as in homes around the world.
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