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A network card, or more appropriately a network interface card or NIC, is simply a card that wirelessly connects a computer with a network. When purchasing a network card, you'll need to consider a variety of issues including cable connections, speed, interface type, and manufacturer.
If you purchase a wireless NIC, you will not have to concern yourself with cable connections. Some network cards, however, are hardwired with a cable. In this case, you'll need to consider the type of cable you'll need to go with your network card. Since the card typically is not sold with its corresponding cable, you'll need to consider the connection that your card has. For a card that has a RJ-45 connection, for example, you should use an Ethernet cable. If the card has a BNC connector, use a coax cable.
Another factor in choosing your network card is the speed of the card. An 802.11g network card, which is a wireless standard, is typically preferred because it provides provides speeds of up to 54 Mbps. An 802.11b adaptor is another type of wireless NIC that is becoming less common because it is slower than its 802.11g counterpart. It provides speeds of about 11 Mbps and is therefore more affordable. An 802.11n is even faster than the g version, giving even faster download and upload speeds.
The type of interface that your card has is also important in deciding what type of card to choose. The most common network card interfaces are a PCI, ISA, or PCMCIA card. The kind you choose largely depends on the computer you will be installing the card in and what type of interface that computer offers.
A PCI card is placed in the PCI slot of your computer and operates at a fast speed. This is usually recommended for the average PC user but it can cost more than other network cards. An ISA card connects to a computer's motherboard and less expensive than the PCI card but it is also typically less reliable. PCMCIA cards are used in laptops. They are placed in a corresponding slot in your laptop.
Finally, you may want to consider the manufacturer of the network card. For novice computer users especially, choosing a manufacturer that provides technical support with their product may turn out to be helpful. Some makers provide phone support in installing your card. You may also want to choose a card that comes with a warranty in the event of failure or damage.
I am a little disappointed that I just bought a new Xbox 360 before the next generation model came out. I paid $200 for the system, and another $100 for the wireless network interface card, only to find out that the new systems come with free wireless adapters.
I guess I bought the video game system a few months too early. Boo.