A network card adapter is a piece of hardware that modifies a computer so it can connect to a network. It is usually either an internal chip or an external device equipped with an input jack or antenna through which the network card adapter can receive and transmit data. Adapters that help a computer connect to a wireless network are called wireless adapter cards. If a network card does not fit into a connector on a computer, a device that adapts the plug of the network card to make it compatible with the slot can also be called a network card adapter. Types of network card adapters include internal or USB-connected 802.11b or 802.11d adapters, mobile broadband adapters, and wireless signal boosters.
Though the term "network card adapter" can refer to internal hardware that adapts a computer to connect to a network, an adapter usually refers to an external device that is plugged in to a computer or hardware device to adapt it to a new function. If a network card is too slow, a fast network card adapter can connect a fast network card to the computer, or it can boost the signal of the existing network card. A wireless network adapter can be used to give a computer with only a wired Ethernet connection the ability to connect to a wireless network.
A network card adapter can be useful for a laptop with an existing network card if the user needs to connect to a type of network that is not supported by the internal card. Generally, a network card adapter is most often used to access a private wired or wireless network like those found connecting computers in a home or office. Network card adapters can also help a user connect to widespread network technology like WiMAX. WiMAX is a form of broadband mobile wireless internet. The devices used to modify a computer to enable it to detect WiMAX can also be known as network card adapters.
Some network hardware can be built into other chips in a computer. Integrated network cards are network cards built into the motherboard, the main chip in a computer that also houses the processor. One benefit to an integrated network card is that it can save space, which is important in computers designed with small cases. Other hardware that can be integrated into a motherboard includes video cards and sound cards.