Wireless Adapter Cards and Wireless Network Adapters

Cards are available to network with desktop, notebook, and handheld computers

PCI stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect and is an industry standard for connecting devices to a computer's central processor. PCI establishes a common interconnect called a bus that all connected devices share for communication. It is the most common interconnect used in desktop personal computers and remains common with wireless network adapters. Most modern devices, especially laptops and tablets, ship with onboard wireless networking modems built into the device.

Here are some types of wireless adapter cards and network adapters.

PCI Wireless Adapter Card for Desktop Computers

A PCI wireless adapter card connects to a desktop computer's PCI bus. Because the PCI bus is contained inside the computer, the computer case must be opened and the wireless network adapter installed inside.

Linksys WMP54G Wireless PCI Adapter
Linksys.com

An example of a PCI wireless adapter card, the Linksys WMP54G, is shown here. This unit is more than 8 inches long to accommodate the standard connection strip required to electrically join to the bus. The unit attaches and fits snugly inside the PCI. However, the wireless adapter card antenna protrudes from the back of the computer.

Wireless PC Card Adapter for Notebook Computers

A PC Card adapter joins a notebook computer to a network. The PC Card is a device approximately the width and height of a credit card. It is compatible with the PCMCIA hardware interface standard.

The Linksys WPC54G is a typical PC Card network adapter for notebook computers. This adapter contains a small built-in Wi-Fi antenna to provide wireless capability. It also features built-in LED lights that display the device status.

Linksys WPC54G Notebook PC Card Adapter
Linksys.com

PC Card devices insert into a slot on the side of a notebook computer. Wireless adapters, like the one shown above, typically protrude a small amount from the side of the computer. This design allows Wi-Fi antennas to transmit without interference. By contrast, wired Ethernet PC Card adapters insert fully inside the computer.

Given the small space they fit into, PC Card adapters become warm during normal operation. This temperature isn't a major concern as the adapters are designed to withstand heat. However, notebook computers provide an eject mechanism to remove PC Card adapters when not in use. This protects the adaptor and may extend its life.

Wireless USB Network Adapter

The Linksys WUSB54G shown below is a typical Wi-Fi wireless USB network adapter. These adapters connect to a standard USB port available on the back of most desktop computers. In general, USB network adapters aren't much larger in size than PC Card adapters. Two LED lights on the adapter indicate its power and network link status.

Linksys WUSB54G Wireless USB Network Ada
Linksys.com

The installation of a wireless USB adapter is simple. A short USB cable (normally included with the unit) joins the adapter to the computer. These adapters do not require a separate power cord, as the same USB cable also draws power from the host computer. The USB adapter's wireless antenna and circuitry remain external to the computer at all times. On some units, the antenna can be adjusted manually to improve Wi-Fi reception. The accompanying device driver software serves an equivalent function as in other types of network adapters.

Some manufacturers market two kinds of wireless USB adapters—a basic model and a compact model designed for travelers. The small size and easy setup make these adapters an attractive choice if you want to simplify your network setup.

Wireless Ethernet Bridge

A wireless Ethernet bridge converts a wired Ethernet device for use on a wireless computer network. Wireless Ethernet bridges and USB adapters are sometimes called wireless media adapters, as these enable devices for Wi-Fi using Ethernet or USB physical media. Wireless Ethernet bridges support game consoles, digital video recorders, and other Ethernet-based consumer devices as well as ordinary computers.

The Linksys WET54G Wireless Ethernet Bridge is shown below. It is only a bit larger than Linksys' wireless USB adapter.

Linksys WET54G Wireless Ethernet Bridge
Linksys.com

True network bridge devices like the WET54G don't require device driver software installation to function, which simplifies the first steps in using these. Instead, network settings for the WET54G can be made through a browser-based administrative interface.

Like USB adapters, wireless Ethernet bridges can draw power from the main cable that's connected to the host device. However, Ethernet bridges require a specialized Power over Ethernet (PoE) converter to make this work, whereas the functionality is automatic with USB. Without a PoE add-on, wireless Ethernet bridges need a separate power cord.

Wireless Ethernet bridges commonly feature LED lights. The WET54G, for example, displays lights for power, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi status.