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How do I Choose the Best Network Interface Card?

J. Uhl
J. Uhl

Network Interface Cards (NICs) are the method by which many personal computers connect to local area networks and subsequently the Internet. Not all computers rely on these types of network cards, because there are a variety of wireless connections in use in order to network and connect to the Internet. In order to choose the best card, some of the things to consider are your link speed, the type of interface to use, your computer's operating system, the NIC's intended usage and any additional software that you want to come with the NIC.

When selecting a NIC, one of the first things that you should check is your link speed. Most networks are either 10 or 100 megabits, though an increasing number of devices are designed to support 1,000 megabits, or a gigabit. These include routers, switches and other such networking peripherals.

A wireless router, which interacts with a network interface card.
A wireless router, which interacts with a network interface card.

The first step to choosing a network interface card is to select the right interface. NICs come in a few different interfaces, including Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI), PCI Express and Universal Serial Bus (USB). USB-based NICs are external devices that do not require you to open your computer. Typically, network interface software is installed, and the device is plugged in, then your operating system will detect and install the device, and it will be ready to use. PCI and PCI express-based cards require that you remove or open the cover to the computer and install the network card in an unused slot.

Next, you should choose a network card that supports the operating system that you use. Most cards on the market support Microsoft® Windows®, though newer commercially available cards might not support older Windows® versions. Not every network interface card will support Linux or Apple's Mac OS X, so make sure that you choose compatible types of network cards when comparison shopping.

Align the type of network interface card that you choose with your intended usage. Most NICS are designed with general-purpose capabilities in mind. Some cards are developed with gaming in mind. These cards generally cost more than typical cards, will not come in a USB variety and might support only certain operating systems. These integrated network card options generally are engineered to reduce latency in gaming while decreasing ping times and reducing the potential for lag.

Some network interface options are packaged with additional software. This might include software to manage connections or to monitor the status or health of your card. This will help ensure that the network interface card is functioning properly. If you are looking for this feature, it might be wise to choose a network interface card from a reputable manufacturer. Keep in mind that additional software typically translates into increased purchase cost.

Many computers have integrated network cards on board, meaning that they are already a part of the mainboard. Examine your computer's ports or check your computer's documentation to determine whether a new card is actually needed. If it is, following these guidelines can help you choose the best one.

Discussion Comments


this doesn't help in the least. If you know what an NIC is you don't need to be told what it is. You need help picking out the best one, which is what this article was supposed to be about.


I know Streamline Computing sell the Myricom ones, but who else makes PCI NICs?

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    • A wireless router, which interacts with a network interface card.
      A wireless router, which interacts with a network interface card.