What is a PCI Network Adapter?

G. Wiesen

A PCI network adapter is a device that can be installed inside a computer tower, or case, and is connected to the motherboard using one of the peripheral component interconnect (PCI) slots on the board. This type of device is usually either intended for use with an Ethernet cable connection or will be a wireless adapter that allows a computer to connect to a wireless network. A PCI network adapter is among the most common and popular type of network adapter, though external devices that can connect to a universal serial bus (USB) port on a computer are also quite popular.

A PCI network adapter is commonly used with Ethernet cables.
A PCI network adapter is commonly used with Ethernet cables.

While other devices can be used to connect to a network, a PCI network adapter is usually the most common type of device and is usually fairly inexpensive and rather easy to install. Most motherboards have several PCI slots on them, and while other devices such as sound cards and video cards may use these slots as well, it is quite common for a board to have enough slots for all of these devices. In general, there are two common types of PCI network adapter devices: wired adapters and wireless adapters.

A PCI network adapter for use with an Ethernet cable and wired network will typically have only the port for an Ethernet cable and a small light indicator to show when it is functioning. Ethernet cable looks similar to a standard phone cable, though the connection head is slightly larger. This type of cable is often used for creating wired networks and can allow data transmissions at very high speeds. A PCI network adapter will usually only have a place for a single plug, though both an “in” and “out” plug may be available for further networking.

Wireless networks may utilize a PCI network adapter that is specifically designed to pick up a wireless signal and allow a computer to connect to the network. These devices will usually have a small antenna on the back of the card that remains outside the computer and increases signal reception. USB network connectors are also available that allow a computer to connect to a network through a USB port on the computer. These devices are often easier to install than a PCI network adapter since they do not require internal installation, and they can be easily switched between multiple computers.

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