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What is a PCI Network Card?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A PCI network card is a type of computer hardware that can be installed within a computer’s case, directly onto the motherboard of the computer. This type of card is installed into a peripheral component interconnect (PCI) slot on a computer’s motherboard. The network card will then allow the computer to connect directly to some type of network, either a wired network through an Ethernet or similar cable or a wireless network, depending on the card. A PCI network card is often used for desktop computers, rather than laptops, since internal installations are easier on a desktop.

Installing a PCI network card into a desktop computer is a fairly simple process and allows the computer to reliably connect to a network afterward. Many modern motherboards include a port for wired network connectivity, usually through an Ethernet cable, though some do not have such ports. In this type of instance, or where connectivity to a wireless network is preferable, then the network card may need to be installed inside the computer. This is done by simply opening the computer case, while the computer is shut down, and inserting the network card directly into a PCI slot on the motherboard.

Once a PCI network card is properly installed, device drivers and other software may needed. The functionality of this type of card usually depends on what type of card is chosen and installed. In general, this will either be a wired card that connects to a network through a physical cable or a wireless network card that receives a signal to connect to a wireless network. Either type of network card will have the same type of interface area that is installed into the motherboard, but the backplate that is exposed out of the back of the computer is typically different.

A wired PCI network card will have a port in which an Ethernet cable can be connected to the card, while a wireless card will often have a small antenna on the back of the card. This antenna can directly extend from the card itself or may be connected to the card by a length of wire, allowing the antenna to be placed in a position best suited for receiving a wireless signal. A PCI network card will often have a small light on the back of it as well, which is powered through the motherboard and indicates that it is functioning properly.

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