What Is a USB Network Adapter?

D. Rambo

A universal serial bus (USB) network adapter is a computer accessory that enables a wireless or standard internet connection on the computer into which it is plugged. This type of adapter is connected to the computer through a normal USB port, and it very rarely requires more than a few clicks to install. USB network adapters occasionally are required for gaming consoles as well.

A USB network adapter.
A USB network adapter.

A wireless network adapter is used mainly for older computers and occasionally laptops that lack built-in wireless, or Wi-Fi, capabilities. By adding Wi-Fi abilities to a computer, the user can connect to a network from anywhere within the range of that network. Though most laptops already have wireless functionality, some older models are without it. Installing a USB adapter on a laptop will enable the user to connect to wireless networks in places that offer Wi-Fi.

USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as printers, keyboards and music players -- to computers.
USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as printers, keyboards and music players -- to computers.

The wired USB network adapter is another option. It mainly is used in buildings that lack wireless internet, but it also is an option for people who prefer to be connected via a cable at all times. A wired USB network adapter essentially is a cord with a USB connection on one end and a networking cable connection on the other. It's particularly useful for computers that do not have a networking cable port.

There are quite a few different adapters created by various companies, but they all serve the same purpose. One of the main differences in the adapters lies in the operating system for which they are formatted. Most require a simple driver download before they are ready, but others work only with specific operating systems.

After the USB network adapter is plugged into the computer, there typically is little more required than simply to leave it plugged in. There normally will be a disc that comes with it that will run a quick installation of the adapter's required software. At this point, the adapter must remain plugged in at all times in order for the computer to maintain a connection to the wireless network.

The USB network adapter does not require a power cable, because it draws power from the computer to which it is connected. Some adapters come with separate antennas, and it's important to place them where they can pick up the strongest wireless signal. The antenna must be near the computer, but it should be placed away from walls and not in a place where the monitor or computer will block or interrupt the wireless signal.

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