What Is a Network Adapter?


A network adapter, also commonly called a network interface card or NIC, is a piece of hardware that allows computer to communicate on computer network. Network adapters may be wired, connecting to a common wired network interface such as RJ -- 45 or may be wireless, connecting over the air to a wireless access point using the 802.11 wireless network standard.


  • Network adapters may be part of the motherboard, called an integrated network adapter, or it may be a peripheral that attaches to the motherboard via an expansion port. Common expansion ports for wired and wireless network adapters include the PCI, PCI -- E and USB expansion ports.


  • Virtual network adapters are software applications that simulate a network adapter. Applications that use virtual network adapters include virtual private networking software and virtualization software. For example, virtualization software that simulates a computer that is actually a file stored on a physical computer, often includes a virtual network adapter which then connects to the physical computer's network adapter to be able to communicate with the network.

Hardware Troubleshooting

  • Network adapters have an indicator light that shows if the adapter is working correctly. This light is not on, or if there is a red light, this may indicate an issue with the adapter itself. If you network adapter connected to the computer using an expansion slot such as PC IE or USB, power down the computer and receive the card in the slot to see to see if this solves the issue.

Driver Troubleshooting

  • If indicator lights on the adapter indicate that the hardware is working as expected, there may be a driver issue. Your operating system may indicate that the physical network connection is eithe unavailable or requires repair. Updating your network drivers may solve the problem

Multiple Adapters

  • Computers can have more than one network adapter. Multiple network adapters are often used in situations where a computer requires access to one or more disparate networks. Computers with multiple network adapters must be configured to correctly identify each network adopter and the traffic that runs on it. Server operating systems often have built-in network load balancing that allows administrators to define traffic patterns over network adapters, however desktop systems may need to purchase third-party network load balancing software.

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