Network adapters overview

A network adapter is a hardware device that connects your computer to a network.

External network adapters do not require that you open up your computer or install special network cables in your home. You can plug an external network adapter into a USB port on the back of your computer. External network adapters are the fastest and easiest way to set up your home network. External network adapters are available for Ethernet, home phoneline network adapter (HPNA), or wireless.

Internal network adapters are installed in an expansion slot inside your computer. Most computers come with several PCI expansion slots so you can expand the capabilities of your computer by adding hardware such as network adapters.

The following table describes the different types of network adapters available today. External and internal network adapters are available for each type.


Home Phoneline Network Adapter (HPNA)

HPNAs use existing phone lines but operate on a different band of frequencies that avoid interference with regular telephone calls. After installing either the external or internal adapter, using a regular telephone cable, you plug your computer into the phone jack. Every phone jack in your home becomes a port on the network, eliminating the need for a network hub Using HPNA is a good solution for your home network that eliminates the need for network cables to be stretched through your home.


Wireless network adapters do not use cables or other physical means to connect your computers together. Using specially authorized radio frequencies, data is divided into small packets and transferred by radio between your computer and radio transceivers Wireless network adapters can be internal or external.


Ethernet is the most common type of network adapter and is used widely for networking. Ethernet adapters connect through a network hub. If your home is wired for Ethernet, similar to phone wiring, you can connect your computers using Ethernet jacks in the wall. Otherwise, you must use a network hub to connect your computers together. To connect your computers using a hub, you will also need a network cable, called Ethernet RJ-45 twisted pair (10BaseT or 100BaseT). It looks slightly larger than a regular telephone cable.


For a comprehensive list of hardware supported by Windows operating systems, see Compatible Hardware and Software in Help and Support Center. 

Hardware requirements overview

Modems overview

Buying the right hardware

Steps for creating a home or small office network

Choosing an internal or external network adapter

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