If you have worked long enough on a computer at work, in your school library or a university campus or any other library, you must be familiar with the term ‘Ethernet’. An Ethernet is a means of networking within a small area. The global network of computers is called the Internet. Similarly a network that spans an office building or a library or a school is an Ethernet. It is possible that an Ethernet network is connected to the internet or two Ethernet networks be connected to each other. Ethernet provides an answer to connectivity needs and requirements of a private network. Ethernet connectivity can occur wirelessly or through wired cables. In either case, computers need to have an Ethernet adapter.
The necessity of Ethernet is felt when an organization requires a network of its own. On such a network, it is faster and easier to transfer data, download and upload files and communicate. Also, different types of devices can be connected over the Ethernet without much hassle. Thus one can have a Local Area Network in an office connect four PCs, a printer and fax machine. Devices could be added to this network at any point of time. Thus, Ethernet becomes a standard for these devices to communicate with each other. In order to do this, they will require an Ethernet card or adapter.
Ethernet adapters were initially called network interface cards or NIC. As the popularity of Ethernet as the standard medium of choice for networking over local area grew, many different types of Ethernet adapters and cards came to be. Every Ethernet card has a unique address called a MAC address. It is as essential for this address to be unique as it is essential for your phone number. This address becomes the PC’s identification on an Ethernet network. The companies manufacturing Ethernet cards buy blocks of addresses from the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and assign to each card they manufacture.
Ethernet adapters initially had to be connected to the expansion slots of PCs. This was when Ethernet connectivity was still new. Eventually as Ethernet became the standard for networking, Ethernet adapters were built in to the motherboard chipset. Most motherboards today come with built in Ethernet adapters. Ethernet adapters today are standardized according to the PCMCIA or the PCI and thus, are compatible with most devices. These cards are also much smaller in size and compact. The PCI cards are usually pre-installed in the motherboard whereas the PCMCIA cards are meant for laptops. These are quite thin, almost like credit cards and need to be slotted in to the laptop.
If your Ethernet connectivity happens wirelessly, you will need a specific wireless PC card or a wireless LAN card. These are different but available for both laptops and desktops. At times, PCMCIA slots are missing from the older desktops. (The newer laptops don’t have this problem) At such times you can use an external USB Ethernet adapter. This is not so much a card, more like a box that can be attached to the USB port of your computer for you to connect to the network.
Ethernet is largely preferred for networking over a smaller area because of the speed it offers to computers and devices on that network. Different Ethernet cards have different transfer speeds. Ethernet cards started off with a speed of 10 Mbps, which is quite decent, considering some internet connections work on those speeds. However, most Ethernet cards today offer speeds of up to 100 Mbps. With the advent of the Gigabit Ethernet, the Ethernet cards will be able to transfer as much as 1 Gbps.