FAQ & Section Info
What is a Wireless Network Card?
Wireless network cards provide wireless compatibility to your computer system. For desktops, they most often installed internally into a PCI-Express slot.
What wireless network card should I buy?
These cards are PCI-Express so if you have an open PCI slot they will fit in there. One thing of note on wifi adapters is that you can plug a PCI-e X1 into a PCIe x1 or x16 slot.
Can I use a dual band wireless card with a router that only supports single band?
Yes! You can check to see if your router is dual-band, otherwise you'll have a dual-band card to pick signal from a single band router, which will still work, but there would be no benefit to having dual-band receiver. This would prepare your system for a time that you do have a dual-band router.
Just think of the examples---contemporary video game consoles need just two wires to operate, a power cable and an audio/video cable. The controllers, the networking, and even the voice communication are all wireless.
You can now put a Wi-Fi enabled SD card into your camera that constantly streams the pictures you take back to your computer.
Most of the devices that benefit from this wireless evolution are, by their nature, portable. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices all rely on some sort of key wireless technology---here, wireless networking---simply because they are so portable and do not stay stationary as wires would require.
However, in a world that is constantly trying to become less and less bound by wires and their evil grip, wireless technology is now being applied to devices that do normally stay in one place, because the world around those motionless lugs is becoming less and less dependent on wires.
This is all a long-winded way of saying we can now put wireless cards in our desktop computers, to free them from the throes of wired networking.
WHY IT'S PRACTICAL
In many of today's households, if there is a desktop "home computer," it is usually stuck next to the router or the most convenient Ethernet port in the house, not necessarily where the whole family would want it to be. Some of us just have routers nowadays, and that router is usually in the one place in the house where it can reach the most devices possible. It just doesn't make sense to have a home computer that's tied to a router or a modem anymore.
With a wireless card in your desktop computer, you are free to put your computer anywhere in the house that you want without fear of not being able to reach a reliable Internet connection.
HOW IT WORKS
Of course, having a wireless card that works assumes that there is an active Wi-Fi connection in your household.
A wireless card works in just about the same way as any other network card, even the traditional wired card that came with your computer. The key difference between the two is the source of the connection.
A normal wired network card connects to an active Ethernet port and receives a connection that it then processes to the computer. The wall connection goes to the cable, then through the cable to the network card.
Wireless networking is literally the same concept without the wire bridging the middle. With a wireless connection, the source of the connection (the wall) goes via cable to a router that then broadcasts the Internet signal at a variable range, leaving it open for other wireless devices to connect to it.
A desktop wireless card simply gives your computer the ability to pick up and connect to that broadcast.
Internally, a wireless card works just the same as a wired card. Both connect to one of your computer's expansion ports---flat, thin ports mounted on your motherboard that cards dock into. Depending on the type of expansion ports on your motherboard, compatible wireless cards are designed to fit different specific types of expansion ports.
Plugging a card into an expansion port is simple and the easiest portion of this project. You simply align the card to the expansion port, press down until it sits fully mounted and flush with the port, and it's ready to go.
However, the more difficult and important portion of the installation process is making sure you have the correct drivers. Most cards will come packaged with an installation CD of some sort that contains the drivers your computer needs to fully get along with the new wireless card.
If your card did not come with a CD, check the website of the manufacturer. Normally, manufacturers will host their installation media on their websites and make them available for anyone to download.
As well, many modern operating systems like Windows 7 can intelligently scan for and install drivers for devices it detects that have been plugged in but not fully installed. Regardless of the method you use to procure the drivers you need, having the correct one is key to getting your card to work smoothly.
Well, once you have the card installed, your computer's Internet connection will behave much like that of a laptop; if the computer detects a wired connection, it will usually default to that, but it will constantly search and scan for potential wireless connections that you may want to hook onto. Depending on the capability of the card, there are a variety of different types and strengths of wireless networking connections that your new card may be able to use.
ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS?
Well, if you fear change, you can always stick with a wired connection.
If you're looking to test drive the idea, or you want a temporary solution or an emergency method of getting a desktop computer connected to wireless Internet, there also exist USB wireless cards that work on pretty much any computer.
USB wireless adapters are just what they sound like, small USB dongles that supply wireless capability to a computer. Much like the dongle that connects your wireless mouse to a USB port at a distance, USB wireless cards just convert a USB connection into a new network connection that your computer can recognize and utilize like it would any other.
It's possible that someday, like game consoles, every desktop computer will ship with a shiny wireless card inside. Until that day, freeing a desktop from wires will be a bit of a niche vice that's not for everyone. But if you're looking for freedom to move around and put your computer wherever you darn well please, then this might just be the right call for you.
Are you willing to give this a try? Think it's stupid? Have experience and want to share tips? Let us know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!