What is an Ethernet Network Adapter?

An Ethernet network adapter is a hardware device used to connect a computer to a local area network (LAN). Sometimes called a network interface card (NIC), an Ethernet network adapter supports Ethernet standards for high-speed wired networking. The main function of this device is to transmit and receive data to and from a network hub, switch or router.

An Ethernet cable.

Most computers come with a built-in Ethernet network adapter. Those that don’t, can have one added. This can be done by installing an adapter card inside a computer using a PCI slot on the motherboard. Another option is to connect an Ethernet network adapter using a computer’s serial or USB port.

A network adapter.

Ethernet network adapters are characterized by their data transmission speeds. Today’s desktops and notebooks often use a Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet adapter. These adapters support transmission rates of 100 Megabits per second and 1 Gigabit per second, respectively. High-performance workstations and servers typically use 1 Gigabit-per-second Ethernet network adapters.

A wireless router.

Each Ethernet network adapter has a connector that accepts a cable, which carries the data. The cable connects a computer to a network hub, switch, or router. The cable can be made of copper wires or fiber optic cables; normally, fiber optic Ethernet network adapters are only used in special cases. For example, a fiber optic adapter would be used when a cable runs through an area where there is a lot of electrical interference. Fiber optic adapters are also used when the computer is too far from the hub or switch.

To send and receive data, an Ethernet network adapter works in conjunction with the network and driver software. For output data, the adapter parses large chunks or streams of data into small chunks. It then puts these small pieces of data into packets, called Ethernet frames. Each Ethernet frame has a header with information about the destination and source address. The destination information is used by the network equipment to direct the packet to the recipient’s computer.

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A second part of the Ethernet frame is the payload, which is essentially a small piece of raw data. The last element of the Ethernet frame is a small amount of data called the CRC Checksum. CRC Checksum is used to ensure that data has not been corrupted in transmission.

With the input data, an Ethernet network adapter works again with the network driver and software. In this case, the adapter extracts payload data from incoming Ethernet frames.

New uses of Ethernet network adapters continue to emerge. For example, many company phone systems are being replaced by voice over IP (VoIP) systems, in which phone calls are carried over the company’s data network or the Internet. The VoIP devices on each person’s desk include an Ethernet network adapter, and the phones are connected using Ethernet cabling instead of a phone cord.

An Ethernet network adapter has a connector that accepts an Ethernet cable used to transfer data from a router or modem.

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