A wireless network adapter is a device that connects to a computer or similar piece of hardware and allows that hardware to connect to a wireless network. These types of devices are usually either network cards that install inside a computer by connecting directly to the motherboard, or external devices that connect via a universal serial bus (USB) port. While such adapters are most commonly used with desktop and laptop computers, other devices such as video game consoles can also utilize this type of adapter. A wireless network adapter can be relatively inexpensive or quite a costly piece of hardware, depending on the features built into the device.
With the increased performance and reliability of wireless networks, the use of a wireless network adapter with computers and different devices has become increasingly common. A wireless network will usually include a modem that allows connection to the Internet, which is then connected to a wireless router or similar device that creates a wireless local area network (WLAN). In order to properly connect to such a network, computers and other devices must have a wireless network adapter of some kind, which allows hardware to find and connect to the network.
There are two common types of wireless network adapter devices: internal cards installed inside of a computer and external devices. Internal cards can come preinstalled with a computer, as is commonly the case with laptops and manufactured desktop computers. They can also be purchased and installed fairly easily, by simply opening the computer case and connecting the card to the motherboard. This type of wireless network adapter will usually have a small antenna on the outer edge of the card and remains outside the computer case, allowing for a stronger connection to the network.
A wireless network adapter can also be a separate piece of hardware that can be quickly and easily plugged into a USB port on a computer or other hardware. This type of adapter is quite popular for easy connectivity, and the ability to switch the device between multiple computers. An external adapter that uses a USB connection can also be a good choice for a laptop without an internal adapter, since opening a laptop to install new hardware can be fairly complicated. Different manufacturers of wireless network adapter devices typically make different models, which can connect with various speeds and efficiency. Depending on how fast and effective an adapter is, it can usually be fairly inexpensive, though some cutting edge hardware or proprietary devices can be more costly.