There are different options available when it comes to connecting your desktop computer to your local network. Ethernet cables is one of the solutions available and it is a very common one. It is possible to set the connection via wireless adapter and PCI wireless cards. Each method has its own advantages and downsides, but in this article we will focus on PCI and PCI-E Wireless cards.
What Are PCI Wireless Cards?
PCI Wireless cards are devices that are installed in your computer case using a spare PCI expansion slot, and they allow you to connect to a nearby wireless network. Today, WiFi is the widely used method to connect to the internet, this is why it is crucial to ensure that your computer is enabled for WiFi. If your computer doesn’t have wireless capabilities, one of the options to connect to the internet via WiFi is to use a PCI wireless card.
Why should you use a wireless network card?
If your PC doesn’t support wireless connectivity, you can enable it to connect to a wireless network with the help of a wireless network card. Although an Ethernet cable is a reliable solution to connect to a local network and it may be the best option for demanding gaming, having to deal with a lot of wires around the house can be annoying. However, with a wireless network card you can connect to your network wirelessly from any location around your wireless router. There are cases when using a wireless card is not the best solution, for instance, if you are using a laptop.
This is due to the fact that some laptops don’t support PCI-E cards), and even if they do, the size of a wireless card will mean that the laptop is no longer a convenient portable solution. Even if your desktop computer supports WiFi, it is possible that the radio is not very powerful, or that the wireless standard is outdated. You could use a spare PCI slot on your motherboard for a WiFi card that is Wireless AC and that has antennas that can be fully adjusted with an extension cable that allows additional positions.
Wireless Card vs USB adapter – Which one should you use?
Let’s start by taking a look at USB adapters. If you are looking for a simple way to connect a computer that doesn’t have wireless capacity to a wireless network, or if you want to improve the default WiFi features, a wireless adapter is the best option. In general, the only setup required is to plug the adapter into the computer, using one of the USB slots available.
The computer then would install all the files needed, using Plug & Play. In general, you will have the chance to connect to a wireless network within seconds of plugging the device in. USB wireless adapters are also convenient for laptop computers that don’t have the necessary features to support a PCI card.
PCI or PCI-E (PCI Express)?
Once you opt for a wireless card to connect to your wireless network, the next decision you need to make is to select between a PCI and a PCI-E (PCI Express) card. PCI-E is the latest standard and if you have a new computer, it is likely that it has space for a PCI-E slot. PCI-E cards have more bandwidth than PCI cards, which is why they could seem like the best option. However, it is important to keep in mind that PCI cards and PCI-E cards both offer the bandwidth needed for wireless internet and they offer good speeds.
If you are doing many local network file transfers, a PCI-E card could be a convenient choice, but the type of card selected is not really that important if you only want something for general internet use. In any case, most of the cards that are currently available for sale are PCI-E and if your computer is not that old, it is more than likely that the motherboard will support a PCI-E card.
Understanding the acronyms
While looking for a WiFi card, you will come across some acronyms and terms that may be confusing. To help you, we will go through the most common ones and will include a brief explanation about each of them.
PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect): The slots on a motherboard that used to be the most popular option over a decade ago. This was the way used to connect PCI cards for networking, USB, TV cards, etc.
PCI-E (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express): This is a more recent version of PCI. It has less pins, greater throughput (bus speed). There are graphic cards that have used PCI-E over the years.
802.11n: This is an old wireless standard that uses 5GHz, as well as 2.4GHz bands. It is also known as Wireless N.
802.11ac: This is a new IEEE wireless standard that uses the 5GHz radio frequency to transfer and receive data. It is also known as Wireless AC.It is backwards compatible with older wireless standards such as Wireless N.
Dual Band: This refers to devices that use the 2.4GHz, as well as 5GHz radio frequencies.
5GHz: Wireless frequency range, within 5GHz. It is faster than 2.4GHz and less likely to be affected by interference. This is because there are many non-overlapping channels available. The downside is that the range is not that good.
2.4GHz: Within the 2.4GHz frequency range. It is the most widely used band. The wireless range is better and more extended than 5GHz, although it is limited by speed and interference issues since there are only three non-overlapping channels available.
Gbps (Gigabits per second): This is a unit of data transfer. T
Mbps (Megabits per second) – This i also a unit of data transfer, but it is slower than Gbps.
N300/ AC3100: The N or AC refers to the wireless standard as previously mentioned. The number that follows refers to the cumulative theoretical data speeds over all radios.
Additional information to keep in mind
With additional antennas, it is possible to support faster WiFi and more data streams, although this depends on the configuration and devices. It is necessary to adjust the antennas to 45 degrees off each other. However, if you angle them at 45 degrees and if there is a third one available, you have more chances to cover all directions of wireless signal. Keep in mind that wireless signals can bounce off your furniture and walls so when you adjust the angle of each antenna, you have a better chance to capture WiFi signal with optimal results.
The majority of wireless cards have the antennas attached directly into the card, meaning that it is not possible to adjust the height of the antennas. This can be an issue if your computer is placed at floor level, under a desk and the rear of the case is facing the wall. It is possible that your WiFi signals will need to go through the case, walls, desk or the three of them. The good news is that some PCI-E cards have a cable that connects the antennas to the actual card, this means that it is possible to raise the height of the antennas and place them away from your computer and any objects that could affect the WiFi performance.
How to install a wireless PCI card
Although installing a wireless PCI card is not as easy as installing a USB adapter, it is still not that difficult. However, you will need to open your computer so it is important to consider how that could affect the warranty before proceeding. If you don’t know what you are doing, it is advisable to get the help of an expert. Here is what you need to do in order to install a wireless network card.
- Switch the computer off
- Now you will need to open the computer case. The majority of computers have a panel that can be removed. Check your computer’s manual before doing anything else so that you don’t cause any damage on the device.
- Look for the PCI/PCI-E slot. Here is where you will install the wireless card. If you don’t know where to find it, check the manual.
- Remove the protective plate. Usually, there is a protective plate over the PCI slot. It can usually be removed by unscrewing the plate.
- Align the wireless network card and the PCI slot, then push in the card. Make sure that all the important bits are in line and that the chips are facing the bottom of the case. Then just insert the card into the slot.
- Screw the wireless card back in. Using the screws from the protective plate in the 4th step, put the wireless card in place.
- Now, attach the antennas. The wireless card should include antennas. Before the last step, you need to screw them in place.
- Close the computer. Once the card is successfully installed, you just need to close the computer and then switch it on. The last step is to install the drivers. This is an automatic process if you have Windows 8 and up. A CD may be required in order to install the drivers on Windows 7.
Best PCI-E Wireless Adapter Cards
Asus Dual-Band Wireless AC1900 PCE-AC68 Adapter Card
This is an ultra fast adapter that features 802.11ac chipset and it can deliver transfer speeds of up to 1.3Gbps. It is dual band, ideal for gaming and it comes with external antennas that are fully flexible, giving you a batter chance to get a consistent connection as you can adjust them as needed. There is also an extendable antenna that allows you to maximize the wireless line of sight.
TP-Link N900 TL-WDN4800 Dual Band Adapter Card
This is a dual Band adapter that uses 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, offering speeds of up to 450Mbps. Although it is not as fast as other options in the list, if you want to stream video and play online games, this option works well. You can easily install this WPA/WPA2 for advanced security and there are three external antennas that offer a strong connection at home.
Trendnet Wireless N150 TEW-703PIL Low Profile Adapter Card
While this card lacks some power, it offers a good set of features that make it a solid solution that is affordable and easy to use. If you don’t require a lot of speed and only want basic-wireless connectivity, this could be a good choice.
Rosewill RNX-AC1900PCE AC1900 Adapter Card
This wireless card is a high end product that relies on the 800.11ac WiFi standard. It offers speeds of up to 13000Mbps on the 5GHz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Like in the case of other high-end products listed, the Rosewill RNX-AC1900PCE AC1900 has a beamforming technology and three external antennas for a consistent connection. It also has solid security features such as WPA/WPA2 that can keep your network secured.
TP-Link Archer T9E AC1900 Adapter Card
This is another option that uses 802.11ac wireless standard. which can help you to get speeds of up to 13000Mbps. Its beamforming technology is able to improve the strength of your long distance connections. The TP-Link Archer T9E AC1900 also has three external antennas. It is an affordable and simple PCI card.