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Choosing a LAN Adapter

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When you're faced with tying a computer without a LAN adapter to your LAN, you have a decision to make. As you'll see in this article, choosing a LAN adapter you want to live with is more than picking the lowest price.
When you're faced with tying a computer without a LAN adapter to your LAN, you have a decision to make. As you'll see in this article, choosing a LAN adapter you want to live with is more than picking the lowest price.

This content is excerpted from Barry and Marcia Press’ book, Networking by Example (2000, Que ).

Although most computers sold to corporations include a LAN adapter, and although you can yourself order a new computer with a LAN adapter from Micron, Dell, Compaq, and others, many computers lack that essential network component. Choosing a LAN adapter successfully is the result of deliberate planning and analysis. There are hundreds of LAN adapter manufacturers and thousands of models to choose from, and not all are products that you'd want to live with. Eventually your selection will come down to one based on price, but before that happens, you'll want to narrow the field based on five criteria:

  • Device drivers availability

  • Internal or external device

  • Electrical computer interface

  • Network technology

  • Manufacturer reputation

All five of these criteria are directed at a single goal: to select adapters that meet the requirements of your computers and network, and that will be dependable over the long run. In our opinion, little else matters in the decision.

Device Driver Availability

Windows and Linux themselves don't talk to hardware directly; they talk to specialized programs called device drivers, which in turn talk to the hardware. Windows device drivers are usually written by the hardware manufacturers, whereas Linux device drivers are typically written by a programmer who happened to have one of the devices and needed it to work.

You need to know about device drivers because, if no driver is available for the operating system you use, you won't be able to use the hardware. We've seen network adapter cards, for instance, that the manufacturer "targeted" at Windows 98, steadfastly refusing to provide drivers for Windows NT or Windows 2000. If you have one of those cards and want to upgrade your operating system, you're sunk.

For that reason, you'll want to check on driver availability for the operating systems you care about before you buy a network adapter. Keep in mind that Windows 95 drivers might not work with Windows 98 or Windows 98 Second Edition, that Windows NT drivers are different from those for Windows 95 or 98, and that Windows 2000 drivers are different from all of those. There is no commonality between Linux drivers and Windows drivers, either.

You can usually get the Windows driver information you need from the manufacturer's Web site. The lesser market share and freeware basis of Linux mean you can't do a straightforward search for drivers you'll need with Linux. We use the Linux-Mandrake distribution of Linux; on its Web site (http://www.linux-mandrake.com/) under the Supported Hardware link is a list of supported network adapters.

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