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A guide to buying wireless PC cards

Wireless PC cards connect computers to a wireless network. Most computers today have an integrated wireless card that can be used to connect right out of the box. Built-in wireless cards have a fixed range and bandwidth. To overcome the range and bandwidth limitation provided by the built-in wireless, consumers can purchase an external wireless PC card. Consumers need to understand what wireless range, bandwidth, and format means when selecting the most appropriate wireless PC card. This article provides you with a guide to buying wireless PC cards.

By Brian Dang
A guide to buying wireless PC cards

Wireless standards

Some of the most common wireless standards today include 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. These standards determine the three most important factors: frequency band, wireless range, and bandwidth.

Frequency band is the frequency range that each standard can operate on. Wireless range determines the approximate distance between the computer devices and wireless router that provides an optimal connection. Bandwidth dictates the maximum transfer rate that data can be transferred between devices on the wireless network.

Wireless range

The 802.11g and 802.11n standards support up to 38 and 70 meters, respectively. When selecting the most appropriate wireless card, consumers should select one that has the same standard as their wireless router. For example, an 802.11n wireless card on the same 802.11n wireless router will support up to 70 meters. On the other hand, an 802.11g wireless card on an 802.11n wireless router can support up to 38 meters.

Wireless bandwidth

The 802.11g and 802.11n standards support up to 54 and 150 Mbps, respectively. The rule that is used to select wireless cards based on wireless range also applies here. The bottom line is to select a wireless card that has the same or better standard than the wireless router. Selecting a wireless card that has the latest and greatest standard provides the best connection experience when connecting to a public wireless network, which may have different standard comparing to the private wireless network.

Wireless PC card format

Wireless PC cards usually come in two different formats: USB and PCI.

USB wireless card provides the easiest installation because it can connect directly to a USB port. PCI wireless card is harder to install because it requires opening up the computer and attach the card to the motherboard. Since USB wireless card is easier to install than PCI wireless card, most consumers usually choose the former.

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