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Networking / Network Adapter / NIC Card Guide for Beginners: Functions, Types and Selection Tips

NIC Card Guide for Beginners: Functions, Types and Selection Tips

Posted on By FS.COM

As the increased growth of data, network service providers require higher performance from network servers and computer resources to meet users demands. NIC card, short for network interface card, plays an important role in Ethernet server or computer connections. With the network technology develops quickly, there are many different NIC card types on the market like PCIe type and USB type. Are there any differences between those NIC card types? When selecting a NIC Ethernet card, what should we care about most?

What Is NIC Card and How Does It Work?

NIC card is common to be seen in network building. So when it comes to the NIC card definition, there maybe different explanations. NIC card is also known as network interface controller, Ethernet card, LAN card, network adapter or NAC (network adapter card). It connects devices like computers and servers to a data network. Usually, the back plate of an Ethernet card is featured with one or more ports. The ports are used to accommodate cables like RJ45 cables or SFP+ DAC or AOC cables, etc.

NIC card can transmit signals at the physical layer, deliver data packets at the network layer. And it works as an interface at the TCP/IP layer. No matter what layer the NIC card lies, it acts as a middleman between a computer/server and a data network. When a user requests a web page, NIC card gets data from the user device, and sends them to the server on the internet, then receives the required data back from the internet to display for users.

FS NIC card

Figure 1: Example of a single port NIC card.

NIC Card Types Overview

The network interface cards can be classified into different types on the basis of the host interface, transmission speed and application fields. The following part gives the details.

Bus Interfaces

ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) network card. ISA bus was developed in 1981, which was a standard bus architecture for IBM compatibles. Due to the low card speed of 9Mbps, ISA bus interface now is no longer a recognized type, and it’s hard to find it in today’s stores.

PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) network card. PCI bus was developed in 1990 to replace the previous ISA standard. It has a fixed width of 32bit (133MB/s transmission data) and 64bit (266MB/s transmission data). This type of NIC card was first used in servers and later on gradually applied to PCs. Today, most PCs do not have expansion cards, but rather devices integrated into the motherboard. As a result, PCI network card has been replaced by other bus interfaces, like PCI-X or USB interface.

PCI-X (Peripheral Component Interconnect eXtended) network card. PCI-X is an enhanced PCI bus technology. It operates at 64 bit and is capable of up to 1064MB/s. In many cases, PCI-X is backward compatible with PCI NIC cards.

PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) network card. PCIe is the latest standard and now is popular on computer and server motherboards. PCIe NIC card is available in four versions now, and each version supports five types of lanes at different speeds.

PCIe Version Line Code x1 x2 x4 x8 x16
1.0 8b/10b 250MB/s 0.50GB/s 1.0GB/s 2.0GB/s 4.0GB/s
2.0 8b/10b 500MB/s 1.0GB/s 2.0GB/s 4.0GB/s 8.0GB/s
3.0 128b/130b 984.6MB/s 1.97GB/s 3.94GB/s 7.88GB/s 15.8GB/s
4.0 128b/130b 1969MB/s 3.94GB/s 7.88GB/s 15.75GB/s 31.5GB/s

USB (Universal Serial Bus) network interface card. USB bus is an external bus standard. It has three versions with different data rates and and can work together with a variety of devices. In addition, wireless network card is also a type of NIC card, which is designed for Wi-Fi connection.

Transmission Speed

Based on different speeds, there are 10Mbps, 100Mbps, 10/100Mbps adaptive card. 1000Mbps, 10GbE or even higher speed network cards on the market. 10Mbps, 100Mbps and 10/100Mbps adaptive NIC cards are suitable for small LAN, home uses or day-to-day offices. 1000Mbps NIC provides a higher bandwidth in Gigabit network. As for the 10G or even higher speed NIC cards, they are welcomed by the large enterprises or data centers.

Application Fields

Computer NIC card. Today, most new computers have the NIC built into the motherboard, so a separate NIC card is not needed. It commonly comes with 10/100Mbps, and 1Gbps speed, and allows one PC to communicate with other PCs or networks.

Server NIC card. The main function of a server network adapter is to manage and handle network traffic. Compared with the ordinary PC network adapter, server adapters usually requires faster data transmission speed like 10G, 25G, 40G, and even 100G. Plus, server adapters have low CPU occupancy rate, since it has a special network control chip that can take many tasks from CPU. To meet users’ different speed demands of server adapters, FS has released 10G PCIe adapters and 25G/40G NIC cards. Built with Intel controller, those PCIe adapters support multi-core processors and optimization for server and network virtualization.

FS NIC Card, server adapter

Figure 2: FS server adapters examples

How to Choose a Suitable NIC Card for Your Network?

Here are some tips for selecting NIC cards.

Determine the bus type

Make sure your NIC card is compatible with your network equipment. Servers and workstations typically use PCIe or some use PCI cards. And for the PC applications, you can choose PCI, PCI-X or wireless network and so on. For example, if you are assembling a new computer, then you can go with PCIe, wireless network card, etc.

Check data rate requirements

Server applications require higher bandwidth for managing large data traffic, so the server should choose 10G or 25G network card for high-speed network connectivity. But for PC uses, 100Mbps or 1000Mbps NIC card is enough.

Check the required number of ports

For normal uses, NIC network card with a single port is fine. But considering network safety and reliability, NIC cards with multiple ports are great choices for server or workstations. They can offer redundancy that the adapters with multiple ports help avoid the network paralysis caused by the malfunction.

Knowing the connector type that the NIC supports

The main function of the network interface card is to connect PC or servers to the network. And a network cable is required to complete the connection. So people should figure out what cable connector is used on their computers or servers, such as an RJ45 connector, LC/SC connector, or even SFP+ and QSFP+ port. Only use the right connector, the connection can work.

Check the operating system that the NIC supports

Network servers can run on different operating systems like Windows Server 2008 R2, Redhat Enterprise Linux Server and so on. So make sure your new server adapter supports the OS that your server use before purchasing. For example, the 25G PCIe adapter from FS supports operating system including Windows 7/8/8.1/10, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.8/7.3, Linux SLES 12 SP2, etc. Then you can not use the network card on servers with UEFI 2.3 OS, because it doesn’t support the OS.


The performance of the NIC card directly affects the data transfer rate of the overall network. Whether you are looking for network adapters for home uses, SMB or data centers, it’s necessary to understand NIC card types before purchasing. And with the tips mentioned above, you can make a wise choice. If you still have any question about the NIC card, contact us via us@fs.com or live chat.

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