What is a NIC Card? Definitions, Uses, Parts, and Variations

Source: Lifewire.com

Many computers are equipped with NIC (network interface controller) cards to operate as a link between the computer and the network. 

In this blog, you’ll learn more about how NIC cards help enhance networking and processing capabilities to maximize efficiency and ensure optimal performance.

What is a NIC card?

A NIC (network interface controller) card, also known as a network adaptor or network interface card, is a circuit board that is installed on a computer to connect to the network. 

A NIC card works as an indispensable component for the network connection of computers, helping to better communication between data communication equipment (DCE). 

NIC cards are commonly found in most computers and some network servers. They contain electrical circuitry in line with data link and physical layer standards, including a port to connect to the local area network’s (LAN) medium. 

Each communicating device (node) on a LAN must have at least one NIC card.

How does a NIC card work?

Operating as an interface, a NIC card can transmit signals at the physical layer and deliver data packets at the network layer. 

Irrespective of location, the NIC card acts as a middleman between a computer, or server, and a data network. 

When a user requests a web page, the LAN card gets data from the user device, sends it to the server via the Internet, and gets the required data back from the Internet to display for users.


Figure 1: What is a network interface card- NIC definitionSource: community.fs.com. Operating as an interface, a NIC card can transmit signals at the physical layer and deliver data packets at the network layer. 

What are the components of a NIC card? 

There are six primary components of a NIC card: 

  1. Controller: The controller is like a mini CPU, processing data that is received. As a core part of a network adapter, the controller directly decides its performance. 
  2. Boot ROM (Read-only memory) socket: This socket on the card enables boot ROM capability, which permanently stores instructions for the computer. Boot ROM allows workstations without a disk to connect to the network, increasing security and lowering the cost of hardware. 
  3. NIC port for the cable/transceiver: Usually, this port will connect with an Ethernet cable for the transceiver directly, which can generate and receive the electronic signals that are put on the network cable or fiber cable. 
  4. BUS interface: This interface is on the side of the circuit board, which serves as the connection between the NIC and computer or server via being plugged into their expansion slot. 
  5. LED indicators: Indicators are used to help users identify the working status of a network card, as in whether there is a connection between the card and the network. 
  6. Profile bracket: There are two types of profile brackets in the market. One is called the full-height bracket with a length of 12 cm, and the other is the low-profile bracket with a length of 8 cm. This bracket can help users fix the NIC in the expansion slot of a computer or server. 

What are the types of NIC cards?

NIC cards are classified into different types based on different features like host interface, transmission speed, and application fields. 

There are five different types of classifications: 

Network Connection Based Classifications 

Based on the way the NIC card accesses the network, the card can either be wired or wireless.

A wired NIC usually connects a node onto a network with an Ethernet or fiber optic cable; a wireless NIC often comes with a small antenna, which uses radio waves to communicate with the access point to get involved in a wireless network. 

Bus Interfaces Based Classifications

ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) 

ISA was developed in 1981, which was a standard bus architecture for IBM compatibilities. Due to the low card speed of 9Mbp/s (megabits per second), the ISA bus interface is no longer a recognized type and hard to find in today’s stores. 

PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) 

PCI was developed in 1990 to replace ISA. It has a fixed width of 32 bit and 64 bit. This type of NIC card was first used in servers and later on gradually applied to PCs.

Most PCs today do not have expansion cards, but rather devices integrated into the motherboard. As a result, PCI has been replaced by other bus interfaces, like PCI-X or USB interface. 

PCI-X (Peripheral Component Interconnect eXtended) 

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

PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express)

PCIe is the latest standard and now is popular on computer and server motherboards. PCIe is available in five versions, and each version supports five types of lanes at different speeds. 

USB (Universal Serial Bus) 

USB is an external bus standard. It has three versions with different data rates and can work together with a variety of devices. In addition, the wireless network card is also a type of NIC Card.

Port Type Based Classifications

According to different cables connected, four types of NIC ports can be found in the market.

An RJ-45 port is used to connect with twisted pair cables; an AUI port is used for a thick coaxial cable; a BNC port is used for a thin coaxial cable; an optical port is used for a transceiver. 

Transmission Speed Based Classifications

There are 10Mbp/s, 100Mbp/s, 10/100 Mbp/s adaptive card, 1000Mbp/s, 10GbE, 25G or even higher speed network cards on the market.

10Mbp/s, 100Mbp/s, and 10/100MB/s adaptive NIC cards are suitable for small LAN, home uses or day-to-day offices; 1000Mbp/s NIC cards provide a higher bandwidth in the Gigabit network. 

10Gb, 25Gb, or high speed NIC cards are used by large enterprises or data centers. 

Application Fields Based Classifications

Computer NIC card

Most new computers today have NIC cards built into the motherboard, so a separate LAN card is not needed. It commonly comes with 10/100Mbp/s and 1Gbp/s speed, and it allows one PC to communicate with other PCs or networks. 

Server network card

The main functions of a server network card is to manage and handle network traffic. Compared with the ordinary PC network adapter, server adapters usually require fast data transmission speed like 10G, 25G, 40G, and even 100G. 

In addition, server adapters have low CPU occupancy rate, since it has a special network controller that can take many tasks from the CPU. 


At Trenton, our high-performance compute solutions are able to support components like NIC cards that enhance networking power. 

We create the most powerful networking and processing integrated solutions to increase speeds and feeds for radar, electronic warfare (EW), signal intelligence (SIGNT), communication intelligence (COMINT), and electronic intelligence (ELINT) applications using NVIDIA ConnectX-7 SmartNICs, next generation Intel Dual Xeon-SP CPUs, and PCIe 5.0.

Through the use of these interconnected devices, we ensure the rapid transfer of data and improved communication between data communication equipment to deliver actionable insights at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels.

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