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Learn Four Ways to Hookup a Laptop Computer to a Broadband Internet Connection

written by: John Garger•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 7/20/2010

Wired, wireless, internal, and external, are the four main methods of attaching a laptop computer to a broadband Internet connection. Learn which method of hooking up a laptop to a broadband Internet connection is right for you.

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    Unlike most desktop computers, many laptop computers do not come with the same equipment, standards, and peripherals. In an attempt to create smaller and more convenient laptops, manufacturers often move things around in a laptop or remove them altogether. The result is the need for external attachments to connect the computer to various external devices and peripherals.

    Hooking up a laptop to a broadband Internet connection is not unlike the methods used to connect a desktop computer. There are two major attributes of the devices needed to connect a laptop to the Internet. The wired/wireless attribute determines whether a cable is needed to make the connection. The internal/external attribute determines whether the capability to connect to the Internet is inside your laptop or whether you need an extra device to make the connection. Read on to learn of the four ways you can connect your laptop to broadband Internet.

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    Connecting Your Laptop to the Internet with an Internal Network Interface Card

    RJ-45 Jack Connecting a laptop to the Internet with an internal Network Interface Card (NIC) is much like connecting a desktop to the Internet. If your laptop has an RJ-45 port on the side or back of your computer, then your computer takes advantage of an onboard NIC, much like the onboard NICs found on desktop motherboards.

    To make the connection to the Internet, you need only use an Ethernet cable to make a connection from the RJ-45 port on your computer to your cable or DSL modem. For some cable and DSL modems, you may need to reset the modem in order for the connection to establish between your laptop and your Internet Service Provider.

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    Connecting Your Laptop to the Internet with an Add-in Network Interface Card

    Wired Laptop Ethernet Card If your laptop lacks an internal NIC, you can connect to the internet using an add-in card. NIC add-in cards are flat, rectangular cards that connect to your laptop through a PCMCIA port found on the side of your laptop. Companies such as D-Link and TRENDNet make popular versions of NIC add-in cards capable of data transfers ranging from 10BASE-T, 100BASE-T, all the way up to gigabit 1000BASE-T.

    Before you can connect your add-in NIC to the Internet, you will likely have to install some drivers and other software to ensure your operating system can communicate with the NIC. After you install the drivers, you connect your laptop to your cable or DSL modem the same way you connect them to an internal NIC. Use an Ethernet cable to make the connection between the NIC and the modem.

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    Connecting Your Laptop to the Internet with an Internal Wireless NIC

    Internal Laptop Ethernet Many laptops now ship with wireless internal NICs. If you are using a wireless Internet connection at home or at the office, you have no need for Ethernet cables cluttering up your workspace. Intel’s Centrino technology is one standard adopted by many laptop manufacturers. These laptops ship standard with wireless Ethernet capabilities built in.

    To make a wireless Internet connection with an internal wireless NIC, you must first enable your wireless NIC. Often for security purposes, wireless NICs ship disabled and are only enabled when the end user decides to make a wireless connection. Although wireless connections are often slower than wired Internet connections, the convenience of portability and no wires is enough to entice people to switch over to wireless Internet connections. Of course, you also need either a wireless modem or router to connect to the Internet with a wireless NIC.

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    Connecting Your Laptop to the Internet with an External Wireless NIC

    Wireless Laptop Ethernet Just like connecting to the Internet with a wired add-in NIC, wireless add-in NICs are also available. These NICs plug into your laptop’s PCMCIA port and, of course, do not require an Ethernet cable to connect to your wireless modem or router.

    These wireless NICs operate just like internal NICs. They requires drivers and sometimes other software to work and you must be sure that they are enabled before making a wireless Internet connection attempt.

    For maximum capability with any of the wireless connections you may encounter, be sure your wireless NIC is capable of both IEEE 802.11g and IEEE 802.11b standards. These two wireless standards are the ones you will most likely encounter in homes, in coffee houses, at work, and in other hot spots in many large cities.

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    You have four major options when connecting your laptop to an Internet broadband connection. The choice to connect using any of these four options depends on the other equipment you own or are likely to encounter at work or on the road. To maximize your choices, try to buy a laptop with built-in wired and wireless NICs. This way you won’t be stuck without the Internet because of incompatible hardware.