Other Options

You probably want to know if there are any other options besides Wi-Fi cards. Maybe your laptop doesn't come with an expansion slot for PC Cards. Or maybe you are already using the slot with a digital storage device. The good news is that you can add external Wi-Fi capabilities to a laptop in several ways. The only downside is that you'll need to carry an additional gizmo with you because the Wi-Fi card won't be onboard your laptop?but this isn't really a big deal. (Some users also feel that external Wi-Fi access produces slightly flakier communication strengths, but there is no real reason this should be true.)

You can add an external Wi-Fi device to your computer using either an Ethernet port (shown in Figure 8.3 earlier in this chapter) or using a USB connection (shown in Figure 8.2 earlier in this chapter).

If your laptop already has a wired Ethernet connection, you can plug in a device that will bridge between the Ethernet card inside your laptop and Wi-Fi access.

One such device is Microsoft Xbox Adapter, described in Chapter 7, "Playing with Wi-Fi Gadgets." Although this device is primarily intended for use with the Xbox gaming platform, it will also provide Wi-Fi access for any computer that has Ethernet capabilities.

You'll also find a number of Ethernet?to?Wi-Fi and USB?to?Wi-Fi devices from a variety of manufacturers, including D-Link and Linksys, which enable Wi-Fi access without adding a card. These devices may seem particularly appealing when you decide you want to add Wi-Fi capabilities to a desktop computer because you don't have to open the computer up to install them. I'll tell you more about them, particularly USB?to?Wi-Fi adapters, which are likely to be more convenient than Ethernet?to?Wi-Fi adapters because you don't have to disrupt existing wired network connections, in Chapter 9, "Wi-Fi on Your Desktop."

The Absolute Minimum

Here are the key points to remember from this chapter:

  • Prices for Wi-Fi cards keep coming down, and it's easy to comparison shop for a good deal.

  • If you look at your laptop, it's easy to see where the card goes.

  • For each network you want to connect to, you'll need to configure a network profile.

  • The most important part of the network profile is the network name, also called the SSID.

  • You can scan to find available networks.

  • You may need to provide an encryption key (particularly for private networks).

  • External devices that connect via Ethernet or USB can also be used to add Wi-Fi to your laptop.