5 Differences Between NIC and Ethernet

Differences Between NIC and Ethernet

Both NIC and Ethernet come to play in wired and wireless internet connectivity. This article discusses how these two are different.


  • A Network Internet Card has a physical form but Ethernet is just a form of a network and therefore does not have any specific form.
  • The NIC being a hardware component is tangible but Ethernet is not since it is a network. You can surely touch the Ethernet cable but not the network.
  • NIC can be wired or wireless type but Ethernet can be Fast Ethernet, Switch Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet.
  • The type of Ethernet cable will determine the speed of the connection and maximum bandwidth but NIC does not have any such direct controls.

The 5 Differences Between NIC and Ethernet

Differences between NIC and Ethernet

1. Physical Form

A NIC has got a definite physical form. A typical NIC would have a female RJ-45 port, connectors to attach it on your computer’s motherboard, and the main network card along with some other smaller components on a circuit board.

The NICs are usually small in size, and some of the older computers used external network cards. Modern motherboards already have a network card fitted in them, so unless you want better performance, there’s no need for an external one.

Ethernet, on the other hand, is a form of a network and thus has got no physical form. It is just like your mobile phone’s network or WIFI, and you can only imagine how it looks. It exists and travels in the same form as any other data does.

2. Tangibility

For the fact that it is a hardware component, NICs can be seen and touched. It is as substantial as any other part inside the CPU chassis.

Ethernet is only a network, and so you cannot see or touch it. Now the Ethernet wire that carries data is most definitely tangible, but the network itself isn’t.

3. Connectivity

A NIC has got connectors on one side that are used to connect it to a motherboard.

Over the years, these connectors have been improved, and the most current forms of NICs use the PCIe slots present. There have been USB NIC’s too, but surely they were slower.

To connect your computer to Ethernet, you would need a router and specific cables that receive and send data. This data comes from the main hub that acts as the source of the internet connection of a specified area.

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The Ethernet cables used now consist of optical fiber or twisted pair wires which allow faster data to travel over longer distances and reduce packet loss. The connector at either end is still an Rj-45 (8 pins) connector.

4. Type

A network interface controller is mainly of two types:

  • Wired NIC: As the name suggests, a wired NIC allows your computer to connect to a wired internet connection, like Ethernet itself. These cards come with an RJ-45 port.
  • Wireless NIC: Quite simply, wireless NIC cards have got an antenna on them so that you can connect to a WIFI network.

The Ethernet is also of certain types, as follows:

  • Fast Ethernet: Fast Ethernet is used to carry lighter data traffic, and has bandwidth up to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps). It is a better version of the order form, which had a data rate of 10 Mbps only. It can have both half-duplex and full-duplex forms of connection, depending on other factors.

Fast Ethernet follows the IEEE 802.3u standard and has some types of its own. The 100BASE-TX is the latest type, with 100 Mbps bandwidth and cable distance of up to 100 meters.

  • Gigabit Ethernet: Gigabit Ethernet is the successor to Fast Ethernet, and is widely used in modern computers and laptops. The speeds it offers are much faster since the maximum data rate is 1 Gbps. The widely used standard is the 1000BASE-T that uses a twisted pair wire.

It too has some subtypes and based on the material of the connecting wire used, the IEEE standards are specified.

  • Switch Ethernet: There are certain situations where all the ports present on an internet hub are occupied, and yet you need more for adding more computers or other devices, in an office for example. Depending on what sort of Ethernet (between the two above) you have, you can use an Ethernet Switch to divide the bandwidth among the devices connected to it.

Also, a switch allows data from one computer to be sent to its proper destination without having to send it to all of the connected computers.

The switch already knows where to send the data that it takes as input. There can be multiple ports on a switch, and you can have one depending on the number of devices you want to connect.

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The Ethernet connection using switches can have base speeds of 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps (the most popular), while even faster 1000 Mbps ones are also present.

We have talked more about the types of Ethernet and NICs in their separate articles.

5. Controlling Speed

In terms of controlling speed, there isn’t much a NIC can do. It may allow the connection, but it doesn’t have any direct control over how fast it is at a given place.

It does, however, specify the maximum bandwidth of data that a computer can access. In general, wired NIC cards are faster than the Wireless ones, simply because wired connectivity itself is faster.

The type of Ethernet cable being used decides the maximum bandwidth and/or speed of the internet connection.

Category 8 (Cat 8) is the latest type of cable available, while there also was Cat 7, Cat 6, Cat 5e and so on which were slower than it.

Which is More Useful – NIC or Ethernet?

Differences Between NIC and Ethernet

The Internet has been a wonderful invention that allows one to do whatever they do so comfortably.

People have grown to be so dependent on it that even if the entire world was out of an internet connection for just 5 minutes, the losses would be catastrophic.

The world’s internet hubs at various geographical locations around the globe have servers running every day throughout the year that prevents this.

At the same time, they allow the population of the entire world to keep themselves updated with whatever has happened, recently, or even years ago.

Now, this isn’t the place to discuss the merits or demerits of the internet, but rather we would be discussing a specific matter from a more informative standpoint – which among NIC and Ethernet is more useful.

Apart from knowing their differences, you should also know what these two are actually to have a better understanding.

The term NIC stands for Network Interface Controller. This is a hardware component that allows your computer to connect to an internet network and often goes with the name of the LAN adapter.

But the two aren’t the same, as the NIC is a physical card responsible for the network connectivity, while an adapter is how you attach the card.

You see, a computer cannot be used to access the internet unless a proper connection has been established.

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While the speed of this connection is regulated by other factors, the main reason a connection is created is because of this component.

Everywhere you see an internet connection is because of this network card.

Smartphones and the various types of computers have various forms of NIC and network cards that allow you to connect on WIFI, Ethernet, and so on.

The term Ethernet, on the other hand, is associated very closely with wired internet connectivity.

An Ethernet wire is a wire that brings in internet connectivity on a device, which connects through an RJ-45 port. Every computer or laptop since the 1980s has some sort of a female RJ-45 port where an Ethernet cable is connected.

This RJ-45 port is mostly provided by the NIC, which consists of many other components.

Thus, Ethernet has been around a long time and currently can provide maximum speed rates of up to 400 gigabits per second.

But on a deeper level, Ethernet is a mode of communication through which computers can be connected through a wired medium.

It may be on a local level (LAN), on a Metropolitan area (MAN), or an even larger scale (WAN), but every Ethernet system works on some definite rules, or protocols put simply.

The computers connected through Ethernet understand the protocols universally and can thus communicate with each other.

Ethernet has been used widely, and a computer that doesn’t have a WIFI connection but has to connect to the internet has to rely on Ethernet.

Even ATMs have Ethernet connectivity through which you can withdraw cash and perform other finance-related tasks on them.

So, you see, the two are useful in their respective features and functionalities.


The network controller cards and Ethernet might be two different things, but are a part of the same concept.

For a given computer system, one cannot work without the help of the other.

While NIC can provide a way for you to connect to the internet, and somewhat with the rest of the world, Ethernet is one of the means to do so.

About Taylor

AvatarTaylor S. Irwin is a freelance technology writer with in-depth knowledge about computers. She has an understanding of hardware and technology gained through over 10 years of experience.

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