Popular Network Interface Types
Network interface cards, motherboard-down and USB network adapters are the most prevalent wired interfaces on the market today. It is important to recognize each device's strengths and weaknesses to understand how NICs are different from other available solutions.
The NIC is a slot-based card that connects directly to the motherboard of the computer. The major benefit to these cards is that they handle the buffer storage, encoding and decoding of data through the seven network layers. This allows the processor to concentrate on other tasks, rather than the data being received by it. Typically, there are more advanced feature sets available on network interface cards, as they have dedicated storage and the processing to support this without affecting the CPU. Conversely, an installed NIC will take one of your motherboard expansion slots, which can be troublesome if you are running several add-on components in a small form factor computer.
Motherboard-down controllers allow you to provide networking services without utilizing an expansion slot. They're typically less expensive than an add-in card, though.
The downside is that they do utilize processor power to encode and decode data through the network layers. When dealing with a high amount of traffic, especially encrypted data, this could become noticeable. It should be noted that most motherboard manufacturers do direct this traffic through the southbridge.
Wired USB adapters provide portable and quick installation for network connections that can be installed by individuals of any skill level. They also facilitate the ability to add a connection without requiring a motherboard change or filling one of its slots. Conversely, USB is traditionally slower than the quickest Ethernet links, causing potential bottlenecks when network performance exceeds 50 Mb/s using USB 2.0. USB 3.0 should alleviate that.