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.