That is an excellent question, I will be happy to assist you with your computer.
This blog was designed with the idea of breaking down complicated technology into understandable chunks. This entry will be the first of what will definitely be a series of explanations on how a motherboard works. We will start simple with a card and card slot.
So what do I mean by a card? There are several types of cards that can be inserted into a motherboard. A network card, a sound card, a video graphics card, etc. A card is basically the physical piece of the motherboard that performs a specific task. Here is a picture of a motherboard before anything gets plugged into it:
Now most boards come with Ethernet ports and a sound card built in, but let’s say something breaks and you need to replace it. You purchase a replacement card and insert it into the motherboard.
This is a motherboard with a few cards connected, including the network card with an Ethernet port.
So the card is referring to the hardware that is inserted into the motherboard to perform that task. That is the physical piece of the equipment. Now with all computing systems there has to be a software aspect that you as a user can interact with that card. That is called a driver.
Computers are not standardized. The physical pieces are more or less standard now, though there are exceptions to the rule. That way when you buy an expansion card you know it will be able to fit into the open slot you have on the motherboard. However, since software is much more customizable it is impossible for the computer to be ready to accept any card you connect without its specific software to tell the operating system how to interact with it.
A driver is a piece of software that allows that new physical card to be able to communicate and function inside of your computer with all the other systems built into the computer. So you get a new network card and it is not working. The computer tells you that a new piece of hardware is detected but you are not able to get online. That means that you need to install the driver that goes with that card.
How do you troubleshoot this issue? The most common thing that I see is network cards and drivers having issues. So you can not get online and you can not figure out why. If you check the network connections you get an error that no networks are available. That error is a big red flag. When trying to connect to the Internet, especially wirelessly, there are always networks available. The amount of routers sending out wireless signals these days is unbelievable.
Therefore when it says that no networks are available there are two possible causes.
The first is simple, the wireless or wired network adapter has been disabled. On laptops this is usually the case. On most laptop keyboards there is a button on the top row (the F keys) that disables the wireless function. It is meant as an easy way to shut off the wireless function when you are out of range of your wireless network to conserve the battery. However, it constantly causes issues when people click by accident and shut off their wireless. So you turn the wireless back on and you are good to go again.There should be a wireless indicator light that lets you know when the wireless is on or off.
The second cause is a bit tougher to resolve. It is either a malfunctioning network card or missing driver. How can you tell which one you are having? To see if it is a missing driver you open the Control Panel and go to Network and Sharing Center. Once there you will see an option that say manage or change adapter settings. This is where the computer keeps the information for the network cards in the computer. Now in the adapter window there is no WiFi adapter listed. This means that the network driver for the wireless network card is missing. The computer does not know how to communicate with the wireless driver inside the computer. To resolve this you would need to download the missing driver. To do this you would connect a wire to get internet back and do a search for wireless network drivers until you find the one you need and download and reinstall it.
Diagnosing if a network card is malfunctioning gets a lot trickier. There is a device manager in the adapter menu that tests the connected hardware. This gets into a much higher level of troubleshooting including cracking open the tower case and actually looking at the motherboard, not something I would suggest to the causal user. If the adapter seems fine and the network card is still not functioning it is time to get a professional involved, especially if it looks like it will need to be replaced.
What did we learn? When talking hardware we know that a card is the physical equipment in the computer that connects to the motherboard. The driver is the software we install on the operating system to allow the computer to communicate with that hardware.
If you have a technology question you would like answered, please E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to look into it for you.