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My laptop didn't came with built in wireless internet connectivity (Is it called Wi-Fi?) so I would like to have one as an external or at PCMCIA port, Could you please suggest me your recommendations? Something affordable yet reliable and easy to use solution? What is best, using Bluetooth or PCMCIA for wireless connectivity?

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closed as off topic by heavyd, Mehper C. Palavuzlar, random Jul 5 '10 at 16:31

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Please see the FAQ. Shopping and buying recommendations are considered off-topic. – heavyd Jul 5 '10 at 15:16
@heavyd, I am not asking a shop name or web address to buy the thing!, instead I am asking recommendation and a how to guide. – Jasmine Appelblad Jul 5 '10 at 15:21
It's still the same thing you're asking for, people to help you buy something, which is off-topic. – random Jul 5 '10 at 16:35
up vote 2 down vote accepted

First you need to find out what type of wireless connectivity you will be using. Most likely, you'll be using WiFi, but check it out just in case. It could happen to be WiMax, which uses different cards. It is highly unlikely that you will be using Bluetooth, and I haven't seen any external Bluetooth WiFI cards so far. Such thing could exist, but you'll have to charge its batteries etc etc.

If you are using WiFi, you'll need a wireless card. Currently, there are 3 popular ways co connecct them to a PC. You can use USB based cards. I've seen them called WiFi dongles or adapters too. They plug into a USB port and do their thing. Some are sold with USB extension cables, because they are usually larger than distance between two USB ports, so if connected directly, they can block the other port.

Other connection is PCMCIA slot. It is the older type of slot, so newest cards could be rare for it. You just plug the card into the slot and it will work. Once you are done, you can eject it.

The newest slot is ExpressCard slot. It is new replacement for PCMCIA. Double check to see if you maybe have this one! I've seen laptops marked with PCMCIA which have ExpressCard and ExpressCard devices sold as PCMCIA. There two versions of ExpressCard. One is 54mm wide and the other is 34mm wide. The full size has one PCI-E connector and one USB2 connector and works with smaller cards too. Smaller has just the USB connector.

Now about the cards:
First, the standards which are related to WiFi are from IEEE 802.11 series. The most important thing you need to know are 80.211a, 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n.

The a and b are old standards, so avoid cards which support only them. The a standard uses 5GHz frequency range and is a bit faster and much more expensive than b standard which uses 2.4 GHz range.
The g standard is replacement for b standard. It is newer, faster and is still in use. It also works in 2.4 GHz range and can work with IEEE 802.11b devices. If you are low on cash, you could buy a card which uses IEEE 802.11g standard.

Next is 802.11n. It is the newest standard and fastest. It is replacement for IEEE 802.11a and IEEE 802.11g standards. There are devices out there which work in 2.4 GHz spectrum, which work in 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz spectra and devices which work in 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectra. The prices rise with features with 2.4GHz only being cheapest and 2.4GHz and 5 GHz being most expensive.

Another important thing is support for encryption. Oldest devices support only WEP encryption which can be broken in seconds by someone trying to hack into your network.

It was later replaced with WPA and WPA2. Almost all new devices support all three. Make sure you get a device which supports WPA and WPA2.

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What is best, using Bluetooth or PCMCIA for wireless connectivity?

Hm, I have not heard of any Bluetooth WLAN adapters for a laptop (though they may exist). I don't see how it would make sense: Bluetooth is meant for easily connecting devices with each other without the need for cables, and really only makes sense for devices that are usually used independently (such as mobile phones, PDAs...).

So if you want a dedicated adapter, get PCMCIA (now PC Card or ExpressCard), or USB. PC Card / ExpressCard has the advantage that it can always remain plugged in: It disappears in the slot, so can remain plugged in if you stow away the laptop. USB adapters usually need to be unplugged in this case. On the other hand, USB is more common, so if you want to use the adapter in another device without PC Card slot (netbook, desktop), USB is the way to go.

As to concrete recommendations, that's difficult because there are so many available, and anyway SU is not a shopping site. Just get advice in a decent computer shop, or check online reviews.

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+1 for disappears into laptop. – AndrejaKo Jul 5 '10 at 15:44

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