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Getting started with Windows 10 networking

Before you can connect to the Internet or to a local area network, your Windows 10 device needs a network adapter, properly installed with working drivers.

Since the release of Windows 7, Microsoft's hardware certification requirements have mandated that every desktop PC, laptop, all-in-one, and portable device include a certified Ethernet or Wi-Fi adapter.

You'll typically find wired Ethernet adapters in desktop PCs and all-in-ones, where a permanent wired network connection is appropriate. These adapters can be integrated into the motherboard or installed in an expansion slot and accept RJ45 plugs at either end of shielded network cables.

Most modern wired adapters support either the Fast Ethernet standard (also known as 100Base-T), which transfers data at 100 megabits per second, or the more modern Gigabit Ethernet standard, which allows data transfers at 1 gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second. In an office or a home that is wired for Ethernet, you can plug your network adapter into a wall jack that connects to a router, hub, or switch at a central location called a patch panel. In a home or an office without structured wiring, you need to plug directly into a network device.

Connect to a wired network using a USB port
If you crave the consistent connection speed and reliability of a wired network but have a portable PC or mobile device that lacks a built-in Ethernet connection, consider investing in a USB network adapter. A USB 2.0 port will support Fast Ethernet speeds, whereas a modern device with a USB 3.0 or USB Type-C port should be capable of Gigabit Ethernet speeds. Some network docking stations and USB hubs include an Ethernet adapter; this option allows you to use a single USB connection for instant access to a wired network and other expansion devices while you're at your desk, using Wi-Fi when you're on the go.

In recent years, wireless networking technology has enjoyed an explosion in popularity. Wireless access points are a standard feature in most home routers and cable modems, and Wi-Fi connections are practically ubiquitous. You can connect to Wi-Fi, often for free, in hotels, trains, buses, ferries, and airplanes in addition to the more traditional hotspot locations such as cafés and libraries.

All laptops and mobile devices designed for Windows 10 include a Wi-Fi adapter, which consists of a transceiver and an antenna capable of communicating with a wireless access point. Wireless adapters are also increasingly common in desktop and all-in-one computer designs, allowing them to be used in homes and offices where it is impractical or physically impossible to run network cables.

Ethernet and Wi-Fi are the dominant networking technologies in homes and offices. Alternatives include phone-line networks, which plug into telephone jacks in older homes, and power-line technology, which communicates using adapters that plug into the same AC jacks you use for power. The availability of inexpensive wireless network gear has relegated phone-line and power-line technologies to niche status; they are most attractive in older homes and offices, where adding network cable is impractical and wireless networks are unreliable because of distance, building materials, or interference. (A hybrid approach, useful in some environments, allows you to plug a Wi-Fi extender into an existing power line to increase signal strength in a remote location.)

You don't need to rely exclusively on one type of network. If your cable modem includes a router and a wireless access point, you can plug network cables into it and use its wireless signal for mobile devices or for computers located in areas where a network jack isn't available.

When you upgrade to Windows 10, the setup program preserves your existing network connection. If you perform a clean setup of Windows 10, your wired Internet connection should be detected automatically; you're prompted to enter the access key for a wireless connection during the setup process.