Setting up a Wireless Network Adapter – Introduction

Read on to learn how to install and set up your wireless network adapter.

Here you will find all you need to know to set up your wireless adapter for your PC or laptop.
Be sure to read our Installing a Wireless Network Adapter page for details on the options available to you and advice on choosing an adapter.

If you have a new PC or laptop then you will probably already have wireless networking capabilities built in and you can probably skip the next few steps and carry on to the installing software and drivers section.

Setting up a Wireless Network Adapter – Built In Support

If you are not sure if your PC has a network adapter already installed you can check for this very easily by going to the ‘Start’ menu > ‘Control Panel’ and clicking on ‘System and Maintenance’.

Click on ‘Hardware then click on ‘Device manager’ 

Look down the list of devices and next to ‘Network Adapters’ click on the + sign to expand the listing.

Now simply look for an adapter description that has ‘Wireless’ in the name somewhere and if you find one you pretty much know that you are good to go!

For Windows 7 users you will need to go ‘Start’, right click on ‘Computer’ and then select ‘Manage’.

Now click on ‘Device Manager’ in the list on the left hand side of the window and then click the arrow on the resultant drop down list next to ‘Network Adapters’ to expand the network adapter list and check for installed wireless network adapters. 

If you’ve just installed an adapter you can use the above to check that your Wireless Network Adapter has been installed correctly.

Double click on the device name and you will see a ‘Device status’ window which will tell you if your device is working correctly – if not you will have the option to re-install the driver.

Ok, if you do not have built in wireless network support you will need to choose a wireless network adapter for your PC or laptop.

First take a look at ‘Installing a Wireless Network Adapter’ for advice and help in choosing the correct type for your PC or laptop then return here for help in setting up your new wireless network adapter. 

Setting up a Wireless Network Adapter – Install your adapter

Ok, now to plug in your adapter. Some manufacturers require you to install the drivers first prior to inserting your adapter, some do not.

Check and confirm the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure – if you don’t have these you will need to visit the manufacturer’s website.

It’s often a good idea to do this anyway as you can then be sure that you have the latest ‘up to date’ drivers as the manufacturers often update these.

Usually you will need to install the drivers first before installing your adapter otherwise Windows will not recognise your adapter – note that Windows does have native support for many manufacturer’s adapters making it possible to simply plug in your adapter and Windows will recognise it and configure it automatically.

Once the drivers are installed and after your adapter has been fitted, Windows should detect your adapter and complete the configuration and installation process.

Following this a message will appear telling you that there are wireless networks available.

Note – If you are installing a USB or CardBus (PCMCIA) type adapter you can simply plug them into an available port whilst your PC or laptop is running.

PCI card type adapters will need to be installed inside your desktop PC case. 

Setting up a Wireless Network Adapter – PCI Card Installation

To install a PCI card type wireless network adapter you must first turn off and remove the power from your desktop PC.

Be sure to take anti-static precautions – we strongly recommend the use of an anti-static wrist strap. These are not very expensive to buy and will come in handy whenever you do an upgrade or work on your PC.If you really insist on not using one then do at least ensure that you ground yourself by touching something that is connected to a good earth.Now open up your PC case and identify a free PCI slot.

You will need to remove the blanking plate at the rear of your PC case corresponding to your free PCI slot.

The backing plate will either be held in place by a plastic locking bracket or with a single screw.

Remove the blanking plate and then carefully insert your PCI wireless network adapter card into the spare slot.

The card should slide in fairly easily but will require firm pressure to push fully home.

Now replace the blanking plate screw or plastic locking tab to lock home the rear panel bracket of your new PCI wireless network adapter card.

Replace your PC case cover and connect up the wireless network card antenna which was supplied with your new card – you will see a small threaded connector on the PCI card backing plate which the antenna will screw onto.

Finger tight is just fine here – don’t over do it! 

Setting up a Wireless Network Adapter – Installing software and drivers

Now you’re all set to install the software – again follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Many manufacturers have their own wireless utility software to set up, configure and identify wireless networks.

If you want to use this that’s fine but Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 are all capable of managing your wireless connection for you.

When you have installed your adapter into your PC or laptop Windows should automatically detect it and may prompt you to insert the manufacturers CD or just continue with automatically configuring your adapter.

When Windows has finished configuration a message should appear telling you that wireless networks are available.

If you are using Windows XP you will need to click on the desired network corresponding to your own network name (SSID) and then click on the ‘Connect’ button.

If encryption has been enabled you will need to enter your password or ‘Network Key’.

If you are connecting to your own network this will be the password that you set up in your wireless router configuration page.

If you have forgotten what this is simply open up a web browser page, on a PC that is connected to your network and logon to your router by typing in your username and password that you set up during wireless router configuration.

For more help on this check out our Setting up a Wireless Router page.

Connection can also be made by right clicking on the wireless network icon in the notification area at the bottom right hand corner of your screen and selecting ‘View Available Wireless Networks’ which will display a list of networks.

Select the network you wish to connect to by selecting the network SSID by clicking on it and then activating your connection by clicking on the ‘Connect’ button.

If you are connecting to a wireless hotspot you will need to ask for the password if required.

For Windows Vista and Windows 7 users either right click on the wireless icon in the notification area at the bottom right hand corner of your screen or go ‘Start’ > ‘Control Panel’ and open up the ‘Network and Sharing Center’. 

You can also right click on the wireless icon in the notification area and select ‘Open Network and Sharing Center’.

On the left hand side of the Network and Sharing Center window you will see a tasks list – click on ‘Connect to a network’. 

A list of available networks will now be displayed and you will be able to select your desired network by clicking on it and entering your password if required. Some adapters, as discussed earlier, may require you to use their own wireless network utility software.

Again, if you have the choice between the manufacturers and Windows own inbuilt wireless network utility you should probably opt for the Windows offering.