Become a Network Guru in 10 Easy Steps
Part 2—Mac Network Adaptors
This Time: We Cover What Hardware You Need (If Any) To Make Your Mac Ethernet Network-ready.
Where Do I Start?
Now that you know something about networking and how Macs fit in, it’s time to concentrate on your Mac specifically. There have been many different models of the Mac made over the last 15 years and many different ways to connect things to them. Many of these Mac models come ready to connect to an Ethernet network “out of the box,” but many don't. Since those that don't include built-in Ethernet require some sort of extra hardware (a network adapter), it’s essential to know what kind of adapter to look for. Shopping for a network adapter is kind of like buying blades for a razor: any razor can use blades, but not every blade will fit in every razor. You need to make sure the blade (network adapter) matches the razor (your Mac model).
Yeah, But I Don’t Need Extra RAM For My Razor.
Is This Going To Get Really Technical?
Fortunately, recent Mac models include some sort of built-in Ethernet support, at most requiring you to attach something to the outside. Should you need to add an internal network adapter, however, make sure you take appropriate precautions during installation, such as connecting a grounding strap to your wrist, touching the power supply now and then discharge static electricity, and keeping the work area free of dust. Not taking these kind of precautions can lead to fried internal parts, which is what technicians call A Very Bad Thing. If the idea of cracking open your Mac is intimidating, your nearby Mac-friendly computer store can probably install the network adapter for you.
So How Do I Know What I Need To Do?
The following list details the plethora of Mac models and their Ethernet capabilities, both built-in and available via network adapter. Note that most Mac models have multiple Ethernet possibilities listed, meaning the model has multiple ways to use Ethernet. You only need to use one of them. To determine your expansion capabilities, start with the general type of system you have (Apple-branded Desktop, Clone Desktop, or Portable) and look for the model name and number. Once you locate your model number, cross-reference it with the list of expansion options in the “Networking Options Explained” section. Note that there are some eccentricities in the model listings. Several Power Mac and PowerBook models have different networking capabilities within the same model number. The differences are specified by the speed of their processors, which you can check by using the Apple System Profiler program that comes with your Mac (or by contacting The Amazing Crescan, although he's stopped returning my phone calls).
This list of Mac models and their expansion possibilities was compiled with the aid of Apple’s online spec sheets and the Macintosh Museum section of MacintoshOS.com. I thank them for their efforts, but must also allow for the possibility of human error in their listings
See this page for the table and legend.
So What Do I Do Now That I Know About All This?
Now that you know what kind of expansion options are available for your particular Mac model, it’s time to track down the adapter that’s right for you. Generally speaking, the easiest way to find out what’s available is to consult the Internet’s online stores, both new and used. Most online stores will have a separate section of the store devoted to networking products and all network adapters listed above reside in this category. When you browse the product descriptions, look for the adapter types (PCI, Nubus, Transceiver, etc.) listed above. When you find one that matches the type you’re looking for, make sure to find out what version of the Mac OS it supports. This is especially true for owners of older Macs, since you don’t want to get stuck with an Ethernet adapter that only works with a Mac OS version you can’t use (such as OS 8 or higher when your Mac can only run System 7.5).
In the grand scheme of things, one brand of network adapter won't show a marked performance difference over another, as network speed primarily rests with other aspects of your Mac, such as the network type (10BaseT vs. 100BaseT), processor speed, bus speed, and networking software. (This means that your average Power Mac G3 is going to out-network your average Mac Plus, even if both are connected to a 10BaseT network.)
Can You Suggest Some Places To Go Looking?
I can list a few places off the top of my head, although you can find more comprehensive lists of online Mac vendors at sites like Deal-Mac. Mentioning them here does not imply that I endorse them, blah blah blah. New product vendors include MacMall, MacConnection, ClubMac, and Cyberian Outpost. For used and remarketed products, try MacResQ, Small Dog Electronics, and Sun Remarketing. If you’re brave, you can always check out the Macintosh hardware sections of auction sites like eBay and AuctionMac. Keep in mind that used and remarketed products might not include warranties, instruction manuals, or software, so caveat emptor.
What Did We Learn Today?
This month’s article sought to answer the question of what network adapter(s) your Mac can use, assuming it doesn’t come with Ethernet built-in. Hopefully, you should now be ready to find the perfect network adapter for your Mac and buy it with the peace of mind that comes from an informed purchase.
Also in This Series
- Mac to Windows: Troubleshooting the “No Logon Servers Available” File Sharing Error · October 2004
- Using WEP Security on an AirPort Network · July 2004
- Whatever happened to…Threemacs.com? · September 2003
- Clandestine Wireless Networking and MacStumbler · July 2003
- Learning to Share With Others: Sharing Preferences Overview · April 2003
- Serving Files Using FTP in Mac OS X · December 2002
- Switching Between Networks in Mac OS X · November 2002
- The Audio/Video Quadras (660av, 840av) · September 2002
- Thoughts on Apple’s Xserve · July 2002
- Complete Archive