Modem vs. Network Card

By Chris Davis

Modems and network cards each have benefits.
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Most modern computers are equipped with either a modem, a network card, or both. A primary purpose of each is to allow access to the Internet, but many users don't know the difference between the two.

Signal Type

A network interface card, or NIC, sends and receives data as digital signals, which are compatible with computer technology. A modulator-demodulator, or modem, translates data between the digital format used by computers and the analog format used over phone and cable lines.


An ethernet network card.
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Some cable modems are capable of supporting speeds of up to 30 Mbps, although most cable Internet providers only offer packages up to 6 Mbps. NICs are much faster, some boasting speeds of 1 Gbps (1024 Mbps) or more.


An external fax modem.
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Because modems must convert data from analog to digital and often transfer that data to a server many miles away, they are more error-prone than network cards. NICs have a simpler role in networking and are less likely to malfunction.


High-speed cable modems can cost anywhere from $50 to $300, while fax modems are much cheaper at $10 to $50. The price of a network card varies greatly depending on the speed and how many ports it has, ranging from $10 to upwards of $150. (Prices are as of July, 2010.)

Secondary Functions

NICs have few secondary uses, although some electronics can be powered via an ethernet cable connected to a network card. Fax modems can be used to send and receive faxes and to send and receive phone calls through a modem-equipped computer using available software.