All Apple Macintosh computers sold today have an integrated WiFi card, but that wasn't always the case; as recently as 2005, some models had the ability to accept only an Apple-branded WiFi card (which was an optional installation). Prior to that, attaching a third-party card was the only way Macs could connect to a wireless network.
Apple AirPort Cards
Apple's line of WiFi cards is sold as AirPort cards. In addition, Apple produces some wireless networking hardware that is also marketed under the AirPort brand name. An AirPort router allows multiple users to access shared resources, such as printers, servers and Internet connectivity. The fact that these two different products share the same brand name often confuses consumers.
Different Types of Macs
As far as wireless ability goes, all Macs fall into one of three categories; computers containing an integrated WiFi card, those with the capability to accept an Apple AirPort card and older computers requiring a third-party WiFi card. G4 towers, slot-loading G3 iMacs, G4 (white) iMacs and pre-2005 MacBooks were sold with a slot that accepts an AirPort card, but the card was sold separately. Older Macs (including G3 towers and PowerBooks) require a third-party USB WiFi card to connect wirelessly.
Two Different AirPort Cards
The Apple AirPort card, with two exceptions, was produced in two versions; the original, larger card and the smaller, second-generation AirPort Extreme card. The original is the size of a standard PCMCIA card, while the Extreme model is half that size. Both cards are no longer manufactured; however, they're still available on the used computer circuit, including shops that specialize in legacy components and on eBay.
The AirPort card also came in two non-standard designs. The first exception concerns certain G5 tower models that require a non-standard AirPort card, one that is paired with a Bluetooth card. Classified a service part that is not sold to the general public, it can only be installed by authorized Apple dealers. The second exception involves the slot-loading,colorful G3 iMac. Besides the original AirPort card, you will also need a special adapter, manufactured by Apple, to connect the AirPort to the iMac.
Third-Party WiFi Options
Locating a WiFi card for your Mac is more challenging than locating one for a Windows PC. Most brick-and-mortar retailers stock only Windows-compatible cards, but both D-Link and Linksys have produced Mac-compatible WiFi cards. Shopping online for a Mac-compatible card is your best bet. However, note that most of these cards are not cross-platform, so read the fine print before buying.
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