Types of Computer Connectors & Cables
This guide and list of various types of computer connections and cables is for novices. Over the many years in computer development, numerous distinct varieties of cables have been created and reinvented – there are so many now that a novice would be hopelessly lost in the technological jungle. So, which connector is which? Continue reading to find out!
Computer cables and connectors serve a single purpose – to connect two devices together. That’s all. It is as simple as that! But to understand this in all its true essence, one needs to understand the difference between a connector vs cable.
What’s the Difference Between Connector and Cable?
A cable is a line or combination of insulated wires in which signals are sent and received. A connector is a device used for connecting two or more devices together – most often using a port on one end and the other end having the matching receiving socket. Think of it as a plug and socket.
What Types of Connectors and Cables are There?
There are two major types of connectors: plug and socket (or jack). The plug connector is the male end of a connection, which inserts into a female receptacle, or opening. A USB 2.0 cable has an ‘A’ type male plug on one end and a ‘B’ type female socket on the other. The cable is ‘A’ to ‘B’. The connector is male; the cable is female (they work together).
The second basic type of connector found in computers is called a pin or header connector. A header connector has pins, which fit into holes – this makes the connection. The pins and the holes are all part of a circuit board (inside devices). The pins on one end fit into sockets on the other end – male to female, for example. That is why pin-header cables are also referred to as male/female adapters. Pinhead connectors can be polarized too; this means that some pins will be longer than others.
For a list of computer cables and connectors, see below:
1. VIDEO GRAPHICS ARRAY (VGA)
The Video Graphics Array (VGA) was an analog computer display standard introduced in 1987. VGA is still the most common computer display standard to this day. This article explains how you can connect your Commodore 64 or 128 to a modern flat screen monitor or TV set using an RGB connection, what cabling you need, and how it works. For the impatient the solution is available for purchase (see below), but I think it’s fun to get your hands dirty and build one yourself.
This is a legacy display connection known as an “analog video connector.” The VGA connector used to be found in almost all desktop and laptop computers, but it could not keep up with the more advanced video technologies. It was replaced by the DVI and HDMI connections.
1) More affordable than DVI and HDMI.
2) Easily available.
1) Cannot be used with large, high-resolution displays.
2. DIGITAL VISUAL INTERFACE (DVI)
The Digital Visual Interface (DVI) is a high-bandwidth video interface standard, designed to maximize the visual quality of digital display devices such as LCD panels and home theater projectors. It can carry up to four bits of video data per clock cycle, thereby producing much greater color depth than the older parallel RGB Display standards like VGA and XGA, which are limited to three bits per pixel.
The DVI connector replaced VGA after a demand for a cable capable of handling more video data. It was the “mainstream video connector” for a while, until the mobile market boom. People quickly realized that the DVI connection is unsuitable for mobile devices, and it was quickly replaced by HDMI connections.
1) Easier to find cheap cables than VGA. This is becoming less of an issue as more devices switch to HDMI
2) Less interference from other signals, since the DVI standard only allows for digital data transmission.
3) The same physical connector can be used with either 15-pin or 24-pin signaling, so a cheap VGA cable can be used to save money.
4) Connectors are keyed, so it is impossible to plug the connector in the wrong way. This doesn’t apply to other standards such as HDMI and Displayport, which don’t have a keying mechanism.
1) It’s electrically incompatible with VGA connectors and cables, as the standard only allows for digital video data transmission.
2) The DVI connector lacks pins to transmit analog audio signals, which is usually required by HDMI connections.
3) It’s slightly bulkier than VGA connectors and cables (the 15-pin ones).
4) No keying mechanism.
5) DVI only supports computer sources (no HDTV support).
6) No HDCP support (High Definition Content Protection, used for digital distribution of copyrighted material such as Blu-Ray and HD Cable).
7) It’s not possible to transmit sound with a DVI cable, unlike HDMI and DisplayPort. This is a serious disadvantage for modern laptops with built-in speakers.
8) Analog video signals have a quality edge over DVI signals, which is one reason why the DVI standard isn’t used for HDTV connections.
9) No support for “deep color” HDMI connections.
10) It’s not possible to connect two computers to a single monitor with a DVI cable.
11) It’s not possible to transmit power over the DVI connector, unlike HDMI. This means it isn’t possible to use laptops as monitors without an external power supply. 12) The quality of the digital connection varies between devices that have different signal processing technology built-in. Better quality video cards typically offer a more crisp output.
13) The DVI connector only supports digital signals, but some devices require an analog input to interact with the video card (e.g.: touch screens).
3. HIGH DEFINITION MULTIMEDIA INTERFACE (HDMI)
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is one of the newest and best ways to transfer both sound and video data from a source device such as a blue ray player, cable/ satellite box or set-top box to a display unit such as a TV, monitor or projector.
HDMI can supply true digital quality in both sound and video data transfer which other similar technologies cannot provide. The HDMI interface is capable of transferring uncompressed serial digital data at rates up to 6 Gbps, although today’s common HDMI cables are restricted to speeds lower than this.
The HDMI cable can transmit all signals between a device and a monitor or projector without the need for conversion. It can transport standard, enhanced, or high-definition video along with eight channels of digital audio at once. The HDMI standard is capable of ‘handshake’ for communication between source and display units ensuring that both are compatible.
The latest version of the HDMI interface has now been designed to support video resolutions all the way up to 4096 x 2160 which is more commonly referred to as 4K or UHD. This represents four times the resolution of 1080p which was/is the maximum supported by HDTVs.
The HDMI cable has 19 pins per connector and uses a three-row design plug that won’t fit into previous generation plug openings. The cable itself is much smaller than previous HDMI cables.
1) Ability to carry digital video and audio over a single cable, reducing the number of cables required.
2) High bandwidth – up to 18Gbps and beyond (higher than Thunderbolt)
3) No compression of the video signal like with VGA and DVI, resulting in the near-lossless video.
4) Clear and detailed sound; uncompressed multi-channel audio, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
5) Improved 3D, including support for Blu-Ray’s new MVC codec and 3D gaming formats like Frame Packing, Top/Bottom, and Side-by-Side.
6) CEC compliance allows for one remote to control all devices. This is also known as Consumer Electronics Control and is part of the HDMI specification.
7) It’s easy to make passive cables that are backward compatible with DVI and VGA.
1) Most HDTVs only have one or two HDMI jacks, requiring the user to swap cables or connect them directly to A/V receivers.
2) A large number of mandatory HDMI features can make it difficult for device manufacturers to support HDMI fully.
3) HDMI Licensing, LLC requires licensees to implement HDCP copy protection. An HDCP-compliant device cannot legally be built to transmit content that has not been encrypted using HDCP.
The DisplayPort is specially designed for mobile devices and has a tiny footprint. This connector, on the other hand, has a fascinating concept behind it. It isn’t intended to function as a “direct connection,” but rather as an interface that complements different types of connections. For example, HDMI to DisplayPort, VGA to DisplayPort, and so on.
Unfortunately, computer manufacturers didn’t see it in the same way, and they thought a direct connection was far more practical; despite the noble intentions behind it, The DisplayPort remained relatively uncommon.
This connector has a scalable design, which means that it can grow in size. DisplayPort 1.4 is the latest version and supports 8K resolution at 60 Hz along with 10/12 bits per color (bpc) for 4:2:0 or 4:2:2 pixel encoding. It also comes with HDR compatibility and bandwidths of 32 to 256 Gbps that can be divided across four video streams.
– The smallest size of all video cables
– Highly versatile
– Resistant to electromagnetic interference, heat, cold, etc.
– Can become loose due to frequent unplugging/replugging
– Not as widespread as HDMI
– Pricier than other cables
If you want to go for an output solution with the highest possible resolution, DisplayPort is probably your best choice. However, be sure that your devices are DisplayPort-compatible.
We used parallel cables to link printers to computers back in the stone age of computing. They are built like tanks and would not move even if you tugged on them hard. Of course, they couldn’t handle huge data quickly enough, and they’ve been totally replaced.
There are two kinds of parallel cables, which can be likened to expressways on-ramps.
Centronics, the original standard used with dot matrix printers. Parallel cables using this interface look like an inverted letter “Y” and typically have 25 pins. If you have a new computer without a Centronics connector, forget it — you can’t use these printers.
Standard, the second standard used to connect printers to computers. Parallel cables using this interface look like an inverted letter “T” and typically have 36 pins (this doesn’t represent any advantage over 25-pin cables). You may find that your current printer only has a 9-pin connector; however, special adapters and cables let you use such printers on a standard 36-pin system.
Parallel cables can also be used with scanners, but not all scanners will work with every computer. Make sure the scanner supports the version of the parallel interface your computer has before purchase. For example, some scanner interfaces require bidirectional data flow (systems using an enhanced parallel port — see below), while others may require unidirectional flow (older systems using a standard parallel printer cable).
– standard and can handle relatively large amounts of data (compared to the serial interfaces discussed below)
– easy to find, as it is the standard
– can be used with almost any computer, even those without built-in ports. This has been replaced by USB in the past decade.
– bulky and inflexible where small, enclosed spaces are a problem — a 36-pin cable is big!
– do not support networking; shared peripherals must be hard-wired to each computer. (This can’t be used with USB.)
– inefficiency due to inbuilt inefficiencies of parallel communication.
– cannot be hot-plugged (which is also true of the serial interfaces discussed below, except for IEEE-1284)
– not as fast as USB and other interfaces.
The parallel connections are relatives of the serial connections, as some of you may have noticed. These are the progenitors of USB. The
Serial connections are used for longer distances, so they usually have 50 Ohm impedance. The parallel connections are used to transfer more than one bit through the wire at a time (as opposed to USB which transfers only 1). This provides higher data rates for peripherals such as printers and scanners.
The differences between the two major types of connection are as follows:
– The parallel connections are much faster than their corresponding serial equivalents.
– They require more complex hardware to implement, which can make them more expensive at times.
Generally, they are harder to use than the equivalent serial connections. All three wires carry data in one direction at a time (though some high-speed parallel connections do allow data to be sent in both directions simultaneously).
– They are very simple to construct
– They are cheaper than parallel connections.
– The simpler hardware reduces the price of the computer (because it requires less components).
– Low bandwidth, if high speed is required.
– Another clock line is needed for synchronization, which increases cost and complexity.
– Narrowly defined usage.
7. PERSONAL SYSTEM/2 (PS/2)
PS/2 MouseLink was developed, first introduced on the IBM Personal System-2 in March of 1987. The MouseLink concept was developed by a team headed up by Jerry Stiller, the lead hardware design engineer at IBM’s Boca Raton Florida facility.
The original intent was to simplify the use of an external mouse with IBM’s line of notebook computers, which were becoming popular at the time.
8. UNIVERSAL SERIAL BUS (USB)
UNIVERSAL SERIAL BUS (USB) is a serial bus standard to connect devices and transmit data. All USB products must be approved by the USB Implementer Forum (USB-IF) which is an organization that tests and certifies USB products for compliance with its specifications (USB 2.0, 3.0, etc.). The non-profit organization was founded in January 1995 by companies including Compaq, DEC, IBM, Intel Corporation, Microsoft Corp., NEC Corporation and Nortel Networks to develop a specification for interoperable connection devices.
-Can be used to connect various types of devices (e.g. computer peripherals, consumer electronics, industrial equipment)
-Different kinds of USB connectors for different types of devices
-USB 2.0 is compatible with USB 1.1
-Support data rates of 12 Mbps (low-speed), 480 Mbps (full-speed), and up to a theoretical maximum of 5 Gbps (high-speed)
-Requires a USB cable with at least one A/B connector, which has no standardization for gender or number of connectors per cable.
-Inconsistent performance due to the use of hubs
-USB 2.0 is not backward compatible with USB 1.1
-USB cables are relatively large compared to other data cables
-Port spacing on some devices is insufficient for multiple USB ports
-Limited cable length
-Prohibited in some countries by governmental regulations
9. FIREWIRE (IEEE 1394)
FIREWIRE (IEEE 1394) is a serial bus system that allows large amounts of data to be transferred quickly. It was primarily designed for digital video, but is also very commonly used in other applications. Firewire is also called i.LINK or IEEE 1394, and was invented by Apple Computer in 1986.
Firewire began in the late 1980s when Apple’s engineers sought to eliminate problems with transferring data quickly between their early computers and digital video devices. Internal research determined that a serial bus system, rather than the traditional parallel system, would provide superior performance.
Firewire was officially introduced in 1995 with the PowerBook 3400c and PowerBook G3 (Wallstreet). It has since exploded into one of the most popular independent data transfer protocols on the market. Firewire is now included in every Macintosh computer built today, as well as most new video devices.
What does it do?
Firewire allows you to transfer data quickly between many different devices. It is especially good for copying huge amounts of data (most digital video cameras need that ability), where parallel protocols like USB would bog down horribly, taking hours to copy a full tape. It also provides the ability to configure a network of devices, allowing them to communicate with each other. In this way, you can have a number of devices sending data to a central file server without the clutter and expense of numerous parallel cables.
How does it work?
Firewire transmits data by a process called “packetizing”. Each packet contains 48 bits of information, 4 bits of which are used for error checking, leaving 44 bits for data. That means that Firewire can transfer up to 8.5 Megabits of information per second (Mbps). Also unlike USB, each new packet is sent after the previous one has arrived at its destination. This is called asynchronous communication and it makes Firewire very robust.
The two most common Firewire speeds are 400Mbps and 800Mbps. The 400 speed was common on older video devices, but is not as fast as the newer faster protocols like USB 2.0 (480mbps) and iLink (800mbps). However it is good to keep in mind that the data rate of any particular device is only one factor in the speed of its data transfer. Firewire may not be as fast as USB, but when you have a lot of devices, it can move data much faster than USB because each device does not need to wait for other devices to “finish” before beginning their work.
Firewire has a number of advantages over USB. It offers considerably more power for external devices, as well as the ability to daisy-chain multiple devices together. This can be extremely useful when working with high-bandwidth video/audio editing equipment that would require many USB connections. Firewire also has an important advantage in that it is hot-pluggable, meaning that you can connect/disconnect devices without having to restart your computer. USB requires a “reboot” when you add/remove devices.
Firewire is also useful in simple point-to-point links with other computers. You can daisy chain up to 63 devices per Firewire bus (theoretically). For example, you could take one Firewire hard drive and connect it to your computer with a 6-pin to 4-pin cable. Then you could take another Firewire hard drive, and connect it to the first one (again with a 6-4 pin cable) and so on until you had seven devices in a “daisy chain”. Then you could plug an 8-pin cable into the last device and plug it into your computer to drastically increase your storage capacity.
Firewire is superior to USB for many applications, but has some limitations too. It doesn’t provide enough power for external hard drives (USB 2.0 can supply up to 500mA, Firewire has a limit of 100mA per node). In addition, it’s not as widespread as USB so compatibility can be an issue.
The Thunderbolt is Apple’s follow-up to the FireWire, which isn’t particularly well-liked. The difference with the Thunderbolt is that it connects via a USB Type-C connection instead of FireWire. It
allows for speeds of up to 40 gbps, which is 4K video transfer at 60 hertz. Since the connectivity technology is USB Type-C, it’s also possible that Thunderbolt could go cross-platform in the future or be used with an external graphics card.
Overall Performance 10/10
Connectivity Technology 10/10
Compatibility with Connectivity Technology 10/10
Advantages: I/O interface, speed
Disadvantages: Availability, compatibility with existing technology
The Lightning connector is the newest version of the iPhone/iPad connections, which is only compatible with Apple devices. The major fruit firm, on the other hand, claims that this technology is “faster and more efficient than the USB 2.0 port.”
-Fast charging: In 5 minutes, you can get your iPhone X charged up to 50 %.
-Small and easy to carry around.
-It’s proprietary, meaning that you can only use it with Apple products.
-Another dongle to carry around (Apple dongle, Lightning to USB).
12. 3.5MM AUDIO JACK
This is another one that you’ll see frequently, but notice the black bands on the connection? A 3-pole connector has 2 black stripes, while a 4-pole connector features three. The extra pole is there because there is an extra microphone on the earphones/headphones – so yes, just keep that in mind.
4 Pole headsets can be used on devices with separate audio and mic plugs.
Can only be used with devices capable of outputting line-level audio (as opposed to headphone-level).
More expensive than 3-pole headsets due to more components/fabrication involved in manufacturing.
13. OPTICAL FIBER AUDIO CABLE
Optical fiber audio cables are electrical audio cables that have optical fibers in them. The fibers do not conduct electricity but they can transfer the audio or video signals quite efficiently. Now your question would be why use them when there are copper-based audio cables in the market.
Your answer would be that optical fiber cables are lightweight, easy to handle, and more secure. The biggest advantage of optical fibers is that they can carry the audio signals over very long distances without any loss of signal quality.
Lightweight and easy to handle
More secure than regular cables
Can transfer signals over long distances without any loss of signal quality.
Not very cheap and not many companies make them, so sometimes they can be difficult to obtain.
You may have come across this while connecting a wireless router to the modem. Yep, this is what we used to connect the PC to the router back in the old days when we didn’t have wireless. The typical Ethernet standard is IEEE 802.3, and the RJ45 connector is used.
The Ethernet standard specifies how data is encoded and transmitted over electrical wiring. The maximum cable length for Ethernet cables is 100 meters, so you can imagine the amount of networking equipment that has to be located closer than 100 meters to each other.
– Fast connection.
– The standard delivers full-duplex communication.
– Ethernet cables are bulky and stiff, so it is quite difficult to wire your house using them.
– If one cable fails the entire network goes down since all devices are connected together in a bus topology.
– Ethernet cables have a limited length, and that limit is 100 meters.
If your home phone is linked to an AIO printer and allows you to send faxes, you should already be aware of this. If people want to get technical, call it RJ11. It is the connector in most human possession that comes in two forms. The first type is a flat cable with three wires inside, known as an RJ11 phone cord, which plugs into the back of your fax machine or modem.
The second type is a larger version called an RJ14 jack, which has four holes for cables to enter and can be found on the back of many phone systems, such as those typically used by businesses.
Can’t be used with a digital phone system that uses voice-over ip.
16. FIBER OPTIC CABLE
When it comes to a faster Internet, electricity, and light are two of the most efficient data transmission tools we have. Copper wires, on the other hand, will soon reach technological limitations in terms of data transmission. For ultra-fast data transmissions, fiber optic cables are becoming increasingly popular among newer generations of “serious networking devices.”
It might surprise you to know that a fiber optic cable is essentially a specially made glass strand. The glass acts as a guide for light, which travels down it at 2/3 of the speed of light! This is possible because the fiber optic cable is so thin – only one-tenth the width of a human hair. In most cases, the glass fiber cables are encased in rubber, plastic, or some other protective material.
Light can transmit data at speeds up to 100 times faster than current electrical technology.
Glass is much more flexible than copper wire, so it is easier to install.
Glass does not interfere with electricity or radio waves, so fiber optic cables are ideal for use in sensitive electronic equipment such as defense systems and computers.
The glass used for fiber optic cables has a fairly high resistance to heat and fire, so it is less likely than copper wire to start fires.
Glass is more fragile than metal, making breakage and repairs difficult and expensive.
To keep data flowing smoothly, the glass strands must be perfectly straight and of the same length. Cable manufacturers follow extremely strict tolerances in fiber optic cable production, and it is difficult to repair even a tiny break in the glass.
These cables are more expensive than copper wire and lose some of their data-transmitting capabilities if they’re rolled too tightly and bent.
17. POWER CORDS
The IEC standards are followed by computer power cords, which is the same as with most of our other home appliances. The following are three of the most frequent power connectors seen in computers:
“Computer power cords are based on the IEC 60320 C7 connector. That is, both computer and monitor power cables use the same 7A/125V plug. The only difference between them – besides the conductor gauges – is that computer power supplies use a “figure-8” mains cable (the third wire is not used and it is isolated by the connector housing). The dimensions of the power cord plug and receptacle are given in IEC 60320.
“Computer power cords come in various shapes and sizes, to comply with different safety standards for different regions around the world. Historically, the American (UL 817) standard has been most prevalent, but recently there has been a trend toward the European/International (CENELEC HD 60320) standard. The Australian AC/DC connector is a C7 variant with a non-sleeved contact.”
Advantages: Computer power cords are cheaper to produce than other appliances’ cords. They can be open in design or they can be terminated with an IEC60320 connector, which is the same one used for standard computer interconnects (IDE/ATA, ATAPI). That is why computer manufactures use it also for their monitor power cable. Because of the monitor power cable’s compatibility with the computer monitor cord, it is easier to share the same cords.
Disadvantages: A problem that comes with using one type of connector for both interconnects and for multiple purposes is that if a card fails, there may be problems in diagnosing it. For example, if an auditor or inspector sees a broken connector, the first thing that will come to his mind is that it’s for data transfer which means that if he comes back with another problem on that computer, what will happen if its power cord is also broken? Will it be the same failure or will they find two different problems?
Another disadvantage of having one type of connector for both data and power is the health hazard due to the electromagnetic radiation coming from the computing equipment. Cable shielding can help reduce this, but it’s also a solution that doesn’t apply to all types of cabling needs.
18. DC BARREL JACK
The average Joe that you encounter in the world of electronics… However, keep in mind that, while they appear to be the same, they vary in diameter. This is why it’s important to pay attention to the barrel jack specification when you’re buying an item.
The barrel jack, also known as a coaxial power connector, consists of three pins that are symmetrically placed in a cylindrical shell. Usually made out of plastic or rubber, this makes pretty tough and durable connectors. It has become an essential part of the DC power source system.
No polarity: You can plug it in any way.
Use with a switch: A switch adds flexibility to powering on your project. If you use the switch, you don’t have to worry about turning it off before disconnecting devices.
The most obvious disadvantage is that barrel jacks are not polarized, so it is possible to plug them in backward.