What Types of Computer Cables Should You Know?

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Not sure what all those wires are for? Here are the most common types of computer cables described, from monitor cables to network cables.

There are too many computer cables. There are so many standards, acronyms, and terms to know. Do you need IDE or SATA for your hard drive? What is the difference between USB Type A, Type B, and Type C? Are DisplayPort and Thunderbolt the same?

In the end, consumers like you and I are left alone to learn about all the different cable types. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a single source of information highlighting the important details between the different types of computer cables?

USB (Universal Serial Bus)

USB cable

USB connection is the most common type of computer connector found everywhere in the world. Almost every computer peripheral device — keyboard, mouse, headset, flash drive, wireless adapter, and the like — can be connected to a computer via a USB port.

USB is constantly evolving, which means there are several versions of USB:

  1. USB 1.0 can transmit data at speeds up to 1.5 MB/s.
  2. USB 2.0 can transmit data at speeds up to 60 MB/s and is compatible with older USB versions.
  3. USB 3.0 can transmit data at speeds up to 625 MB/s. It is compatible with previous USB versions.
  4. USB 3.1 can transmit data at speeds up to 1.25 GB/s. It is compatible with previous USB versions. At the time this article was written, USB 3.1 was the most common type found on the market.
  5. USB 3.2 can transmit data at speeds up to 2.5 GB/s, but only when using a USB-C connection. It is compatible with previous USB versions.
  6. USB 4.x is a future specification that will transmit data at speeds up to 5 GB/s, but only when using a USB-C connection. It will be released in mid-2019 and will be compatible with USB 3.2 and USB 2.0.

Different types of USB

USB Cable Type

There are also several “forms” for USB connection:

  • Type Asupports USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1.
  • Type B supports USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1.
  • Type C(ie USB-C) supports USB 3.1, USB 3.2, USB 4.x.
  • Micro BÂ supports USB 2.0.
  • Mini BÂ supports USB 2.0.
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Note: If you purchase an adapter from one USB type to another, the data transfer speed will be limited by the slowest connection between the two endpoints and the two devices connected together. The Mini-USB and Micro-USB variants are most commonly used with smaller, portable devices such as PDAs, cell phones, and digital cameras. Standard USB connectors are used more often in devices that tend to stay plugged in, such as external hard drives, keyboards, and mice.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)

HDMI cable

High definition broadcasting is now the standard for high quality video. Unlike VGA and DVI, which only transmit video signals, HDMI transmits both video and audio signals at the same time. These signals are digital; therefore, HDMI is only compatible with newer devices.

HDMI connection is available in five types:

  • Type A is the most popular. This connector can be recognized by the 19 pins on the male head. Type A is compatible with single link DVI-D connections.
  • The Type B is larger than the Type A, coming with 29 pins on the men’s head. Type B is compatible with dual link DVI-D connections. You won’t see this breed often, if you ever.
  • The Type C (Mini) is the 19-pin connector most commonly used with portable devices, such as camcorders and digital cameras.
  • The Type D (Micro) also has 19 pins and looks similar to a Micro-USB cable. It is mostly used for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.
  • The Type E is much larger with a locking mechanism. It is mainly used in automotive applications.

DisplayPort

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Like HDMI, DisplayPort is a media interface that transmits video and audio signals simultaneously and is designed to replace VGA and DVI. Today, DisplayPort is mainly used to connect a device (such as a computer) to a monitor, so you’ll only see it among other monitor cable types.
There are several versions of DisplayPort, but all DisplayPort cables are compatible with all DisplayPort devices. Speed ​​will be limited by the lowest supported DisplayPort version between device and cable. Look for the following DisplayPort cable certifications:

  • RBR (Reduced Bit Rate): Up to 810 MB/s.
  • HBR (High Bit Rate): Up to 1,350 MB/s.
  • HBR2 (High Bit Rate 2): Up to 2,700 MB/s.
  • HBR3 (High Bit Rate 3): Up to 4,050 MB/s.

DisplayPort is compatible with HDMI and USB using an adapter. There’s also Mini DisplayPort , which is used primarily in older Apple devices released before 2011.

Thunderbolt (Lightning)

Thunderbolt / Lightning cableThunderbolt cables are designed to connect external devices to computers. primarily used in Apple devices released in 2011 and later.

Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 cables use the same connector as Mini DisplayPort, and all Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 connections are compatible with Mini DisplayPort connections.

Thunderbolt 3 cable uses the same connector as USB-C, and all Thunderbolt 3 connections are compatible with USB-C connections. Thunderbolt 3 is also compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 using an adapter.

VGA (Video Graphics Array)

VGA cable

Made way back in the 1980s, connection cable VGA is one of the oldest types of computer monitor cables. It is an analog video signal cable, so it has faded from popularity due to the world’s shift towards digital video signals. However, if you are viewing video graphics or display equipment, it is possible that you will see a VGA port.

VGA connections can be identified by the 15 pins arranged in 3 rows with 5 on each row. Each row corresponds to 3 different color channels used on the screen: red, green, and blue.

DVI (Digital Visual Interface)

DVI cable

DVI connections replaced VGA in the 2000s when video technology moved from analog to digital. Digital displays, such as LCDs, proved to be of higher quality and eventually became the market standard for video devices (at the time).

DVI connections are available in three types:

  1. DVI-A can transmit analog signals, enabling it to be VGA compatible (useful for older CRT monitors and LCD monitors).
  2. DVI-D can transmit newer digital signals.
  3. DVI-I can be used for both analog and digital. In some cases, you may need a VGA-to-DVI or DVI-to-VGA converter cable.

DVI is largely deprecated, having been replaced by more modern monitor cable types such as HDMI, DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt.

IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics)

IDE cable

IDE cable is used to connect storage devices to motherboard. If you’ve ever opened an old hard drive then you probably know what an IDE connector looks like: a wide cable that looks like a ribbon with more than 2 plugs.

The connector on the IDE cable has 40 pins; smaller 2.5-inch drives use the 44-pin form factor version of the IDE.

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment)

SATA cable

Newer hard drives prefer the SATA than the IDE port. In fact, SATA was designed to replace IDE, and rightly so. Compared to IDE, SATA provides higher data transfer rates. Your motherboard must be SATA compatible.

Standard SATA cables can be identified by two connectors, each with 7 pins and an empty notch. It looks like an L shape.

eSATA (External SATA)

eSATA cable

eSATA technology is an extension of, or enhancement of, cable SATA — it makes SATA technology available in external form. In reality, eSATA is not much different from SATA, but allows connection to devices such as external hard drives and external optical drives. However, eSATA is no longer popular due to advances in USB speed.

Ethernet

Ethernet cable

Ethernet cable is used to set up a local area network. In most cases, Ethernet is used to connect the router to the modem and the computer, although you can also connect the two devices directly using a cross-over Ethernet cable.

If you’ve ever tried to install or repair a home Wi-Fi router, chances are you’re dealing with an Ethernet computer cable. It looks unique so it is easy to distinguish from different cable types.

Currently, Cable Ethernet has multiple variations:

  • 10BASE-T Ethernet is the oldest and most basic type and supports data rates up to 1.25 MB/s.
  • Ethernet 100BASE-TX (ie Fast Ethernet ) is also an older type of Ethernet that supports data rates up to 12.5 MB/s.
  • 1000BASE-T Ethernet (ie Gigabyte Ethernet ) is the most common type of Ethernet used in homes as of this writing. It supports data rates up to 125 MB/s.
  • 10GBASE-T Ethernet (ie 10 Gigabyte Ethernet ) uses Cat6 cable (as opposed to Cat5 or Cat5e in earlier versions) to support data rates up to 1 .25 GB/s.

Note: There are faster types of Ethernet, up to Terabit Ethernet, but they aren’t used in homes yet so you won’t find them.

The computer cable types in this article make up 99% of all the cables you might use in your home.