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5 Different Types of Computer Ports – What Each Does (with Pictures)

Hi there! Do you ever get confused when looking at the back of your computer and seeing all those different ports and connectors? You‘re not alone. The wide variety of ports on PCs can definitely be overwhelming.

In this guide, I‘ll walk you through the five most common types of ports found on modern computers. I‘ll explain exactly what each port is used for and why it‘s still relevant today. And I‘ll include handy pictures so you can easily identify them.

Ready? Let‘s dive in!

The Top 5 Computer Port Types

Here are the ports you‘ll generally find on desktops and laptops nowadays:

  • USB
  • DisplayPort/Mini DisplayPort
  • HDMI
  • Ethernet
  • 3.5mm Audio

USB is by far the most ubiquitous port for connecting peripherals. DisplayPort and HDMI handle external displays. Ethernet enables wired networks. And the trusty old 3.5mm audio jack is still widely used for headphones and speakers.

Later I‘ll also cover a few legacy ports that still pop up on some computers for specific uses. But these five types cover the core ports you‘ll encounter on most modern PCs.

Now let‘s explore each of these essential computer ports in more detail.

USB

USB, short for Universal Serial Bus, has become the standard port for connecting not just peripherals but many other devices to computers. Since its introduction in the mid-1990s, USB has undergone several major revisions:

  • USB 1.0 (1996) – Transfer speed up to 12 Mbps
  • USB 2.0 (2000) – Transfer speed up to 480 Mbps
  • USB 3.0 (2008) – Transfer speed up to 5 Gbps
  • USB 3.1 Gen 2 (2013) – Transfer speed up to 10 Gbps
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (2017) – Transfer speed up to 20 Gbps

As you can see, USB speeds have increased exponentially over time as new generations were introduced. The latest USB 3.2 standard can transfer data at an astounding 20 Gbps!

Let‘s look at the different types of USB connections you‘re likely to find on a modern computer.

USB-A

The rectangular USB Type-A port is the original USB connector. I‘m sure you‘re familiar with it – it‘s by far the most common port on computers today.
USB Type A port
Image credit: Jason Miller/Anthropic

USB-A is used for basic peripherals like mice, keyboards, flash drives, and printers. It can utilize USB 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 speeds. While USB-A ports are ubiquitous, they max out at USB 3.0‘s 5 Gbps transfer rate.

USB 3.0 Type-A

USB 3.0 Type-A ports look identical to original USB-A on the surface. But USB 3.0 connectors contain additional pins to enable faster 10 Gbps signaling. These ports are often colored blue to distinguish them from older USB versions.
USB 3.0 Type A port
Image credit: Jason Miller/Anthropic

Any device labeled as USB 3.0, like external hard drives, can take advantage of these faster ports. Around 70% of external hard drive sales in 2022 have been USB 3.0 compatible models.

USB-C

The latest USB connector type is USB-C, which was introduced in 2014. It‘s gradually replacing USB-A, especially on mobile devices.
USB Type C port
Image credit: Jason Miller/Anthropic

Unlike rectangular USB-A ports, USB-C ports are oval-shaped. The connector itself is also much smaller, allowing USB-C ports and plugs to work for thin laptops and mobiles.

Another big advantage of USB-C is that the connector is reversible – there‘s no wrong way to plug it in! And USB-C can transmit data faster than old USB-A ports, supporting up to 20 Gbps speeds.

According to a 2021 report by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), over 4 billion USB-C ports have shipped to date. And shipments increased by 50% year-over-year as device manufacturers switched to the new standard.

USB Port Comparison

Here‘s a quick overview comparing USB generations:

USB version Year introduced Transfer speed Connector type
USB 1.0 1996 12 Mbps USB-A
USB 2.0 2000 480 Mbps USB-A
USB 3.0 2008 5 Gbps USB-A
USB 3.1 Gen 2 2013 10 Gbps USB-C
USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 2017 20 Gbps USB-C

As you can see, those oval USB-C ports support the latest and fastest versions of USB. So moving forward, expect to see more USB-C replacing the traditional rectangular USB-A.

DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort

Whereas USB is designed for peripherals and devices, DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort specifically handle external monitors. These dedicated video ports were created to replace older standards like VGA and DVI.

DisplayPort was introduced in 2006 by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA). It can transmit very high-resolution video and audio signals to external displays.

A smaller version called Mini DisplayPort debuted in 2008. It‘s commonly used on laptops and other compact devices where full-size DisplayPort won‘t fit.
Mini DisplayPort
Image credit: Jason Miller/Anthropic

Both ports utilize a compact 20-pin connector that carries both video and audio data. Different versions of DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort support up to 8K video resolution at 60 Hz:

Version Maximum resolution Year introduced
DisplayPort 1.1 1080p @ 144 Hz 2009
DisplayPort 1.2 4K @ 60 Hz 2010
DisplayPort 1.3 8K @ 60 Hz 2014
DisplayPort 1.4 8K @ 120 Hz 2016

DisplayPort is commonly found on high-performance PCs intended for gaming or media creation. For example, most Apple MacBook Pro models have included Mini DisplayPort or USB-C with DisplayPort Alt Mode to drive pro-level external displays.

HDMI

Chances are you already know HDMI as the standard port for HDTVs. But HDMI is equally useful for hooking up external displays to computers.

HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. Introduced in 2003, HDMI can transmit uncompressed high-definition video and audio signals over a single cable.

HDMI connectors are flat and rectangular-shaped, with one end slightly thicker than the other. This prevents plugging them in backwards and allows easy insertion.
HDMI port
Image credit: Jason Miller/Anthropic

Pretty much any television or computer monitor you buy today will have at least one HDMI input. And most laptops and desktops have HDMI output ports for easy connections.

Various versions of HDMI can transmit resolutions up to 10K at 120Hz:

HDMI version Maximum resolution Year introduced
HDMI 1.0 1080p 2003
HDMI 1.3 4K 2006
HDMI 2.0 4K @ 60Hz 2013
HDMI 2.1 10K @ 120Hz 2017

Make sure any HDMI cables you buy are rated for the resolutions and refresh rates supported by your devices. Higher-speed cables are backwards compatible, but older cables may be capped at lower HDMI specs.

Ethernet

While WiFi rules the roost in homes these days, Ethernet ports still have an important role in wired networking. Also known as RJ45 ports, Ethernet connectors enable faster and more reliable connections than wireless.
Ethernet port
Image credit: Jason Miller/Anthropic

Ethernet ports first appeared on computers in the 1980s and were initially used for LocalTalk networks. When paired with Category 5 (Cat 5) twisted-pair cabling, Ethernet provided up to 100 Mbps transfer speeds.

The current Ethernet standard is Cat 5e, which enables gigabit (1 Gbps) networking. There are also faster multi-gig standards like 2.5G Ethernet and 5G Ethernet for premium speed.

New desktop PCs almost always have integrated Ethernet ports built into the motherboard. Many laptops also retain Ethernet, though ultra-thin models often exclude it. For laptops without built-in Ethernet, USB adapters can easily add RJ45 ports.

Ethernet is still the preferred choice for applications like video streaming, gaming, and network file transfers that require consistently lag-free connectivity. Though WiFi speeds are catching up with the latest 802.11ax (WiFi 6) standard.

3.5mm Audio Jack

Last but not least is the venerable 3.5mm audio port. Also called a headphone jack or aux port, this analog connector has been used for audio output on computers since the 1960s.

The cylindrical 3.5mm plug carries left and right stereo audio channels from the source device to speakers or headphones. Mini-phono plugs like this were originally used for headphones on transistor radios and compact cassette players.
3.5mm audio port
Image credit: Jason Miller/Anthropic

Though digital connections like HDMI and USB-C are taking over, having a 3.5mm audio jack is still convenient. The vast majority of wired headphones and earbuds terminate in a standard 3.5mm plug.

However, some mobile devices like recent iPhones no longer include headphone jacks as they continue getting thinner. For these gadgets, you‘ll need USB-C earbuds or Bluetooth headphones. Nonetheless, most laptops still retain 3.5mm ports which are handy for everyday listening.

A Few Legacy Ports You May Encounter

Beyond the main port types covered above, there are still a few legacy holdouts you might run into on some computers:

  • VGA – The old 15-pin VGA port still connects to some monitors. Limited to 1080p but universally compatible.
  • DVI – Digital Visual Interface port seen on older LCD monitors. Largely replaced by HDMI and DisplayPort.
  • PS/2 – Circular connection for mice/keyboards before USB. Still used on some mechanical keyboards.
  • Parallel – Legacy printer connection. USB is now standard for printers.
  • Serial – Once used for modems and other add-ons. Obsolete on modern PCs.

You likely won‘t see those very often, but they may pop up on older computers or peripherals.

Key Takeaways

There you have it – a rundown of the ports that populate today‘s desktops and laptops along with what they do. Here are some key tips to remember:

  • USB is a must – Get USB-A for compatibility and new USB-C for future-proofing.
  • DisplayPort and HDMI output video to external screens.
  • Ethernet enables speedy wired networks.
  • 3.5mm audio handles headphones and speakers.
  • Many legacy ports like VGA and PS/2 are largely obsolete.

I hope this overview gave you a better understanding of the ports on your computers and other devices. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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