If you’ve owned a PC, you may already be familiar with the computer ports and connections available on your device.
What you may not know is that some of those ports are decades old. For example, the humble 3.5 mm jack found on speakers, computers, and other audio devices you plug your headphones into is based on a quarter-inch version of the same technology used by telephone operators during the 1870s .
We’ve come a long way from those 19th-century predecessors. In fact, the world of computer ports has exploded in the modern era.
There are many different types of computer ports that allow users to expand the functionality of their computers and connect to a range of auxiliary devices.
What is a computer port?
Let’s start with the basics. A computer port is a “connection point or interface between a computer and an external or internal device,” according to Techopedia .
In layman’s terms, this means that you can use ports to connect different devices to your laptop or desktop, or you can use them to charge your PC.
Characteristics of a computer port:
- Auxiliary accessories attached to a port may include speakers, keyboard, external monitor, mouse, and other devices.
- Connect devices directly into a port or alternatively, use a cable to connect the device and attach via the port (aka, an adapter).
- In terms of the computer’s internal structure, a port is an actual slot on the motherboard of the computer.
How many ports are there on a computer?
The amount of ports on a computer depends on the model and brand of the PC. Sometimes, the port options are very minimal.
In that case, you can always invest in a docking station
with the number of ports and types of ports you need for your work or entertainment setup.
What are the different types of computer ports available?
There are a variety of port options available. Some ports are based on technology decades or even over a hundred years old. Other ports are new additions to the world of technology meant to transfer data better and faster like the Thunderbolt 3™.
On a computer’s product description page, there will always be a section of seemingly random letters and numbers. For example, a description might note it has an “RJ-45 port” or a “3.5 mm audio jack.”
Without the right context, these words don’t tell you much. Below is an introduction to the types of computer ports you may see on desktops, laptops, and external mobile devices.
What is each computer port for?
Headphone jack or audio jack
The audio jack is found on many tablets, phones, and most computers. It’s a small, circular port that has the ability to connect to most wired headphones and speakers. It’s the most common audio jack and you’ve likely seen one. They’ve been around for decades.
With that said, they’re actually on their way out. If you have one of the newer iPhone models, you’ll notice that Apple has gotten rid of this jack altogether .
You might see an RJ-45 port on both business laptops as well as standard desktops. This Ethernet style data port allows users to connect directly to wired networks .
Need to connect your desktop to a High Definition (HD) external monitor or to a TV? This is where the HDMI port comes in . One of these powerful ports can power up to a 4K resolution monitor
With that said, it is not possible to output to dual displays with just one port. In addition, HDMI also can transfer audio along with video so if your external device has speakers, you’ll also get sound.
HP offers a range of HDMI cables
as well as adaptors for all of your external device needs. Don’t have an HDMI port on your desktop or laptop? Use an HP USB-C to HDMI 2.0 adaptor
to connect your notebook to an extra display or television.
Considered as the top-level of display-connection available on the market , a DisplayPort can power a 4K resolution monitor or three HD displays through a laptop docking station
Laptops that have a DisplayPort tend to use a mini DisplayPort connector
or output their signals through USB Type-C ports.
Of course, there are displays that won’t have DisplayPort connectors, but by using an adaptor, you may still connect to an HDMI monitor or display. You can also use a DisplayPort connection to transfer audio in addition to video.
DVI or Digital Visual Interface is found on both projectors and computer monitors. It’s rarer than HDMI and DisplayPort because the technology behind it is on its way out. With that said, you may want to consider a device with a DVI port if you’re using older but good quality monitors that require them .
MicroSD card reader
This small slot reads microSD memory cards. You might see these cards in smartphones that use microSD for extra computer storage
Does your laptop have fairly limited storage? If your computer has a microSD card slot, you can get a budget-friendly microSD card to expand your storage options. Additionally, you can use these handy little cards to install applications for Windows 10 .
SD card reader
If you have a digital camera, you may already be familiar with this little port. It’s used to read the memory cards from cameras. If you transfer pictures from a DSLR to your PC, having a built-in card reader can be very convenient and makes downloading images from your camera effortless .
The is the most common desktop and laptop port that you’ll see. This port is capable of both USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 speeds. USB Type-A is considered the original USB connector and it can connect to an almost limitless array of auxiliary devices such as external speakers, mice, and printers .
Example: An external keyboard to a PC.
This is a square-shaped connector you won’t find on every computer. With that said, many hubs, docking stations, and printers do use it as an input connector. To use these devices, you’ll need a USB Type-A to Type-B wire .
Example: A printer to a computer.
The USB Type-C is expected to take over and replace the USB types before it: USB Type A, USB Type B, and micro USB. Why? It’s a flexible, fast port that can support a range of standard interfaces.
In all likelihood, you’ll see the Type-C on all future devices starting soon. It’s much thinner than older USB ports and easily fits into ultraslim laptops. Plus, you can’t insert a USB Type-C corrector the wrong way because it can go in right side up or upside down.
Type-C can transfer files, charge your computer, output DisplayPort signals and work as a Thunderbolt port . The real question is, is there anything the USB Type-C
Also called a high-speed USB or USB 2, this type of port can transfer data at rates up to 480 Mbps. USB 2.0 is the most ubiquitous USB speed and works with many auxiliary devices. This port is found in Type-A, Type-B, and mini or micro USB configurations .
On computers, a USB 3.0 port will be a rectangular Type A connector. They’re incredibly fast with speeds of transfer up to 5 Gbps. This is ten times faster than USB 2.0 data transfer rates.
If you look for one on your laptop, these ports are often light blue in appearance or will have a small “SS” logo next to them .
USB 3.1 Gen 1 and Gen 2
With the USB 3.1 Gen 1 connection, you’ll experience the same 5 Gbps speed as a USB 3.0 port but this particular connector will only be compatible with USB Type-C ports. Thanks to its backward compatibility, it also works with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 devices.
For USB 3.1 Gen 2, this connection is almost exactly the same as its predecessor but faster, with a transfer data rate of up to 10 Gbps .
You probably won’t see this on either a laptop or a desktop PC. However, it’s a ubiquitous port found on smartphones, MP3 players, GPS navigation tools, printers, cameras, and lower-power tablets .
This small connector is rarer than the micro USB and a bit bigger in size. You’ll find it occasionally on external hard drives, game controllers and other accessories. While you won’t generally find a mini USB port on your computer, you can get a wire that connects from Type-A, Type-C or micro USB to mini USB .
Some mini USB cables are set up to work with only one brand or kind of mobile device. If you’ve ever gotten the “this accessory may not be supported” message while trying to charge a device, this is the same kind of cable incompatibility.
The Thunderbolt 3 port
lives up to its name, it is the fastest connection you’ll find out in the market today. The latest Thunderbolt can transfer data at a breakneck speed of up to 40 Gbps .
Thunderbolt 3 specifications:
- Eight times faster than USB 3.0
- Four times more video bandwidth than HDMI
- Transfer an entire 4K resolution film in less than 30 seconds
- Connect to any external display, USB auxiliary accessory, or Thunderbolt device
Thunderbolt 3 can power two 4K monitors
at the same time because it can carry two DisplayPort signals. You can also connect to auxiliary graphics cards so you can play high-end, graphics-heavy games on an ultraslim laptop.
Best uses for Thunderbolt 3:
- Connecting extra displays
- Docking station
- External graphics
- USB storage
Cables, docking stations, and adapters to connect everything and anything
If you have an auxiliary device but you don’t have the right port or adapter to use it, don’t panic. HP offers an impressive array of docking stations and other connection devices to take full advantage of your PC.
Whether you’re a gamer looking to set up an amazing gaming rig and vanquish all your enemies or a CEO searching for a reliable business laptop to close deals around the world, HP has a device that meets and exceeds those requirements.
Computer ports for every technological need
When you’re shopping for a new desktop
, there are many features you’ll want to consider. Options for storage, the processor, memory, and size are all major factors that will guide your decision.
One aspect of computers that you may not think about during your search is the availability of ports. However, the ports available on your PC can determine the overall functionality of your computer, especially if you rely on external devices to enhance your work or entertainment experience.
About the Author: Michelle Wilson is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Michelle is a content creation specialist writing for a variety of industries, including tech trends and media news.
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