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computer cablesTake a look at any piece of equipment related to computer harder and you’ll soon find yourself in a swirling maelstrom of acronyms and foreign jargon. What does it matter if you use IDE or SATA for your hard drive? Do you really need to know the differences between USB 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0? Is FireWire related to Firewall? Sometimes it can get just a bit confusing.

Abbreviations are thrown around in product descriptions without much regard for the user’s understanding their meanings. In the end, the responsibility is left to the consumer to learn all of the different types of cables before making a solid decision.

With so many types of cables, however, it’s hard to find a singular source of information that highlights the important differences between them all. Here’s an overview of the most common computer cable types you’ll encounter when dealing with computers.

VGA (Video Graphics Array)

computer cables

Created way back in the 1980’s, the VGA connection cable was the standard cable used to connect a computer to a monitor. More recently, it has faded out of popularity due to the gradual shift towards digital connections over analog. Still, if you look on any video card or display apparatus, there is a good chance you’ll see a VGA port.

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

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DVI (Digital Visual Interface)

computer cables wiring

The DVI connection became the successor to VGA as technology moved away from analog towards digital. Digital displays, like LCD, proved to be higher quality, which soon became the market standard for home pictures. DVI connectors come in 3 varieties.

  • DVI-A can transmit analog signals, allowing it to be backwards compatible with VGA (useful for CRT monitors and LCDs of lower quality).
  • DVI-D can transmit the newer digital signals.
  • DVI-I is capable of both analog and digital.
  • In certain cases, you may need a VGA-to-DVI or DVI-to-VGA converter cable.

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface)

computer cables wiring

In the past decade, high-definition broadcasts became the new standard of what it means to be high quality. Unlike VGA and DVI, HDMI sends both video and audio signals together. The signals are digital only; thus, HDMI is only compatible with newer devices.

HDMI connectors come in 4 types:

  • Type A is the most popular. This connector can be identified by its 19 pins on the male head. Type A is compatible with single-link DVI-D connections.
  • Type B is larger than Type A, coming in at 29 pins on the male head. Type B is compatible with dual-link DVI-D connections.
  • Type C is a 19-pin connector that’s most often used with portable devices, like camcorders and digital cameras.
  • Type D looks similar to a micro-USB cord. It also has 19 pins.

USB (Universal Serial Bus)

computer cables wiring

From left to right: micro USB, mini USB, type B standard USB, and type A standard USB (both female and male).

The USB connection is quite possibly the most pervasive connection type in today’s world. Nearly every form of computer peripheral device — keyboards, mice, headsets, flash drives, wireless adapters, etc. — can be connected to your computer through a USB port. The design has evolved over the years, which means there are multiple versions of USB available:

  • USB 1.0/1.1 can transmit data at speeds up to 12 Mbps.
  • USB 2.0 can transmit data at speeds up to 480 Mbps and is compatible with older versions of USB. At the time of this article, USB 2.0 is the most common type found in the market.
  • USB 3.0 can transmit data at speeds up to 4.8 Gbps. It is compatible with previous versions of USB.

The mini and micro USB variants are most often used with smaller, portable devices like PDAs, phones, and digital cameras. The standard USB connectors are more often used on devices that tend to remain plugged in, like external hard drives, keyboards, and mice.

IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics)

computer networking cables

IDE cables were used to connect storage devices to a motherboard. If you’ve ever opened up a an old hard drive then you likely know what an IDE connector looks like. It’s the wide cable that looks like a ribbon with more than 2 plugs.

The connectors on an IDE cable have 40 pins; the smaller 2.5” drive variety uses a form-factor version of the IDE that has 44 pins.

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment)

computer networking cables

Newer hard drives will likely use SATA ports over IDE ports. In fact, SATA was designed to succeed IDE, and it has. Compared to IDE, SATA provides higher data transfer speeds. Your motherboard needs to be compatible with SATA, and nowadays most of them are.

A standard SATA cable can be identified by two connectors, each having 7 pins and an empty notch. It looks like a subtle L-shape.

eSATA (External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment)

computer networking cables

eSATA technology is an extension of, or improvement on, the SATA cable — it makes SATA technology available in an external form. In reality, eSATA is not much different from SATA, but it allows connections to devices like external hard drives and optical drives. This is useful because eSATA offers speeds much faster than most FireWire and USB alternatives.


The purpose of FireWire is similar to that of USB: high speed data transfer for computer peripherals. High bandwidth devices, like printers and scanners, will benefit from FireWire. For whatever reason, FireWire is not as widespread as USB. FireWire cables come in two forms: 1394a (which has a transfer speed of 400 Mbps) and 1394b (which has a transfer speed of 800 Mbps).


computer cables

Ethernet cables are used to set up local area networks. In most cases, they’re used to connect routers to modems and computers. If you’ve ever tried to install or fix a home router, you’ve likely dealt with an Ethernet computer cable. Nowadays, they come in three varieties:

  • Cat 5 cables are the most basic type and provide speeds of either 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps.
  • Cat 5e, which means Cat 5 Enhanced, allows for faster data transmission than its predecessor. It caps at 1,000 Mbps.
  • Cat 6 is the latest and offers the best performance of the three. It’s capable of supporting 10 Gbps speeds.

That should cover it. The cables in this article comprise approximately 99% of all the cables you’re likely to find lying around in your home. If there’s another cable type that isn’t mentioned here, feel free to ask about it in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer any questions.

Image Credit: Cable Hands, VGA, DVI, HDMI, USB, IDE, SATA, eSATA, FireWire, Ethernet Via Shutterstock

  1. Sameer Rai
    October 13, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Pretty useful and informative.

  2. friends forever
    September 18, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    thanks for your help

  3. Sidney Fisher
    July 18, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Hope you can help. I have a computer we are trying to connect with a cable rather than wirelessly. If I use the cable that was attached to the computer before I moved it to it's current location the internet works fine. However the cable is too short. I want to hide the cord behind some bookcases instead of stretching it across the floor, but the cable I purchased offers spotty internet connection. The cable that works isn't long enough and it's from Radio Shack so I can't replace it. Do you have any idea why the new cable doesn't work and what I can do?

  4. kathy giragosian
    May 8, 2016 at 9:10 pm


    Me no dumb anymore I found it very useful thanks.

  5. nope
    April 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    you suck

    • rahul
      August 8, 2016 at 6:57 am

      dude, shut up. nobody cares what you think

  6. mj
    April 20, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    thanks, very helpful.

    • Joel Lee
      April 23, 2016 at 10:46 pm

      You're welcome! Glad you found it helpful, mj. :)

  7. DG
    March 31, 2016 at 1:45 am

    Thanks for this. I found it very useful while waiting to get someone to plug into VGA.

    • Joel Lee
      April 1, 2016 at 1:34 am

      You're welcome! Glad it was helpful, DG. :)

  8. medi
    March 18, 2016 at 12:21 am

    thank you for sharing :)

    • Joel Lee
      March 21, 2016 at 3:25 am

      You're welcome! Thanks for reading, medi. :)

  9. rek
    February 25, 2016 at 9:29 am


  10. Dennis
    February 23, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Very helpful and simple to understand. Well done!

    • Joel Lee
      February 25, 2016 at 2:52 am

      Thanks! Glad it was helpful, Dennis. :)

  11. Andrea
    February 18, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    This was so helpful. Thanks alot

    • Joel Lee
      February 25, 2016 at 2:52 am

      Thanks, Andrea! Glad you found it useful.

  12. Biju Issac
    February 17, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Please also explain the Type C USB cables.

  13. Kaka Ali
    February 4, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Very beneficial.. Many IT beginners get in IT jobs and not know what most of these cables are Called or Used for.

  14. kanchan mali
    January 18, 2016 at 11:05 am

    thank u so much

  15. Nate
    December 4, 2015 at 4:26 pm


  16. Danielle Sylvia
    November 23, 2015 at 9:02 am

    thank you !very helpful

  17. bob
    November 20, 2015 at 11:55 am

    What is Obama's last name? i heard it was phillip

  18. bob
    November 20, 2015 at 11:54 am


  19. Usama Imran
    August 17, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    its a good site

  20. alishah
    May 9, 2015 at 11:30 am

    its a good site for information

  21. alishah
    May 9, 2015 at 11:23 am

    its a good site for information

  22. alishah
    May 9, 2015 at 11:22 am

    how many connect of types sue in local area network please show name of Eathernet cabel connectors thanks.

  23. louli
    May 2, 2015 at 5:12 am

    hi..I want to know the difference between VGA and ethernet ..if I want to work on led display which cable best to use?

    • Gilbert
      November 12, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      VGA and Ethernet cables are totally different:

      - Transmits analogue video signals.

      - Transmits digital internet connections.

  24. anonymous
    April 2, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    This helped me

  25. ojinkeya
    January 1, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    what is a computer cable

  26. Anonymous
    December 1, 2012 at 5:04 am

    Great well explained and full of details. Very useful Thanks

  27. Gerhard Tinned
    November 13, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    What the ....

    The yellow "ethernet" cable is not a ethernet cable. It has just 4 wires? empty pins? ... does nobody see that? ;-)

    It looks much more like a phone cable.

    • Tina
      November 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      Potentially great catch there, Gerhard. I'm not sure. Does it matter? The red one looks fine.

  28. Anonymous
    October 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Hey no PS/2...please write...

    • Gerhard Tinned
      November 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      PS/2? it is not used so much anymore. most things are nower days via USB. I think that is not so important anymore! (but was in the past)

  29. mark
    September 13, 2012 at 3:42 am

    thanks for the information! I"m contented.

  30. druv vb
    September 12, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Nice article. Lets hope all these cables galore get wireless within the next 10 years :) ...

    • Gerhard Tinned
      November 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      I heared they are even working on wireless changing. So if this gets real, you not even need a power cable anymore. ;-) Wired, isn't it?

  31. Freecycle Me
    September 12, 2012 at 10:32 am

    A useful piece but I agree that if you have the likes of ide and sata cables then power cables are very important. I think you would be best to consider writing an additional piece based on power supply cables to allow people to know what connectors are available on the as they can be confusing. Thank you for the article.

  32. c
    September 6, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I have a growing collection of cables collected ever since I bought my first computer. I had forgotten where most of them came from. Now at least I can label them and possibly find a use for them before putting them in my charity box.

    • Gerhard Tinned
      November 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm

      Oh, the old days, ... how was the first keyboard connector called? the huger one before PS/2? ;-) That was a funny thing. And the mouse on the serial port. ;-) Oh and something nearly completely gone as well: The parallel port.

  33. GrrGrrr
    September 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks, i updated my knowledge on USB and eSATA.

  34. Muhammad Ahmad
    September 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks a lot. I really appreciate your hard work MUO guys.

  35. Dr Kutty
    September 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Very useful information. I was not knowing what the A,B,C,D versions of the cables mean. Now I am very clear. thanks for this article

  36. Kao Vang
    September 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Some of these will be like what tape cassettes to kids now.. history.

    • Mark
      September 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      try also asking the kids, "diskette"... :)

      • Gerhard Tinned
        November 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm

        i nearly forgot about them! ;-) Slow loud noises when you used them ... its like the typical noise of the old Modems. Most people dont even know the concept of the Modems anymore. ;-)

  37. James Bruce
    September 5, 2012 at 8:28 am

    no thunderport / displayport love?

    • James Bruce
      September 5, 2012 at 8:29 am

      by which I mean, thunderBOLT of course....

      • Gerhard Tinned
        November 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

        You are right ... both are missing in the list. Both of them are very Mac related. maybe that is way it is not in the list? :-)

  38. abie anarna
    September 5, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Nice article, by the way in addition to this one there are alot of computer cables to know first before putting things together. We must also remember HDMI supports dvi, sdi, vga, av, and YPbPr and hdmi dvi output.

  39. Sebastian Hadinata
    September 5, 2012 at 2:37 am

    No thunderbolt? haha

    • IamAshMcLean
      September 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      I think Thunderbolt is useless. Most of the people have PC.

      • Gerhard Tinned
        November 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm

        But wasn't it a cooperation between Apple and Intel? Would not wonder if it gets built into PC's later as well!

  40. megan23247
    September 5, 2012 at 2:12 am

    Nice! Gotta bookmark this fo sho. :-)

  41. IamAshMcLean
    September 5, 2012 at 12:34 am

    FireWire Stills Alive?? :O

    • Gerhard Tinned
      November 13, 2012 at 1:48 pm

      YES, mostly for Mac's that do not have the Thiunderbold in it. Its kind of Mac's version of the USB 3.0 as it seems. And Thunderbold something like the eSATA counterpart. As it looks to me. :-)

  42. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    September 5, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Weeks ago I'm fixing a 10 year old desktop, the IDE cable that connect it's hardisk and the hardisk itself failed. It's hard to find IDE cable, some store said it dosen't exist anymore but it do exist just less used.

  43. MerVzter Balacuit
    September 4, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    thanks for the information

  44. Usman Mubashir
    September 4, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    hmmm gotta check that cat6

  45. Frederick Doe
    September 4, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    There are a couple of things I'd like to point out. 1) There are different connector types for micro-USB. I think that the one on the far left of the picture is of the less common type, but I could be wrong. 2) There are actually two different modes that a USB 1.0 device can run under, but it doesn't really matter since pretty much everything is USB 2.0 or higher these days. 3) IDE was Western Digital's connection. It evolved into PATA, which was the predecessor to SATA. It's important to note that PATA's original title was ATA; they renamed it PATA when they introduced SATA. It's important to remember that fact when looking at older technical literature. ----- Good article!

    • Joel Lee
      September 5, 2012 at 4:47 am

      You are correct. I just aimed to provide a brief overview of current terms and things that users might need to know, but your information is definitely welcome. Thanks!

    • James Bruce
      September 5, 2012 at 8:28 am

      Arrrgh I hate accessories which use a flat mini-usb thing...

    • Anonymous
      February 9, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      What of data cables?

  46. Khai
    September 4, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    you missed out one more common computer cable..

    3.5mm Audio...

    • Joel Lee
      September 5, 2012 at 4:46 am

      Yes, you're right. There are a lot of other cables that I've missed, like PS/2, AC power, microphone jack, and more. I just figured that some of those are so very prevalent (in the case of 3.5mm audio) or so infrequently used (in the case of PS/2) that I didn't include them.

      The cables in this article are commonly used yet not exactly quick-identification for most computer users out there. :)

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