What Are The Different Computer Cable Types You Should Know As A User?

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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.

FireWire

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).

Ethernet

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

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36 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Khai

you missed out one more common computer cable..

3.5mm Audio…

Joel Lee

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. :)

Reply

Frederick Doe

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

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

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

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Usman Mubashir

hmmm gotta check that cat6

Reply

MerVzter Balacuit

thanks for the information

Reply

Shakirah Faleh Lai

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.

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IamAshMcLean

FireWire Stills Alive?? :O

Gerhard Tinned

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. :-)

Reply

megan23247

Nice! Gotta bookmark this fo sho. :-)

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Sebastian Hadinata

No thunderbolt? haha

IamAshMcLean

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

Gerhard Tinned

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

Reply

abie anarna

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.

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James Bruce

no thunderport / displayport love?

James Bruce

by which I mean, thunderBOLT of course….

Gerhard Tinned

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? :-)

Reply

Kao Vang

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

Mark

try also asking the kids, “diskette”… :)

Gerhard Tinned

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. ;-)

Reply

Dr Kutty

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

Reply

Muhammad Ahmad

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

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GrrGrrr

Thanks, i updated my knowledge on USB and eSATA.

Reply

c

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

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.

Reply

Freecycle Me

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.

Reply

druv vb

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

Gerhard Tinned

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?

Reply

mark

thanks for the information! I”m contented.

Reply

Anonymous

Hey no PS/2…please write…

Gerhard Tinned

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)

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Gerhard Tinned

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

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

Reply

Anonymous

Great well explained and full of details. Very useful Thanks

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