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shopping for gadgetsWhen shopping for a tablet or laptop, there are so many ports and connectors, it can be confusing for the uninitiated consumer. Knowing the right ports to purchase for your individual needs can make a huge difference in how much enjoyment you get from your new (probably expensive) toy. You might think everything is perfect with your new laptop or tablet at first, but in a few months, you could be very disappointed when the peripheral you want to connect to it does not work.

If you cannot tell the difference between HDMI and USB, this article will be perfect for you. I will help you figure out what each of the popular ports do, and how they will benefit you on the purchase of your next tablet or PC. If you already purchased a laptop or tablet, and it is missing one of these awesome connections, you might want to check Monoprice. They have some great prices for all kinds of adaptors that might give you the connection you need.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)

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HDMI is a cable capable of delivering high definition video and sound from your laptop or tablet to another display, such as an HDTV. This is the most important connection if you want to connect your device to an HD display. It offers a great deal of convenience because it does sound and video from a relatively small cable.

USB (Universal Serial Bus)

USB cables are designed as a way of copying data. You will find these on almost any laptop and on some tablets. Most tablets will offer some way to connect to a computer, but often times it is through a proprietary connector such as Apple’s Dock Connector. Many tablets use a mini USB connector. This functions like a full USB connector, just with a smaller footprint.

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Either way, whenever you buy a laptop or tablet, you will want to make sure it has USB, and at this point, you should look for USB 3.0, as that offers the latest in high-speed data transfer technology.

VGA (Video Graphics Array)

This is one of the more popular ways to connect a computer to a monitor. It offers a high resolution, but does not transmit sound like HDMI. Many laptops will have this connector, although some modern ones are doing away with them in favor of HDMI (or Thunderbolt on Macs).

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You will be hard pressed to find a tablet with a VGA connector, but there are plenty of adaptors that allow you to take the connections available and use it with VGA. For example, Apple offers this one that can be used to connect your iPad to a monitor or HDTV. You can find similar adaptors for many other tablets.

DVI (Digital Visual Interface)

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DVI is rather similar to VGA in terms of the type of connector it uses. Like VGA, it only transmits video. Unlike VGA, it transmits in digital, and is capable of around the same video quality as HDMI. Some laptops will include a DVI port, but they are much more common on high-end desktops. As for tablets, you will be in a similar situation to VGA. There are adaptors out there, but it is going to be difficult to find a tablet with any kind of DVI built in.

Mini DisplayPort

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You may also know this as “Thunderbolt,” which is the name Apple typically calls it on their MacBooks. This is a very diverse connector that can do almost anything with the right cable and adaptor. It is ultra fast so it can transfer video and sound at an impressive resolution. The problem is; you may have to spend a pretty penny to get the adaptor you need. For example, Apple charges a whopping $35 for their Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor.

Dock Connector

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Dock connectors are designed to be a well rounded method of carrying all kinds of data. Tablets are meant to be small, so the ports on it need to be able to do multiple things. Apple’s Dock Connector is probably the most well known and widely used of the bunch, but they are used for plenty of other devices as well. Laptops use dock connectors, but they are generally used internally, and you will not usually see any actual dock connector port.

TRS Connector

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You will hear this called all different kinds of names in your shopping travels. You may hear it called a 3.5mm jack, a headphone cable, a mini-stereo cable and so many more. Simply, this is the port where you plug in headphones or an auxiliary cable to play music from your device. If you want to listen to music on your device, make sure it has one of these ports readily available.

IEEE 1394 interface (FireWire)

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The IEEE 1394 interface is similar to USB in that it is a method of transferring data between two devices at a high speed. It never caught on as well as USB, but it is still used in some devices. FireWire was a staple of MacBooks for years. While it might not be as popular as it once was, you may still see it around, and it is certainly a competent form of data transfer.


I hope that this helped make the alphabet soup of cables a little more organized for your next tablet or laptop purchase. There are lots of cables and connectors out there, and it can be quite confusing.

Have you encountered any other connectors you think should be included on this list? If so, please add them in the comments section!

  1. Sebastian Hadinata
    August 22, 2012 at 3:46 am

    Nice tips. Ports collection :3

  2. Robert Stanulis
    August 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Firewire is great, just not widely used. Good basic info in article, but not really the recommendations I was hoping for

  3. Patrick Jackson
    August 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I totally appreciate the article.

    I think the 'mini' versions of these ports should also be discussed here, as many gadgets like tablets and many a times mobile phones have such versions.

    Like mini-HDMI and mini-USB ports.

    I hope other readers will take that in mind as well.

    August 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Still too many types of ports! We need one (maybe in two sizes). Maybe if/when we get to USB 4. The rest should go the way of Parallel ports.

    • Dave LeClair
      August 31, 2012 at 3:17 am

      That would be great if there was just one port that could do everything!

  5. Timothy Liem
    August 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    wow.. a lot of port have to be looked. I'm sure not all device have all ports mentioned above, wspecially mobiles and tablets.

  6. Dany Bouffard
    August 16, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I know why the article doesn't talk about Thunderbolt, its cause its really new and not many devices have it yet.

  7. Naveen Kumar
    August 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    what about thunderbolt????????????????

    • Dany Bouffard
      August 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      I know why in the article he doesn't count Thunderbolt cause its not very standard yet and still very new.

  8. susendeep dutta
    August 16, 2012 at 11:21 am

    This article revised my mind about different types of ports.

  9. lance burn
    August 16, 2012 at 9:31 am

    is there different between Ethernet cables as theres two colours i no of, yellow and blue

    • Dave LeClair
      August 31, 2012 at 3:16 am

      No, just different colors.

      • lance burn
        September 1, 2012 at 1:20 pm

        thank you

  10. Frank Plaatjies
    August 16, 2012 at 6:15 am

    as long as your new device has HDMI port or a compatible cable [mini / micro hdmi]
    you good to go.

    Most tv prices are dropping so for a half or full hdmi tv is not to far off :)

    • Dave LeClair
      August 31, 2012 at 3:16 am

      Those are definitely the most important, but what about USB for data transfer?

      • Frank Plaatjies
        February 11, 2013 at 10:29 am

        almost a standard on most lcd, led and plasma tv's aswell. vga and rca may be the next to die out.

  11. Elijah Swartz
    August 16, 2012 at 6:10 am

    On facebook, the link to this article is broken. Others are getting the error too.

    Regarding this article, I learned that what I always called a 3.5mm analog audio jack can also be called a TRS connector.

    I would say this article seems to be missing some. eSATA and Ethernet are big ones. Toshlink would be another. Plenty of devices people might already own likely have component, composite, and s-video as well. Surprisingly enough, PS/2 is superior to USB for keyboards, so if you are a fast typer and use an expensive mechanical keyboard, using the PS/2 instead of USB is a good idea. I wouldn't really think of mentioning COM/Serial ports as they seem the most antiquated of anything on the list.

    I think you made an error. Mini display port is not the same thing as Thunderbolt. An easy way to tell them apart is bye their little "logo". Thunderbolt has a little lightning bolt while the display port has the rectangle with two lines on each side of it. Thunderbolt devices can work on Display port devices, but display port devices won't work on Thunderbolt devices (unless they really are Thunderbolt devices). The ports themselves though look the same.

  12. vineedcool
    August 16, 2012 at 5:07 am

    then what is this display port???is it same as mini display port :?

    • Frank Plaatjies
      August 16, 2012 at 6:20 am

      Depends on the device, some have vga (video only) some have DVI (video only also) and the others hdmi, mini display, docks and firewire does both.
      Its always device dependent.

  13. mark
    August 16, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Consider amending the article with a paragraph on the eSATA / eSATAp standards. Many late model laptops have this connection.

  14. vineedcool
    August 16, 2012 at 5:05 am

    nice short nifor\mative articele about all ports available,,,,thnkx

  15. Alex Yantis
    August 16, 2012 at 4:41 am

    RJ45/Ethernet/cat-5 would be a good thing to include...

  16. Danny Stieben
    August 16, 2012 at 3:08 am

    On Facebook, people are bashing on FireWire like none other. Which makes me kind of sad, because although I haven't come across too many FireWire devices, I liked it a lot. Had better data transfer rates than USB 2.0 in my own use, anyways.

    • Dave LeClair
      August 31, 2012 at 3:14 am

      Firewire was the best for transferring video back in the day. Not that you would know that, young'n! :)

  17. ferdinan Sitohang
    August 16, 2012 at 2:34 am

    I agree with this review, thank you.

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