Technology Explained

What Are the Different Computer Cable Types You Need to Know?

Joel Lee Updated 20-03-2019

Computer cables are overwhelming. There are so many standards, acronyms, and terms to know. Do you need IDE or SATA for your hard drive? What’s the differences between USB Type A, Type B, and Type C? Are DisplayPort and Thunderbolt the same thing?


In the end, consumers like you and me are left on our own to learn all the different cable types. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a single source of information that highlighted the important details between different types of computer cables?

You’ve come to the right place. Here’s an overview of the most common computer cable connector types you might find around your home, from monitor cables to network cables.

USB (Universal Serial Bus)

The USB connection is the most ubiquitous of all computer connector types in the world. Nearly every computer peripheral device—keyboards, mice, headsets, flash drives, wireless adapters, and such—can be connected to a computer through a USB port.

USB keeps evolving, which means there are multiple USB versions:

  • USB 1.0 can transmit data at speeds up to 1.5 MB/s.
  • USB 2.0 can transmit data at speeds up to 60 MB/s and is compatible with older versions of USB.
  • USB 3.0 can transmit data at speeds up to 625 MB/s. It is compatible with previous versions of USB.
  • USB 3.1 can transmit data at speeds up to 1.25 GB/s. It is compatible with previous versions of USB. At the time of this article, USB 3.1 is the most common type found in the market.
  • USB 3.2 can transmit data at speeds up to 2.5 GB/s, but only when using a USB-C connection. It is compatible with previous versions of USB.
  • USB 4.x is a future specification that will transmit data at speeds up to 5 GB/s, but only when using a USB-C connection. It will release in mid-2019 and will be compatible with USB 3.2 and USB 2.0.

Different types of USB
Image Credit: bigmouse/Depositphotos


There are also several “shapes” for USB connections:

  • Type A supports USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1.
  • Type B supports USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1.
  • Type C (i.e. USB-C) supports USB 3.1, USB 3.2, USB 4.x.
  • Mini supports USB 2.0.
  • Micro supports USB 2.0.

Note: If you buy an adapter from one USB type to another, the data transfer rate will be limited by the slowest connection between the two endpoints and the two devices that are connected together.

Note: The Mini-USB and Micro-USB variants Understand USB Cable Types and Which One to Use Why are there so many different USB cable types? Learn the differences between USB connector types and how to buy the best cable. Read More 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.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)

HDMI cable


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High-definition broadcasts are now the standard for high-quality video. Unlike VGA and DVI, which only transmit video signals, HDMI sends both video and audio signals together. These signals are digital; thus, HDMI is only compatible with newer devices. (Learn more about video cable types!)

HDMI connections come in five 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. You won’t see this type often, if ever.
  • Type C (Mini) is a 19-pin connector that’s most often used with portable devices, like camcorders and digital cameras.
  • Type D (Micro) also has 19 pins and looks similar to a Micro-USB cable. It’s mostly used for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.
  • Type E is much larger with a locking mechanism. It’s mainly used in automotive applications.


DisplayPort cable
Image Credit: D?vis Mos?ns/Flickr
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Like HDMI, DisplayPort is a media interface that transmits both video and audio signals together and was designed to replace VGA and DVI. These days, DisplayPort is mainly used to connect devices (e.g. a computer) to monitors, so you’ll only see it among other monitor cable types.

There are multiple versions of DisplayPort, but all DisplayPort cables are compatible with all DisplayPort devices. The speed will be limited by the lowest version of DisplayPort supported between the device and cable. Look for these DisplayPort cable certifications:

  • RBR (Reduced Bit Rate): Up to 810 MB/s.
  • HBR (High Bit Rate): Up to 1,350 MB/s.
  • HBR2 (High Bit Rate 2): Up to 2,700 MB/s.
  • HBR3 (High Bit Rate 3): Up to 4,050 MB/s.

DisplayPort is compatible with HDMI and USB using adapters. There is also Mini DisplayPort, which was mainly used in older Apple devices released before 2011.


Thunderbolt cable
Image Credit: Tony Webster/Flickr
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Thunderbolt cables are designed to connect external devices to a computer. They’re mainly used in Apple devices released 2011 and later. For more on cables, adapters, and ports for Apple devices A Guide to Apple's Adapters and Ports for Mac and iPhone Wondering what adapters you need for your Mac or iPhone? Here are all the adapters Apple sells to help you find what you need. Read More , check out our helpful guide.

Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 cables use the same connector as Mini DisplayPort, and all Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 connections are compatible with Mini DisplayPort connections.

Thunderbolt 3 cables use the same connector as USB-C, and all Thunderbolt 3 connections are compatible with USB-C connections. Thunderbolt 3 is also compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 using adapters.

VGA (Video Graphics Array)

VGA cable

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Created way back in the 1980s, the VGA connection cable is one of the oldest computer monitor cable types. It’s an analog video signal cable, so it has faded out of popularity due to world’s shift toward digital video signals. 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.

DVI (Digital Visual Interface)

DVI cable

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The DVI connection succeeded VGA in the 2000s as video technology moved from analog to digital. Digital displays, like LCD, proved to be higher quality and eventually became the market standard for video devices (at the time).

DVI connections come in three types:

  • DVI-A can transmit analog signals, allowing it to be backwards compatible with VGA (useful for CRT monitors and older LCD monitors).
  • DVI-D can transmit 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.

DVI has largely fallen out of use, having been replaced by more modern monitor cord types like HDMI, DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt.

IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics)

IDE cable

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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-inch drive variety uses a form-factor version of the IDE that has 44 pins.

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment)

SATA cable

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Newer hard drives mainly prefer 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 these days; fortunately, 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 an L-shape.

Note: If you’re buying a hard drive, you can also get a PCIe connection. Our PCIe vs. SATA guide PCIe vs. SATA SSDs: Which Storage Drive Is Best? PCIe SSDs are faster than SATA SSDs. But you might not need it. This article explains how PCIe SSDs differ from SATA SSDs. Read More helps you decide which one to buy.

eSATA (External SATA)

eSATA cable

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eSATA technology is an extension of, or improvement on, the SATA cable—it makes SATA technology available in an external form. In reality, eSATA isn’t much different than SATA, but it allows connections to devices like external hard drives and external optical drives. However, eSATA has fallen out of popularity due to advancements in USB speeds.


Ethernet cable

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Ethernet cables are used to set up local area networks. In most cases, they’re used to connect routers to modems and computers, though you can also connect two devices directly by using a cross-over Ethernet cable.

If you’ve ever tried to install or fix a home Wi-Fi router, you’ve likely dealt with an Ethernet computer cable. It looks unique so it’s easy to distinguish from different types of cables.

Nowadays, Ethernet cables come in several varieties:

  • 10BASE-T Ethernet is the oldest and most basic type and supports data speeds up to 1.25 MB/s.
  • 100BASE-TX Ethernet (i.e. Fast Ethernet) is also an older variety of Ethernet that supports data speeds up to 12.5 MB/s.
  • 1000BASE-T Ethernet (i.e. Gigabit Ethernet) is the most common type of Ethernet used in homes as of this writing. It supports data speeds up to 125 MB/s.
  • 10GBASE-T Ethernet (i.e. 10 Gigabit Ethernet) uses Cat6 wiring (as opposed to Cat5 or Cat5e in previous versions) to support data speeds up to 1.25 GB/s.

Note: There are even faster varieties of Ethernet, all the way up to Terabit Ethernet, but they aren’t for household use yet so you won’t run into them.

That should cover it! The computer cord types in this article comprise 99% of all cables you’re likely to find lying around in your home.

Want to take your knowledge even further? Learn why you should set up USB over Ethernet USB Over Ethernet: The Most Powerful System You Aren't Using USB Over Ethernet lets you share USB devices across multiple computers using Ethernet. Here's everything you need to know. Read More and how to transmit power over Ethernet What Is Power Over Ethernet (POE), and How Is It Useful to You? Power over Ethernet, also known as POE, is a kind of technology that allows network cables to also carry electricity in order to power devices. Read More .

Related topics: Building PCs, Cable Management, Computer Maintenance, Computer Parts, Ethernet, HDMI, USB.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Jhannariz
    March 3, 2019 at 1:33 am

    Thank you for this article it's very useful for me as a student??

  2. Wakeupcall
    December 22, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    This article is so dated that first comments are from 2012!! This site is cr@p.

  3. Someone
    October 19, 2018 at 8:36 am

    Seriously? where is DisplayPort? such a bad article.

  4. Tara
    October 3, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    I cracked mine under the mattress

  5. Tara
    October 3, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Mine cracked under the mattress

  6. Jansen
    July 28, 2017 at 2:17 am

    Thank you for the information that u give

  7. Rae Johnson
    June 19, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    What is a SMK cable and its use

  8. L337
    January 28, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    Add DisplayPort, and maybe the mini/micro variants of those connectors!

  9. Matt
    January 2, 2017 at 5:36 am

    Good basic article, though a bit dated now from the lack of mention about USB3.1/USB-C, and the Displayport found on some macs and higher end graphics cards. Images of the other HDMI plugs would have been nice too.

  10. Yash Pal Goyal
    December 7, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Please explain USB section a bit more supported with images. I am very thankful for such a great article.

  11. aqbudoy
    November 20, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Thank you for this article. I was trying to figure out the name of the cable which I use in my dvd drive then I found this. It's called IDE.

  12. Sheri
    November 1, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    Excellent site. Have facebooked you

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

    Pretty useful and informative.

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

    thanks for your help

  15. 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?

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


    Me no dumb anymore I found it very useful thanks.

  17. 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

    • lol
      May 15, 2018 at 11:03 pm

      lel xd

  18. 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. :)

  19. 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. :)

  20. 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. :)

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


  22. 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. :)

  23. 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.

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

    Please also explain the Type C USB cables.

  25. 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.

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

    thank u so much

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


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

    thank you !very helpful

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

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

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


  31. Anonymous
    August 17, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    its a good site

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

    its a good site for information

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

    its a good site for information

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

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

    This helped me

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

    what is a computer cable

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

    Great well explained and full of details. Very useful Thanks

  39. 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.

  40. 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)

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

    thanks for the information! I"m contented.

  42. 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?

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

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

    Thanks, i updated my knowledge on USB and eSATA.

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

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

  47. 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

  48. 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. ;-)

  49. 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? :-)

  50. 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.

  51. 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!

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

    Nice! Gotta bookmark this fo sho. :-)

  53. 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. :-)

  54. 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.

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

    thanks for the information

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

    hmmm gotta check that cat6

  57. 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?

  58. 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. :)