Cables and Connections Explained
There are so many cables used to connect different devices, in this guide we look at the most popular and what they are used for.
I often wonder why the powers that be chose to create so many damn cables. As and audiophile and an intermediate IT technician I am forever scourging through bundles of wires trying to find the correct one for the task at hand.
With so many interconnections for endless amounts of hardware, it’s not surprising that many people are easily confused when it comes to hooking up for example; your PC to your TV, your DVD to your monitor or laptop to your projector and an external sound device.
So we thought it time to take a closer look at each cable and what hardware they link together.
Universal Serial Bus (USB) Type A
USB is probably the most connection in use today, used to connect all kinds of peripherals and hardware to your PC or notebook. USB 2.0 adds the battery charging specification to enable direct charging to your cell phone, MP3, camera or whatever else accepts power via UBS.
USB Type B
Another type of USB generally used for connecting peripherals, you’ll find these on scanners, printers, external sound cards and many other devices too.
Mini and Micro USB
These two USB connections are used for smaller devices like cameras and cell phones. The Micro USB takes up slightly less real estate than previous versions of USB and now is being adopted LG and Motorola.
IEEE 1394 Firewire 400 (i.LINK for Sony Products)
Popularized by Apple as a faster alternative to USB, Firewire can be found connecting a wide range of devices to laptops, Apple Macs or PCs.
The photo shows both the four-pin and six-pin versions of Firewire 400. The six-pin provides power whilst the four pin, originally favored by Sony, doesn’t.
IEEE 1394 Firewire 800
A revised faster version of Firewire can be found on high end audio and visual products, unless you are connoisseur in graphics or sound, it is likely you will never have to use this great but odd cable.
RJ45 (Cat5/Cat6 Ethernet)
The kind of connection often found on the ends of a Cat5 or Cat6 Ethernet cable, which connects your computer to a network, router, or each other.
Cat5e is an updated version of Cat5 that supports faster Gigabit Ethernet; Cat6 is the next-gen standard which promises speeds twice as fast as Cat5e. An interestingly enough, the most recent version of IEEE 1394 Firewire S800T uses the RJ45 connectors as well.
Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA/ATAPI/IDE Ribbon)
AT Attachments with Packet Interface otherwise known as an IDE Ribbon, is used to connect storage devices such as hard disks, solid-state drives, and CD-ROM drives inside personal computers. IDE specifications only allow cables up to 18 inch (46 cm) in length, because of this limitations, it is only used as an internal interface for computers. With the introduction of Serial ATA in 2003, ATA/ATAPI or
IDE cables were renamed Parallel ATA.
Serial Advanced Technology Attachment is the successor to ATA, the revised cable is thinner, more reliable and allows for faster data transfers and hot swapping (the ability to add or remove a device during operation).
eSATA (External Serial ATA)
This super high speed cable is an external version of the Serial ATA interface that connects your hard drive to your computer (if it was built in the last two years). Much faster than USB and Firewire, you can expect to see more and more laptops incorporating a port for it, usually one that can be used with USB.
Video Graphics Array (VGA)
While there are several different types of VGA cable, the one most common know to most is the 15-pin VGA connector which can be found on most video cards, computer monitors, and other devices. VGA connectors carry analog component RGBHV (red – green – blue – horizontal sync – vertical sync) video signals plus DDC2 digital clock and data.
S-video cable carries analog video signals, in resolutions of 480i-576i, without audio (audio is usually connected using RCA cables). The four-pin version is often the most common however many computers support the seven-pin version as well. S-Video is considered the lowest quality of component video signals.
Digital Visual Interface (DVI)
The successor to the VGA cable, DVI offers a digital connection for video (DVI-D), audio (DVI-A) or both (DVI-I, for integrated). You can find DVI ports on some computers and older HDTVs but with the introduction of HDMI, DVI is slowly being phased out.
The Apple version of the DVI connection introduced yet another cable to hook up your laptop to an extra monitor. Basically a shrunken DVI cable, you can expect HDMI to make this connection obsolete too.
High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI)
HDMI carries high-definition digital video and audio signals. All high end electronics including laptops, cameras, TVs, DVDs are now being manufactured for the HD digital era so you can expect to see a lot more of this sleek little cable.
DisplayPort is the newest video interface on the market and is currently used solely to connect your computer to your monitor. While this connection is anything but mainstream, Dell, as well as other vendors, are backing it. DisplayPort can carry a shed load of data and is also equipped with DRM built into the spec.
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