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HomeTips & GuidesDifferent Computer Cables: Types and Functions

Different Computer Cables: Types and Functions

Computers cannot operate independently. They need a connection to the outside world via different computer cables to get power, send data, transmit video signals, etc. 

The most noticeable variation between these computer cables is their connectors. They have different shapes and sizes to fit into the computer ports. 

Also, the pins and conductors inside the wires can vary to suit the specific function. Let’s look at these cables in detail.

Table of Contents

USB Cable

USB (Universal Serial Bus) cables are the most common types of computer cables because they connect multiple peripheral devices, such as keyboards, mice, printers, flash drives, phones, etc., to the computer.

However, these cables come in different types, such as types A and B. The former is the rectangular connectors most people are conversant with, while type B is squarish. USB type B is a more common type for printer cable connections.

And among these two types, there are two primary speed variations: USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. The latter is ten times faster than USB 2.0 because its theoretical transfer speed is 600MBps (4.8 Gbits/s). USB 2.0 can only attain 60MBps (480 Mbits/s).

USB cables

USB cables

Other USB variations include the following.

  • Mini USB cable
  • Micro USB cable
  • Lightning cable
  • USB type-C port/cable

VGA Cable

VGA is an acronym for Video Graphics Array, a 15-pin connector/cable that transmits video signals from the CPU or GPU to an external display.

The VGA connector arranges the pins in three rows with five each. Each row sends a single color signal, completing the RGB color band.

A VGA cable

A VGA cable

VGA connections are no longer new because the standard emerged in the 80s. So, you will not find VGA ports in modern computers. Improved alternatives, such as DVI and HDMI, replaced these video cables.

Initially, VGA could only transmit analog 640×480 pixel video signals. But an enhanced version named SVGA (Super VGA) improved the resolution transmission to 800×600.

DVI Cable

Digital Visual Interface cables were the successors of VGA, and they use digital interfaces to transmit the images. This digital connection enabled computers to connect to digital displays, such as LCDs, creating sharper graphics.

The technology is available in three variations.

  • DVI-A: Backward compatible with VGA, meaning it can transmit analog signals
  • DVI-I: Transmits analog and digital signals
  • DVI-D: Only transmits digital signals
A DVI cable

A DVI cable

In addition to some of these variations being backward compatible, DVI-to-VGA and VGA-to-DVI converter cables are available to make old PCs relevant when using digital displays.

HDMI Cable

HDMI eventually became king in the computer video-signal transmission category, replacing VGA and DVI.

This cable only transmits digital signals, which means it is not backward compatible with VGA. HDMI-to-VGA converters exist in the market but are ineffective.

On the bright side, HDMI combines digital video and audio signal transmission into a single connection. So, it makes the wiring neat because you don’t need an additional digital audio cable.

VGA, HDMI, and DVI cables (note the size difference and number of connectors)

VGA, HDMI, and DVI cables (note the size difference and number of connectors)

HDMI comes in four variations, which include the following.

  • Type A (standard): The most popular HDMI cable in the market, it contains 19 pins and is compatible with single-link DVI-D connections.
  • Type B (dual-link): Not common. It has a 29-pin connector and is compatible with dual-link DVI-D cables.
  • Type C (mini): 19-pin connector cable typical in camcorders and digital cameras.
  • Type D (micro): resembles a micro-USB connector cable but with 19 pins.
  • Type E: HDMI cable for automotive connection systems.

IDE Cable

These cables connect storage devices to a computer’s motherboard and feature 40 pins arranged in two rows. But there is a variant with 44 pins. These cables are no longer in use because SATA cables phased them out.

An IDE cable

An IDE cable

SATA Cable

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) replaced IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) because the technology offers faster data transfer rates and is smaller (seven pins).

A SATA cable

A SATA cable

Computers use this L-shaped connector wire for internal storage device connections (hard drive). But for external hard and optical drive connections, they use eSATA, where the e stands for external.

SATA and eSATA are typical in these connections because they offer faster data transfer speeds than FireWire and USB cables.

An eSATA cable

An eSATA cable

FireWire Cable

Also known as IEEE 1394, FireWire cables are for data transfer and almost match the speed of their USB counterparts. 1394a has a data transfer speed of 400Mbps, while 1394b doubles that to 800Mbps.

FireWire cable connectors

FireWire cable connectors

And like USB, FireWire cables are hot-swappable and plug-and-play. So you don’t have to shut down your computer to connect or disconnect your device.

Also, your computer’s operating system can automatically detect the linked device using the FireWire cable. You will get a prompt to install the device drivers, making it visible in the system.

Ethernet Cable

Ethernet cables are the most common internet cables used for LAN computer connectivity. LANs usually consist of routers, switches, hubs, and computers. The last end of the link to computers can be wireless or via cable, but ethernet cables link the other local connections, such as the router-to-switch.

An ethernet cable

An ethernet cable

These cables transfer data using four twisted pair wires, and this design helps maintain the signal quality. However, the data transfer capacity depends on the ethernet cable generation or category.

Cat5 cables are popular due to their low cost and relatively high data transfer speeds of up to 100Mbps. Cat5e (enhanced) is 10x faster, hitting up to 1,000Mbps, while Cat6 ethernet cables support speeds of up to 10Gbps.

Optical Fiber Cable

While ethernet cables are ideal for creating LANs, fiber optic cables are suitable for connecting the WAN. Unlike other data cables, optical fiber transmits data as light pulses, delivering ultra-fast data transfer rates.

The light travels through the optical fibers, which are thin glass strands. Each cable can have several fiber strands, which results in hundreds or thousands of gigabits per second when you combine the speeds.

A yellow fiber optic cable next to a splicing tool

A yellow fiber optic cable next to a splicing tool

Most internet providers switched or are replacing copper cables with optical fiber to transmit internet to the home to support smart home devices, video streaming, etc.

But computers usually don’t have fiber optic cable ports. The cable terminates in the router for ethernet or wireless connectivity to home devices.

Audio Cable

As the name suggests, audio cables transmit sound signals, and the standard is the 3.5mm wire for aux, earphone, and headphone connections.

White and red computer audio cables

White and red computer audio cables

Old computers have up to three color-coded audio ports. Green is for the headphones, pink is for the microphone, and blue is for MP3 or DVD players.

PS/2 Cable

PS/2 cables are the old standard for connecting keyboards and mice to the computer. These wires have round six-pin connectors, and they come in two sizes. The smaller size is more common, but you can convert from one to the other.

PS/2 cable connectors

PS/2 cable connectors

The most significant distinction between these cable connectors is the application (keyboard or mouse connection). These two are slightly different.

And the easiest way to identify them is by using their colors. Purple is for the keyboard, and green is for the mouse. But PS/2 cables are no longer relevant because USB mice and keyboards replaced them.

The DisplayPort Cable

DisplayPort cables are not very popular, but they are faster than HDMI because they can handle high refresh rates, high-quality audio, and high resolutions.

DisplayPort cable connectors

DisplayPort cable connectors

This cable can transmit up to 2Gbps, supporting up to 8K resolutions and HDR content. Such speeds can handle four screens concurrently. Structurally, these cables have at least 20 pins and come in different lengths.

Power Cable

Lastly, all electronic products can only run if electricity runs through their circuits. Desktop computers must have a power cable constantly connected to a wall outlet.

But laptops have built-in or removable batteries. These power sources require charging regularly, which is where the power cable comes in.

A computer’s power cable

A computer’s power cable

In either case, computer power cables have three pins: live, neutral, and earth. However, the pin connection can differ at the connection point to your computer.

Wrap Up

As technology evolves, the computer cables that are relevant today might become obsolete in a few years. Therefore, you should keep up with the changes in this cable industry.

Although most computer connections are migrating to the wireless type, cables are still critical for specific functions, such as WAN connections, due to their reliability. 

Therefore, these wires will not die out. Instead, they will get better or faster. That’s it for now. Comment below if you think we’ve left out any computer cable, and share its function.

Hi I am Christa, sales manager of Cloom.

I have extensive expertise and experience in wiring harnesses and I believe I can help you.

And we have a very professional technical team who can clearly understand the customer’s needs and give professional suggestions and solutions after receiving the drawings.

If you also have wiring harness needs, please send me the drawing so that we can give you our quote and start our business.

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