A guided tour of your computer ports

Just take a look at the back of your desktop computer or around the sides of your laptop and you will find a bewildering selection of holes and slots usually accompanied by strange symbols and heiroglyphics next to each.  What each of these is for can often be a mystery so here we are going to provide you with a crash course in what each of these little holes is used for and who knows, possibly open up a whole range for how you use your computer.

03 February 2015 Discovery  Apple Macs, General Q&A

Networkmen - Article

Introduction

Just take a look at the back of your desktop computer or around the sides of your laptop and you will find a bewildering selection of holes and slots usually accompanied by strange symbols and hieroglyphics next to each.  What each of these is for can often be a mystery so here we are going to provide you with a crash course in what each of these little holes is used for and who knows, possibly open up a whole range for how you use your computer.

Any port in a storm

Holes...? Sockets... ? Plugs... ? What are they really?  Well they are all types of "port" just like the places where ships and boats go - you know something docks.  So for example a mouse docks with your computer via one of its "ports".  Just like shipping there are various kinds of ports - some, such as USB ports, accomodate all manner of devices whilst others, such as Ethernet ports, are specific to particular devices.

Power Port

Of course this is going to be the most common port of them all!  For desktop computers the connector will almost always be the same style, called an IEC connector.  For laptop computers the range of power connectors seems endless although in reality there are probably only 10 different types of connector.   If your laptop power adaptor fails a "universal adaptor" can be used and will often include a "tip" that allows it to connect to your computer though these rarely include tips for Apple Mac.

Windows PC Rear Power Port

USB Port

After the power port, this is perhaps the most common port of them all - the USB port.  USB, an acroynm for Universal Serial Bus, provides a way to easily connect a myriad of different types of things to your computer from printers and keyboards to more useful things such mug warmers and reading lights - the list is endless.  USB comes in a variety of versions or speeds that indicate how fast information passes back and forth.  USB 3.0 currently the fastest type of connection commonly used and can be identifed by the blue colour of the plastic connector.

Windows PC Rear USB Ports

VGA Port

The VGA port is almost always found on desktop PCs and larger laptops and is used to connect the computer to an external display or projector.  Slim laptops such as Apple's MacBook Air and Windows Ultrabooks are too thin to accomodate a VGA port and so a dedicated port is used with an adaptor that converts it to allow VGA displays to be connected.   If your computer can accomodate multiple screens it may have two or more VGA ports or a combination of a VGA port and other display capable ports such as DVI, HDMI (see below) etc.

Windows PC Rear VGA Port

DVI Port

This is another type of port used to connect a display to your computer and again is usaully found on desktop computers.   If your display only has a VGA connector you may find a DVI to VGA adaptor has been fitted to your computer.  You may also encounter a connection that looks similar to a DVI but is a multi-display port as in it can have two or more displays connected to it using a special adpator.

Windows PC Rear DVI Port

Display Port

Yes another type of port used to connect a display to your computer only this time a Display Port will usually require an adaptor to convert it to match the connection your display has.  So for example, you may have a Display Port to VGA adaptor.

Windows PC Rear Display Port

Ethernet Port

This connects your computer to a local area network (LAN) using an Ethernet cable.  Usually there will be two LEDs, one to show that the connection is active and the other which flashes whenever something is being passed to or from the computer.  All desktop computers and many laptops have Ethernet ports and for those that don't a USB to Ethernet adaptor can used.

Windows PC Rear Ethernet Port

Kensington Lock Port

The great thing about a laptop computer is how portable it is - which makes it very attractive to thieves!  A Kensington Lock port is used to provide an anchor point for a security cable which is locked in place and looped around something that isn't going anywhere - just like the laptop.

Windows PC Side Kensington Lock Port

HDMI Port

Yet another type of port used to connect a display to your computer only this time, HDMI ports are common on televisions so you can connect your computer to your TV to play videos etc. or use the bigger screen for working and presentations.

Windows PC Side HDMI Port

Docking Station Port

If you have a Windows laptop you may find when you turn it over there is also some kind of port - this is a docking station port and is used to quickly and easily connect the laptop to things like a power, a full sized keyboard and mouse, dual displays, wired network etc. etc.  You will only typically find these on more business orientated Windows laptops and can save a lot of time and hassle. 

Windows PC Docking Station Port

Microphone Port

Although most laptops have a built in microphone if you want to improve the quality of your recording or for people to be able to hear you clearly when using Skype etc. a dedicated microphone is recommended and it can connect to this port.  Most Desktop computers will have a microphone port both at the back and the front. You can also get microphones that connect to the USB port.

Windows PC Rear Microphone Port

Headphones Port

Built-in speakers are fine for basic audio tasks but if you want decent sound quality or to be able to hear something or someone over background noise then you can connect your headphones to the headphone port.  Most Desktop PCs will have a headphone port both at the back and the front.

Windows PC Rear Headphones Port

ESATA Port

The ESATA port is is not commonly found on many computers but where it is this provides a fast connection for portable hard drives.  If your computer does have an ESATA port it may also double-up to provide an extra USB port usually indicated by the USB symbol.

Windows PC Rear ESATA Port

Memory Card Port

As memory cards come all shapes accomodating them in laptop computers is not possible however you may find your laptop has an SD size memory card port.  Some Windows Desktop PCs may provide selection of card ports each of which will appear as a different drive letter on your PC.

Windows PC Front Memory Card Ports

PS/2 Mouse & Keyboard

Before USB came along, keyboard and mice were typically connected to a computer using PS/2 ports.  The ports are often coloured with purple for the keyboard connection and green for the mouse.  Some desktop PCs still come with PS/2 connectors as they have the advantage of making the keyboard/mouse immediately available when the PC starts.

Windows PC Rear PS2 Ports

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