5 Different Types of Computer Ports – What Each Does (with Pictures)

thunderbolt port

5 Different Types of Computer Ports – What Each Does (with Pictures)

A computer is an extraordinary machine with immense potential. In the early days of computing, ports allowed users to connect printers, modems, and storage devices. So much has changed over the years, with many add-on devices built into the computer. But we still find it necessary to use accessories. Some vital ports include power and monitors. Tech advancements have brought new ports like USB-C and HDMI. Now, let’s check out five of the most common computer ports.


USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0
An IO panel of the computer motherboard with USB 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, USB type C, and other ports.


The USB port is a popular connection on computers. Various devices use USB ports, from printers to mice and keyboards. One of the standard devices is the flash drive. This small device easily adds storage space or lets you transfer data between computers. Of course, you can also charge electronics with a computer’s USB port.

Despite having numerous uses, USB ports also have different variations. The classic rectangular ports are USB-A. They accept most printers and dongles. However, they are slow in transferring data. Devices like hard drives and flash drives often take advantage of USB 3.0. These drives are denoted by a blue piece of plastic inside and a signature “SS” logo for Super Speed.

The fast-growing USB-C provides even transfer speeds and supports other devices like monitors. The USB-C port is also much smaller and has rounded sides, almost like an oval. Their smaller size makes them great for thin devices like the MacBook Air and tablets. USB-C supports connection at both ends, so phones, tablets, and game consoles use USB-C.


hdmi arc vs optical
Optical HDMI cables use optical fiber to achieve HDMI definition signal transmission.

©CHAILUK CHALATHAI/Shutterstock.com

While not as popular as USB ports, HDMI and other monitor connections are helpful. HDMI allows you to connect cable boxes and BluRay players to TVs. That’s not all. You can also use an HDMI cable to connect a computer to a monitor. For many years, laptops came with an HDMI port. Users could connect to an external monitor or even a projector.

But a monitor connection is crucial for desktops. DisplayPort connections are similar to HDMI but provide extra benefits for computers. Many desktop computers and monitors feature both HDMI and DisplayPort connections. While each has advantages, HDMI inputs are much easier to find on monitors and other display types like TVs and projectors.

Older computers used VGA or DVI, but these were analog connections with limited capabilities. The two could not support high definition but could not transfer an audio signal. Alternatively, newer computers can use USB-C ports to output a video signal. Additionally, USB-C ports support audio and are a great option for laptop owners.


Next up is the ethernet port, a mainstay in computer networking. A cable (usually Cat5e) connects the computer to a network device such as a router or switch. Many computers now use WiFi instead of wired connections. However, some people and businesses still use ethernet connections as they are more reliable.

Most motherboards have an ethernet port, and those without can also add one to a PCIe slot. Two lights accompany the ethernet port to signify connectivity to the network. The port itself looks like a large RJ45 phone connector. In addition, telephone cords loosely resemble ethernet cables with their stranded pair.

RJ45 ports were also used on computers for modem connections. Modems were commonly found in computers during the days of dial-up, but today they are obsolete. However, a similarity between ethernet and RJ45 is that both connectors use plastic locking tabs to keep the connector in the computer.

3.5mm Audio

man connecting a 3.5 mm audio jack to a laptop.
Car stereos, mp3 players, smartphones, and Bluetooth speakers typically feature a 3.5mm audio jack port.

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The 3.5mm audio port is widely used on computers and a myriad of listening devices like iPods. The connections have a unique shape: a small, cylindrical piece of metal that comes out at the end of a cord. The metal is how a connection is made, and sound goes from a device into a speaker or set of headphones.

The top of the connector has an inward taper that prevents it from easily being yanked out of its port. If you look carefully at a 3.5mm audio connector, you will notice a couple of metal rings. Each ring is used for a different wire connection. This is how you get stereo sound through the connection. But it is also how to use a single 3.5mm connector for speakers and a microphone.

Most microphones use a similar connection, which may plug into an audio or special microphone port. Older laptops and even some modern desktops have a separate microphone input. However, most new microphones use a standard USB-A connector, which is better for computer users. But it doesn’t work for those who need a microphone to connect to a phone.

Power Port

Power supply cable connecting to computer
The power port is a vital component of many desktop PCs.

©Sunshine Studio/Shutterstock.com

Without a working power port, your desktop computer won’t work. However, this isn’t a problem for most laptops as they get plugged in and left. But laptop power ports can be a real problem if you plug and unplug the charger daily.

But before going any further, it is essential to distinguish between laptop and desktop power. Both computers run off household AC power, which is then turned into DC power throughout the device. Laptops have an external voltage converter, whereas desktops use an internal voltage converter.

Laptops typically have a small block in the middle of the charger or on the end that plugs into the wall. Desktops do not have this because a power cord goes directly from the wall and into the computer. They have a power supply that converts the AC current into different DC voltages that the computer uses.

Desktop computers often use the same power cord with three slots in it. In comparison, laptops are a mixed bag, with some using round DC connectors like other electronics. But newer laptops can also take advantage of USB-C, which allows for device charging. Then, proprietary chargers like Apple’s MagSafe port connect magnetically to prevent damage from yanking the cord.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you add more ports to a computer?

Yes, you can easily add ports to desktop computers via a PCIe slot. Otherwise, you can usually get a USB adapter for other ports that you wish to add.

How do you connect a USB-A device to a USB-C port?

Older devices like flash drives cannot plug directly into USB-C ports like those found on newer MacBooks. For computers that only have USB-C ports you will need to get an adapter or a docking station.

What is the best way to connect a monitor to a computer?

The best way to connect a monitor is by checking what outputs the computer uses. Most desktops with a GPU have both DisplayPort and HDMI, while other desktops and laptops may only have HDMI. Either one is acceptable and provides both audio and video. Alternatively, you can use USB-C if you monitor accepts it.

Are computer power cords universal?

Most desktop power cords are universal, as they have three vertical slots. Similarly, newer laptops that use USB-C charging are also universal. However, older laptop cords are not universal, and computers from the same manufacturer often use different ports.

What type of port does a microphone use?

Older microphones commonly use a 3.5mm audio plug that resembles one for headphones or speakers. But newer microphones that offer better technology use a USB port.

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