Have you ever wondered what all of those computer ports on laptops do? Maybe you have some ports on your laptop that you are unsure of? In this comprehensive guide, we will explain the different kinds of ports that you can find on both the latest laptops and older models too.
It can be pretty overwhelming to see all of those ports on a laptop. You may recognize some of them straight away if you have been a computer user for a while. Others may be totally unfamiliar to you. We want you to know what all of the ports on your laptop do and why they are there. All of the ports have a specific function.
There will be different ports on your laptop if it is a really modern model compared to an older laptop. Most laptop owners do not know the purpose of all of the ports on their machine. No laptop ports are there for show—they are all included for a reason.
We will discuss the most commonly found ports on laptops and those that are not so common. There will be a detailed explanation on how you can use each of the ports so you will have no doubts about anything after reading this guide.
USB laptop ports
You will find USB ports on laptops of all ages. It is likely that you are probably familiar with this laptop port. However, there are different types of USB ports and we will explain all of them.
A universal serial bus (USB) port allows you to connect several different devices to your laptop. If the device is USB compatible, then you can probably connect and use it. Here are some examples of USB devices:
- External hard drive
- Flash memory drive
- Wireless adapter
- Charging devices (for phones, cameras, etc.)
Most laptop owners will use their USB ports regularly. Connecting printers, cameras and even their smartphone or tablet device is so easy with a USB port. You just plug your device in and the operating system will recognize it.
There are different types of USB ports and specification standards. The latest standard is USB 3.0, which provides very fast rates of data transfer, as high as 5 Gb per second. USB 2.0 is the previous version and the data transfer rates with this are around 480 Mb per second.
The various types of USB port include:
- USB 1.0 and 2.0 type A and type B
- USB 1.0 and 2.0 mini A and mini B
- USB 1.0 and 2.0 micro A and micro B
- USB 3.0 type A and type B
- USB 3.0 Micro- B
- USB 3.0 type C
The most common type of USB laptop ports are type A and type C, so we will discuss these in more detail here. A type A USB port usually has 4 or 5 pins in the connector designed to work with different standards—USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB 3.1.
USB 2.0 type A ports are usually black or gray in color, while the newer USB 3.0 type A ports tend to be blue or turquoise in color. USB 3.1 has replaced USB 3.0 as a standard now as it has higher specifications. There is a version of USB 3.1 called Gen 2, which can transfer data at 10 Gb per second.
If your laptop is older and has USB 3 ports, then they are probably the 3.0 standard. Most new laptops will have USB 3.1 ports. The manufacturer of the laptop should indicate what standard of USB ports your laptop has in the user manual or on their website. You can also use the Device Manager within Windows to identify the specification of your USB ports.
Modern laptops now have USB type C ports rather than type A. The reason for this is that the type C ports are significantly smaller than type A. With a type C USB port, you can usually charge your smartphone or tablet or any other compatible device.
Not everyone is a fan of the USB type C port. Users have complained that the ports are not as robust as the type A ports. The type C connector is smaller and thinner and has 24 pins. You have to be careful when you use it. The larger type A port is sturdier and will handle a lot more abuse.
these days, it seems that everyone wants his or her laptop to be as thin as possible. In this regard, the USB type C port is ideal. They provide fast rates of data transfer and can supply reasonably high currents required for charging devices. USB C ports are likely to be the laptop port of choice in the future.
Laptop HDMI port
Do you have an HD or flat screen TV? Do you want to plug your laptop into it for big screen enjoyment? Well, you can if your laptop has a High Definition Media Interface (HDMI) port. You can also use this port to connect your laptop to projector machines that have the interface.
The most common standard of HDMI port is 2.0. Now there is an HDMI 2.1 standard, which has improved visuals and audio. You will not be able to make a physical distinction between an HDMI 2.0 and 2.1 port as they are identical. The connectors for both standards have 19 pins.
You will need an HDMI cable to connect your laptop to your TV or other visual device. The manufacturer of your laptop should tell you what HDMI standard the port is. If you have HDMI 2.1, you will still be able to connect with HDMI 2.0 devices as the standard is backward compatible. Normally, there will be one HDMI port on a laptop.
Laptop display port
The display port is another visual connector port that a number of businesses use so that they can connect laptops to different external displays. There is a standard display port and a Mini display port. The standard display port looks similar to an HDMI port. It is a 20-pin connector that you can plug a display cable into and then connect to a projector, for example.
Larger laptops will usually have the standard size display port. There is usually a locking mechanism with the port. You will find the smaller mini display port on small laptops such as the Microsoft Surface Pro and the Apple MacBook.
Laptop DVI port
The DVI (digital video interface) laptop port was included with some of the older, high specification laptops. You will not find this port on a modern laptop. DVI was the successor to VGA. It is able to support both digital and analog video transfer.
In order to use a DVI port, you need a monitor or other device that has the same port. You will also need a DVI cable. With DVI, you can transfer digital signals up to a rate of 2560 by 1600 pixels. There is no transfer of audio signals.
Laptop VGA port
If you want to connect your laptop to an older style monitor, you will need a VGA port. VGA (video graphics array) is an old style technology. It is based on RGB signals and when you connect your laptop to a VGA monitor, there is no audio signal, unlike what you get with HDMI, for example.
The connector is “D” shaped and has 15 connector pins. Usually the inside of the port is blue in color. A lot of older laptops had VGA ports but if you need one now, it may be difficult to find a modern laptop that has one.
Laptop Ethernet port
If you have an RJ (registered jack) 45 Ethernet port on your laptop, then you can use this with an Ethernet cable to connect to an Internet router. Most Internet routers have a series of Ethernet ports as well as wireless connectivity.
Usually, an Ethernet port has 8 pins and some of the older ports have LEDs that indicate connectivity and data transmission. Nowadays, laptop Ethernet ports do not have LED indicators with them.
You will get better data transmission rates with a wired Ethernet connection than you will using WiFi. Wireless connections are “lossy” and tend to be slower than wired connections. So, a lot of people still want an Ethernet port with their laptop.
With slimmer laptops, you will not get an Ethernet port and will have to contend with a wireless connection. So, if you want an Ethernet port, you will have to go for a larger laptop. Alternatively, you can use a USB adapter that allows you to plug in an Ethernet connector.
Laptop audio ports
You will usually find that most laptops have audio ports. These use the standard 3.5mm jack plug and you will normally have three ports, which are:
- Headphone jack
- Microphone jack
- Line in/out jack
It is likely that you are familiar with these audio jacks as they have been around for many years. Just plug in your headphones or microphone and you are good to go. Each audio jack should be color-coded or have the relevant symbol next to it.
Laptop SD card reader port
Many devices use SD (secure digital) cards these days, such as phones, tablets, cameras, and more. You will find many laptops have either an SD or mini SD port or slot for these cards. You may have to use an adapter if the card you are using doesn’t fit.
When you have an SD card reader port on your laptop, it is very easy for you to plug in the card from your phone, tablet, or camera and quickly transfer images and video from these devices.
Laptop thunderbolt port
A Thunderbolt port looks identical to a USB type C port. Nevertheless, the standards are different. With the latest Thunderbolt 3 standard, you can transfer data at a much higher rate than with USB type C. With Thunderbolt 3, you can transfer data at up to 40 Gb per second.
You can use a Thunderbolt 3 port on your laptop for USB type C applications. The manufacturer of your laptop should tell you that you have a Thunderbolt 3 port. Usually, there is a lightning bolt icon next to the port. You will need a special Thunderbolt 3 cable to take advantage of the faster data transfer.
After reading this guide, you should be able to identify all of the ports on your laptop and know exactly what they do. All laptops will have ports and you need to think about which ones you will need if you are purchasing a new machine.