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Different types of computer cables

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Ethernet cable
Ethernet cables keep your computer connected to the Internet
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Understand the different types of computer cables and what works for what

Technology often changes at an overwhelming pace, so when it comes to the cords wrapped around your desk, you may be puzzled by the many different types of computer cables. Use this guide to understand the differences between the most common cords.

Power Cable

Let's start with the most basic cable: your power cord! This power cable will come with your laptop or desktop; you shouldn't have to buy one separately. Some companies sell additional cords that are longer. It plugs directly from your computer into a wall outlet.

Ethernet Cables

If your computer can access wireless Internet, you don't need an Ethernet cord to get online. If your computer can't connect to wireless or doesn't have that capability, you can use an Ethernet cord to connect your computer directly to your router or modem. Even if you can connect to wireless, your Internet connection can sometimes be faster when you plug in. This cord looks very much like a phone jack, and fortunately, you can buy the cords in a large variety of lengths.

USB Cables

Universal Series Bus cables, or USB, are one of the most common types of computer plugs. Most computers now have multiple USB ports, allowing you to use multiple devices at once. They connect devices directly to your computer that do not need external power. USBs are most commonly used to connect peripheral such as a keyboard, a printer, or a mouse to a computer.

USB cables are also used to connect and sync devices such as iPhones with computers, which charges them in the process. Most small devices such as smartphones usually have a mini USB or micro USB plug on one end, with a regular USB plug on the other to connect to the computer. To easily transfer data from one computer to another, you can use a USB memory stick, also known as a thumb drive or a flash drive. USB cables have changed slightly over the years.  If your device does not have the latest USB size (3.0), you can buy an adaptor.  

Firewire Cables

Not all computers have Firewire ports, also known as IEEE-1394. They are very similar to USB cables, but they transfer data at a much higher speed. Firewire cables come in several different types, each of which have evolved over time to be faster. There are four-pin, six-pin, and nine-pin cables. Due to quickly-changing technology that makes many devices incompatible with computers, some Firewire cords have different sizes on each end to solve this problem (for example, a cord with six-pin on one end and four-pin on the other).

Audio Cables

All computers come with a port for a basic audio device, which is most commonly used for headphones or a microphone. Most widely used is a 3.5 mm connector, also known as a mini-plug or a 1/8-inch connector. Some computers can also use 1/4-inch connectors; these larger audio cables are usually used for professional audio devices.

Video Cables

If you need to connect your computer to a display screen or a video projector, there are a multitude of cords to choose from. Depending on the age and make of both your computer and the video device, you could need any number of computer cables. Digital Visual Interface (DVI) ports are very common on computers. Newer computers often have ports for High-Definition Multimedia Interface, or HDMI. You can use an HDMI cable to connect your computer to an HD display, whether a large projector or a basic HD television.

While there are many types of computer cables on the market, these are the most common. It can get very confusing, so be sure to consult your computer's manual or talk to a professional to make sure you purchase compatible cords. If you can't find cords that fit both your device and your computer, look for adapters that will help you convert from one type of computer cable to another. 

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