Computer ports: what they are and what the differences

Computer ports: what they are and what the differences

Although wireless standards are becoming more and more popular, the computer port they always represent a point of reference for connecting a vast array of devices. In recent years, technological evolution has led to the introduction of new, faster, more versatile and compact doors, while some of the old ones are slowly disappearing. Let’s discover together the various types of ports, the most common ones on modern computers and their specific applications.

Furthermore, when we talk generically about computer ports, we are not just referring to those used to connect the system to the local network, to connect monitors, printers, cameras, input devices and so on. Instead we often refer to communication ports, which correspond to logical numbers used to identify specific processes or services. The ports allow you to make a clear distinction between different types of traffic, even if they are using the same physical connection. We’ll talk about it later.

Most common and used computer ports: USB

The USB port they are undoubtedly among the most common, widely used on today’s computers. Introduced in the late ’90s, they revolutionized the way we connect peripherals such as keyboards, mice, printers, cameras, external storage media and much more. Early versions of USB, such as USB 1.1, offered data transfer speeds of up to 12 Mbps, while the more recent USB4 2.0 can reach 80 Gbps (or 120 Gbps in one direction), making it also suitable for connecting high-performance external displays. resolution.

In any case, don’t fall into the mistake of confusing porta e interface. The USB port is the physical connector on the device (computer, smartphone, printer,…) where the USB cable is connected. It is the external connection point, where the physical connection of the USB device takes place. The most common USB ports are USB Type A ports (the large rectangular ones, also called USB-A) and USB type C ports (smaller and symmetrical, otherwise called USB-C).

The USB-C ports are reversible (it doesn’t matter which way they are inserted) while the USB-A ports accept connection to the device in one direction only. The inventor of the USB connector was aware of its impracticality but in the 90s that was the solution considered the best also for the purpose of cost containment. In the cited article there is a beautiful video celebrating the co-inventor Ajay Bhatt.

USB port formats, differences

Interfacce USB

The “size” of the port does not necessarily indicate its size speed: we talk about it in the article on versions and differences between USB ports and cables. The performance achievable via USB is determined by the interface used. And indeed they performance of the data transfer they align with the specifications of the slowest interface, at one or the other end of the USB cable: we talk about this in the article on how to understand which USB devices are slowest.

L’USB interface refers to the communication standard and protocols used to transfer data between the host device (such as a computer) and the connected USB device. Defines the electrical specifications, power requirements, communication protocols, and commands to be used. USB 3.x and USB4 are among the most recent examples of USB interfaces.

The colors of the USB ports

Did you know that the USB port they can be COLOR? And did you know that each color has a specific meaning?

First of all, the USB ports of blue color o sky blue indicate that they use the USB 3.0 or newer interface. USB 3.0 or higher ports, however, are not necessarily always blue. The color blue is just a widespread convention, but not an absolute rule. So much so that some manufacturers use the standard black color even for USB 3.x ports, without any color distinction. Sometimes the rosso is used to indicate high-speed USB 3.1 or USB 3.2 ports.

As we often remember, however, the suggestion is always to focus on the acronyms Gen 1 (5 Gbps), Gen 2 (10 Gbps), Gen 2×2 (20 Gbps) e Gen 3×2 (40 Gbps).

What are Thunderbolt ports

Thunderbolt is an interface developed by Intel that combines ultra-high-speed data transfer, video transmission and power supply in a single compact port. The porte Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 use the same physical USB-C connection, and offer convincing performance, with data transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps. With Thunderbolt 5 it is even possible to transfer up to 120 Gbps.

This technology is very popular for connecting external displays, high-performance storage systems and even enabling the backup completo of a laptop on an external drive.

Thunderbolt ports have the same physical appearance as USB-C ports, but are labeled logo Thunderbolt that is, a stylized lightning bolt. While we wait for the Thunderbolt 5 interface to become widespread, Thunderbolt 4 is backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, but offers more complete features such as support for due monitor 4K or an 8K monitor at 60Hz. It also supports the cascade connection of up to 6 devices via a single port, without the need for a hub.

Porte video: HDMI e DisplayPort

With the growing diffusion of multi-monitor setups and high-resolution displays, video ports play a crucial role. HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is the interface widely used to connect monitors, televisions and projectors. Newer versions like HDMI 2.1 they support resolutions up to 8K and high refresh rates.

In another article we saw how to choose an HDMI cable, also focusing on the specifications of the standard. In the in-depth analysis of HDMI ARC, however, we focus our attention on improving the audio experience.

Although it is not possible to decide a clear winner, the alternative to HDMI i.e DisplayPort it’s certainly better when it comes to handling high resolutions. HDMI, on the other hand, stands out clearly on the side of compatibility. We talk about it in the article on the comparison between HDMI and DisplayPort.

In terms of Formatthe HDMI ports stand out for their trapezoidal layout while the DisplayPorts are rectangular with a “cut off” corner.

Porte HDMI DisplayPort

Networking: la porta Ethernet

In portable, compact and thin systems, the porta Ethernet it has been removed some time ago. However, there are special adapters that allow you to connect the notebook to the local network using the USB port on one side and the RJ-45 (Ethernet) on the other.

The Ethernet port is one of the fundamental elements in modern network connectivity. It offers a stable and fast connection, both for home and professional use. Also uses RJ-45 connector, standardized and compatible with Ethernet cables of various categories (Cat-5e, Cat-6, Cat-6a, Cat-7, Cat-8). These cables differ in terms of bandwidth and link length supported.

The various RJ-45 Ethernet ports can be of types Fast Ethernet: they are the oldest and do not allow data transfer above 100 Mbps. The ports Gigabit Ethernet they can go up to 1 Gbps: they are the current standard for most home and business networks. The port 10 GbE they are used in professional contexts and allow you to enjoy a much more generous bandwidth. In another article we saw what to do if the speed on Ethernet seems limited to 100 Mbps.

Some ports are PoE compatible (Power-over-Ethernet), technique that allows you to power devices such as VoIP phones, IP cameras and wireless access points through the Ethernet cable itself, eliminating the need for a separate power cable.

With the advent of USB4, it has been demonstrated that it is possible to create a full-mesh network that has nothing to envy of more traditional configurations. The connection mode USB4/Thunderbolt represents today the fastest way to move data between 2 modern computers. In Windows, the connection is managed like an Ethernet port, with data transfer speeds that can even saturate the performance of an SSD drive.

We won’t talk about it in this article because it has now fallen into disuse but the interface itself FireWirepresented by Apple in 1994, allowed you to transform a notebook into a large external hard drive, useful for temporarily saving data or quickly installing the operating system.

Audio door

The door…

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