When you’re choosing a new laptop it’s important to know whether it can do the job you need it to do. To be sure of that you need to know the specifics of what’s inside the computer.
Unless you’re an expert on the latest technology, it can be a little overwhelming to know the difference between a DVI and VGA port. This guide breaks down the particulars, and will hopefully make the process much easier for you. Discover the purpose of various computer internals and ports to find the right specification for your needs.
What’s the point of laptop ports?
Ports are a feature which allow you get more out of your laptop. Laptops are excellent for transporting and you can sit them in a dock, or on a stand or simply on your desk, and connect them to peripheral devices, making them easier to use.
Whether you want to connect an external mouse to use (instead of the track pad), or whether you want to add a second monitor to your display, or connect specialist recording equipment to your laptop, ports let you do just that.
How do you find out the laptop ports you‘ve got
You should be able to see the ports located around the edge of your laptop’s bottom half. To find out which version of USB ports you have, go to the Device Manager section within Control Panel. Here, there’s an option to open the ‘Universal Serial Bus controllers’ menu, to view the ports on your computer.
If you’re using an Apple MacBook, you can use Apple’s handy guide to ports here, or as suggested by the article, check your user guide or the Tech Specs page.
What are laptop ports: A breakdown
Here you’ll find a breakdown of the common ports associated with computers.
A VGA port connects your laptop to visual devices (such as a monitor or a projector). It stands for Video Graphics Array. DVI and HDMI are considered upgraded versions of a VGA connection.
It’s worth exploring other options if you need to connect your laptop to a TV (HDMI being preferable), as VGA can be used to connect to monitors, but it’s not going to offer the best result in terms of quality, due to it being an outdated mode of connection. VGA ports are also sometimes referred to as Video ports.
A DVI port (or Digital Visual Interface) is another way to connect your computer to an additional monitor. It doesn’t carry sound though, so it’s only useful if you’re intending to extend your display. It is, however, one of the most common ways to do so.
You can transmit image quality of up to 1920 x 1200 HD with a DVI connection – but it’s a good idea to check the number of pins on the port before you make a decision. Fewer pins will be better suited to lower image qualities. DVI connections can have a maximum of 24 pins.
If you need to connect to a display or device that doesn’t feature a DVI connection, there are adapters available which can convert this to either a HDMI or VGA connection.
DisplayPort is another way of connecting your laptop to a monitor (the other ways being via an HDMI cable, DVI or VGA port). Unlike a DVI connection, this type of connection can carry both audio and visual.
It’s more common for modern laptops to have a mini DisplayPort as opposed to a full-sized DisplayPort, or have the ability to transmit a DisplayPort signal through a USB-C connection.
A DisplayPort connection is a particularly desirable port to have in your laptop if you want to maintain as much picture quality as possible when connecting to an external display, as it can offer 4K resolution and a 60Hz refresh rate.
It’s also worth noting that a DisplayPort can be valuable if you need to connect multiple monitors. You can connect more than one monitor (potentially up to three or four) while still maintaining HD quality.
That said, it’s not often you’ll find a direct DisplayPort on a monitor, most will have a HDMI connection, but you can buy adapters to still make the most of your DisplayPort connection. And if you’re interested in connecting your laptop to a TV, it’s better to go down the HDMI route, as most TVs won’t support this type.
HDMI ports allow you to connect your computer to either a monitor or a television. This type of connection carries both audio and visual, but it’s worth looking further into the specifications of your particular laptop, if you’re looking for a higher resolution display.
You’re likely to find an HDMI connection on most modern TVs, and products such as Apple TV, Blu-ray and more – it’s one of the most versatile types of port for connecting your laptop to peripherals. Thanks to the design, a HDMI cable is really easy to use without risking damage to the plug itself.
The most recent HDMI connections, allow you to transmit 4K video. Plus, you can use an adapter to benefit from a DVI connection, if you’d prefer.
USB (type A)
A Universal Serial Bus port is the original USB connection. It allows data transfer and connectivity between devices, such as from cameras and scanners to computers.
A lot of peripherals, such as mice and keyboards, use a USB connection. External memory devices such as pocket drives and hard drives often also use a USB connection. A USB port is one of the most common ports you will find on a laptop. The important question to consider is how many are essential to you and your computer tasks.
USB (type B)
USB-B ports look different to USB-A ports. They’re square and are used for connecting devices such as printers and external hard drives.
A USB-C port is an upgrade of a USB port. It’s becoming more widely used across devices, and allows you to transfer both data and power. It enables connectivity between manufacturers like Apple, Dell, HP, Samsung and more.
This type of USB will likely replace a standard USB in years to come. Unlike a standard USB, the USB-C is reversible, so you can plug it in either way up. It’s also much smaller too, so it’ll take up less space.
Developments to the USB-C port mean you can use certain adapters to turn it into an HDMI, VGA or DisplayPort connection, which is ideal for connecting to monitors and in some cases, TVs. It’s worth checking whether you’ll need separate ports for HDMI and DisplayPort connections, or whether a USB-C will suffice.
A Micro USB is essentially a smaller version of a USB. It is typically used to connect smartphones and other small devices to your laptop, such as digital cameras and MP3 players.
Mini USBs are somewhere between a Micro USB and a USB-A in size. They’re not that commonly used but they do tend to appear on devices such as cameras and mp3 players.
USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0
There are two versions of a USB port – 2.0 and 3.0. USB 2.0 has a transfer rate of 280mbps, whereas USB 3.0 can work at speeds of up to 4gbps. This means that USB 3.0 is much faster than USB 2.0.
USB 3.0 is backwards compatible, but if you use a USB 2.0 hub to attach a device that uses USB 3.0, it will be limited to the lower capacity transfer rate.
USB 3.0 connections are usually identified by their blue casings. They tend to have thicker cables and more wires on the inside, which enable their faster speeds.
You might see a connection point on your laptop for connecting to microphones and speakers referred to as a socket.
A headphone port, or headphone jack, enables you to connect headphones to your laptop so you can listen to audio without it coming through the speakers.
An audio jack lets you connect audio equipment to your laptop. For example, microphones, headphones and even some musical instruments. Modern audio jacks are much smaller in size than older ones.
An ethernet port lets you connect your laptop to a wired Local Area Network (LAN). If you don’t have an ethernet port, you’ll need to have a Wi-Fi connection that’s reliable.
Ethernet ports are great to have as a back-up, particularly if you use your laptop for work in an open office.
MicroSD / SD card reader
An SD or Micro SD card reader lets you insert a memory card directly into your laptop in order to retrieve the files on it or store new files on it, without having to use a memory card reader first.
A PS/2 port can be used to connect peripherals to a laptop, such as a mouse or a keyboard, however they’re often replaced with USBs in modern tech.
Serial ports can be used to connect peripherals to your laptop, when there’s no other suitable port, such as a USB or PS/2 available. Serial ports are a less common feature on modern tech.
Parallel ports are used to connect printers to computers – however, they’ve been widely replaced by USB ports.
RCA connectors are used to connect audio devices, particularly speakers and turntables, although have widely been replaced for use with laptops by HDMI cables.
A Firewire port is similar to a USB but can be faster. It was created by Apple and can be used to connect peripherals to your laptop. A Firewire port can achieve transfer speeds of up to 480Mbps, which makes it really beneficial if you need to connect devices like camcorders.
How to choose the ports you need
Most laptops will come with at least the following ports as standard:
- Headphone socket
The ports above are incredibly handy if you’re after a laptop for general use. However, if you’ll be using your device in an office, or on a daily basis, you might want to consider incorporating the below into your requirements:
- Additional USB ports
- An ethernet port
- A VGA port for connecting a second screen
- An SD card slot – ideal for importing photos
If you’re looking for further functionality still, you’d perhaps like to consider the below ports in addition to those above, particularly for gaming:
- An audio jack for a microphone input
- Multiple USBs and a USB-C port
- A Thunderbolt port or Thunderbolt-compatible port can also help when connecting to Apple computers
- A DisplayPort for adding multiple screens and audio sources
While essential, connectivity is just one area you should research when considering a new laptop. If you want to find out more about what you might need in your next piece of tech, take a look at our comprehensive laptop guide. You’ll find handy information on the areas it’s important to explore, as well as the option to browse for a laptop by certain requirements.