Let’s remember some cables

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picture: Gizmo/Shutterstock (Shutterstock)

Gizmodo is 20 years old! To celebrate the anniversary, we are reviewing In some of the most important ways, our lives are thrown in a loop by our digital tools.

Take a look at your laptop and you might see a USB-C cable. The industry is integrating common interfaces for data transfer, display, power supply, and more. Not always. Dozens of connectors and standards have come and gone over the past few decades, leaving a clutter of wires and an accompanying fondness for older devices that only exist in our memory now. On the occasion of Gizmodo’s 20th anniversary, we dumped our cable bag in honor of those who came and went.

audio jack

Headphone jack 3.5mm

Headphone jack 3.5mm
picture: Philip Tracy/Gizmodo

Originating as a connector in the 19th century, the 3.5mm jack is the most ubiquitous audio connector in consumer electronics, although it faces extinction on mainstream portable devices. The much-loved audio jack is a small, simple interface that provides stereo and microphone functionality for connecting headphones, speakers, and smartphones. More portable devices are removing headphone jacks for wireless connectivity.

Ethernet (RJ45)

Ethernet

Ethernet port
photo: Florence Ion/Gizmo

Ethernet created a path to the Internet, originally created by Xerox in the 1970s, and would become the preeminent LAN (local area network) technology. Ethernet connectors are most commonly found in gaming and business laptops, desktops, printers, security systems, and networking equipment. A hard-wired connection ensures a stable internet connection compared to spotty, unreliable Wi-Fi. Modern Ethernet supports gigabit speeds, with the latest standards reaching 10 gigabits per second.

DVI

DVI

DVI
photo: Evan Amos/Creative Commons

Before HDMI and DisplayPort, there was DVI. VGA’s successor, DVI, is a video connection for computers or computer monitors. There are different pinouts depending on whether the cable carries digital (DVI-D) or analog (DVI-A) signals or both (DVI-I, for integration). The DVI specification supports dual link to achieve 2560 × 1600 resolution at 60 Hz.

FireWire (IEEE 1394)

FireWire

FireWire
photo: Educational Messaging/Creative Sharing

Similar to USB, which supports data transfer, FireWire is used to connect peripherals, such as digital cameras and hard drives, to a computer. Created by Apple, IBM, and Sony, the interface was once faster and more versatile than USB, and eventually made its way to the Mac. Apple was doomed to use connectors when charging royalties, a decision that would kill the standard, which the company replaced with Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.

High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI)

HDMI

HDMI
photo: Alex Kranz/Gizmodo

Mainly used in TVs and monitors, HDMI 1.0 was introduced in 2002 as an enhancement to DVI. It offers standard and 1080p video as well as 8-bit color and multi-channel audio interfaces. The first standard achieved transfer rates of 5 Gbps, while HDMI 1.4 enabled 4K for the first time. The latest HDMI 2.1 standard supports resolutions up to 10K at 120Hz and improvements to HDR. HDMI replaces component audio/video (red, green, blue) and composite video (red, white, yellow).

display port

display port

display port
photo: Alex Kranz/Gizmodo

Another video input, DisplayPort, came out in 2007 as a replacement for VGA and DVI and advertised a maximum bandwidth of 10.8 Gbit/s (8.64 Gbit/s data). Three years later, the speed increased to 17.28 Gbit/s. The latest standard reaches 80.00 Gbit/s, supports 16K video, and HDR is 60Hz. HDMI is more commonly used for TVs, while DisplayPort is more commonly used for monitors.

Mini DisplayPort

Mini DisplayPort

Apple released Mini DisplayPort in 2008 and will eventually discontinue Mini-DVI and micro-DVI in favor of smaller, faster connectors. By 2013, every Apple product used the standard, and it expanded to rivals Dell, Lenovo, Asus and others. The first version supports 2560 x 1600 at 60Hz, while the latest version reaches 4K at 60Hz via DisplayPort 1.2. Thunderbolt has all but replaced Mini DisplayPort.

USB Type-A

USB Type-A

USB Type-A
photo: Philip Tracy/Gizmodo

Since Intel introduced the standard in 1998, the USB Type-A connector seems to never go away, and it has been used to power peripherals (mouse, keyboard, printer, controller, or whatever else comes with it). At the time, the maximum data speed was set at 12 Mbps. Today, the maximum speed of USB-A reaches 10Gbps over USB 3.1.

USB Type B

USB Type B

USB-B
photo: Blachkovski (Shutterstock)

This square connector with beveled corners is mainly used in printers and scanners. This connector is supported on every USB version except the latest USB4 (USB-C only). They are less commonly used in optical drives, floppy drives, and hard drives. Because it’s an upstream-only connector, Type-B (and mini) are usually paired with USB Type-A on the other end.

micro usb

micro usb

micro usb
photo: Philip Tracy/Gizmodo

Micro USB was the preeminent connector for non-Apple smartphones of the late 2000s and early 2010s. It is popular for its versatility and extremely compact size. Like the larger variant, the micro-USB connector can charge and power the device or transfer data. It has been replaced by USB-C, which allows for faster speeds and supports reversible connectors. A mini USB variant was found on mp3 players, digital cameras, and cell phones, but once micro USB came along, it fell out of fashion.

USB Type-C

USB Type-C

USB Type-C
photo: Philip Tracy/Gizmodo

USB-C is quickly becoming the most ubiquitous connector in modern consumer electronics, smaller and faster than USB Type-A, and can transmit data, power and display simultaneously over a single cable. There are various specifications and standards, and while these complex differences may hinder USB-C adoption, the connector has proven itself to be a substitute for a variety of other interfaces. Developed by Intel and Apple, Thunderbolt 3 and 4 use a USB-C connector to achieve 40 Gbit/s (5 GB/s) bandwidth, power and drive multiple high-resolution displays.

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