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Your Computer’s Cords and Ports: A Guide from TechnicalRS

Nowadays, computer connections can sometimes be less straightforward than keyboard, mouse, and monitor. With differing standards for different peripherals, ports, and cables, it can sometimes be hard to know what does what when looking at the back of your computer. To help make things a little more clear, the TechnicalRS team has put together a handy reference of common cables and ports on your computer, what they do, and how you can take some first steps in troubleshooting computer issues related to these ports. 


HDMI Cables 

HDMI (or High Definition Multimedia Interface) cables are among the most common video cables you'll find in 2023. Capable of carrying both high-definition video (up to 8K in some cases) as well as multi-channel audio, HDMI cables are prevalent when it comes to televisions, video game consoles, and computers alike. A standard HDMI cable looks exactly the same on both ends, so there's no need to worry about plugging it in the wrong way.

Common Troubleshooting Tips:
If you find your computer is not displaying a video signal from your HDMI port, try some of these quick troubleshooting tips. These will help you to identify whether the problem you're experiencing resides within the cable, the computer, or the monitor you're using.
  • Unplug the HDMI cable from the computer and monitor and plug it back in.
  • Try replacing the HDMI cable with one that is known to work on a different device.
  • If your computer has a different video output that is compatible with a different video input on your monitor, try using that instead of HDMI. 

DisplayPort Cables

DisplayPort is a connection standard that is less common, but is growing in popularity due to its improved capabilities over HDMI. With DisplayPort, you can use a single video output to daisy chain several screen inputs together, stream at up to 16K resolution, and push video signals to monitors at a much higher refresh rate than is possible with HDMI. These improvements are especially useful for high-definition video, graphics work, and gaming. DisplayPort comes in two sizes: Standard and Mini DisplayPort. Macintosh users might be more familiar with this video standard, as some Apple displays only support DisplayPort with no HDMI ports at all. 

Common Troubleshooting Tips:
  • If your video signal appears to be flashing or flickering, your DisplayPort cable may be loose. Ensure the cable is fully inserted into the port. You may even consider purchasing a DisplayPort cable with a latch which locks the cable in place.
  • Ensure your monitor is using the correct input. If your monitor has multiple inputs but lacks auto-detection, you may have to switch the input to DisplayPort over the more common HDMI. 

VGA Cables

While VGA (or Video Graphics Array) inputs are largely a thing of the past for new machines, you may find these recognizable, blue-ended cables when interacting with older monitors, computers, point-of-sale devices, and other legacy technology. You can recognize these cables and ports by their multi-pin connections, screws on either side, and often blue coloring (note: not all VGA cables will be blue). 

Common Troubleshooting Tips:
  • VGA, unlike DisplayPort or HDMI, carries an analog signal to your monitor. While a degraded digital cable will likely not work at all, a damaged VGA cable could show a garbled or incorrectly colored image. Try replacing the cable itself.
  • If you see video that appears to be "missing" certain colors or is tinted one color or another, your cable may be kinked, or a pin might be bent. Check the pins on the cable once you've fully unplugged it and ensure that there are no harsh bends in the cable. Once the damage is done, though, it will be essential to replace.
  • On some computers, you may see two VGA ports: one attached to the mother board and one attached to a dedicated graphics card. If one signal isn't working, see if plugging the VGA cable into the other output works – if so, you may need to replace your graphics card, not your cable.

DVI Cables

DVI (or Digital Video Interface) cables were an intermediary standard between VGA and HDMI which supported digital, high-resolution video but also supported an analog signal. DVI is far less common nowadays, but uses the same encoding scheme as HDMI, meaning that a computer that uses it is still perfectly capable of using high-definition displays. 

Common Troubleshooting Tips:
  • Ensure a tight connection. Most DVI cables come with screws on the side of the connection similar to VGA – ensure the cable is connected tightly and secure the screws for a trustworthy fit.
  • Don't rely on overly long cables. Long cables can result in signal degradation which could affect the computer's ability to detect a monitor or send a good signal. If your computer's only 4 feet away from the monitor, there's no need for a 15 foot cable. 

Universal Cables

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) has been adapted, iterated, and improved over the course of nearly 30 years to support an incredibly wide variety of peripherals including data storage, audio/visual, charging, and more. There are a few different types of USB outputs and inputs to look out for: 


This is likely the first thing you think of when you hear "USB." This square cable, often with two square openings on one side, is still a widely recognized standard for USB connectors. Looking straight into the wide opening of the cable, the black or white plastic piece generally denotes the cable is a USB 2.0 cable. A blue plastic piece generally means the cable supports USB 3.0, a high-speed USB revision that supports features like fast charging, high-speed data transfers, and more. In the vast majority of cases, a USB cable will have the USB-A or USB-C connector on one end, and then a different connector for its intended device on the other side. 


USB-B connectors are chunkier than their USB-A counterparts and have historically been primarily used for heavier-duty peripherals such as printers or scanners. These cables can also be found in dedicated external hard drives and other devices.


USB-C is becoming more and more widely accepted as the new standard for USB connections. In addition to being smaller and easier to integrate into handheld devices such as cell phones, handheld game consoles and more, the USB-C connector comes with a much-needed quality-of-life feature: it is impossible to insert it the wrong way around. It is extremely common to see USB-C cables with USB-C connectors on both sides due to the versatility of the ports. While most modern PCs come with at least one USB-C port, Macintosh laptops have been using them as the only port on the computer for the past few years due to the fact that USB-C can handle charging and data transfers. 

USB Mini

These trapezoidal connectors used to be much more common in the early 2000s. Boasting the distinct advantage of being one of the first connectors to support simultaneous charging and data transfers, these connectors made their way into cameras, MP3 players, and other smaller devices. They aren't able to transfer nearly the amount of power a USB-C cable can provide but are suitable for devices with smaller batteries. 

USB Micro

These connectors were an evolution of the technological strides that came with USB Mini. Developed as part of a means of standardizing the Android phone data/power connector, these connectors became popular due to their small size and convenience. Nowadays, these cables are falling to the wayside to make way for USB-C, but they are still relatively common. 

Troubleshooting Your USB Cables

My USB Cable Won't Charge/My Data Transfer Rate is Slow Not all USB cables are made alike. Some are capable only of transferring data, while others are made only for charging. Ensure you're using a cable rated for a fast rate of charge or for a high data-transfer rate, depending on your intended usage of the cable.
My Cable Keeps Losing Connection This can often be caused by a loose or fault cable. Ensure your cable is plugged in and that the cable isn't able to wiggle in its port. Check for frays or kinks in the cable, and if those don't seem to be the problem, try using a spare cable to see if it may be the port that's damaged.
My Cable is Bent/DamagedGenerally, standard USB cables are inexpensive to replace and are not worth the cost or time of repair. Drop your damaged cables off at a technology recycling center and purchase robust cables that will resist wear and tear.

Networking Cables

Networking cables are unique in this list because while the overall shape and size of networking cables remain the same between generations, their capabilities change drastically. For this reason, it's important to know what type of networking cables are used within your network so that you can be certain you're able to take advantage of the full speed of your network.

Ethernet cables look similar to an old telephone cable with the exception of the cable and connector being much larger. The standard RJ-45 connector on an ethernet cable is most commonly clear plastic with a prong which allows the user to operate a latch that helps keep the cable in place. 

Troubleshooting Networking Cables:
  • For slow connections, ensure that your cable is securely attached to your computer, router, and modem.
  • It's important to know that different categories of ethernet cable support different networking speeds. Speak to your IT specialist for recommendations on the best cable for your networking setup.
  • Try restarting your computer – a bogged down computer might be unable to process incoming data as fast as it's able to come in.
  • Work with your IT team to restart your network. 
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