Types of Computer Cables and Connections – Computer Cable Guide

To a layman, there are just way too many computer cables to keep track of without getting just a little bit confused. The fact that they all have acronyms makes it even more overwhelming. Which cable do you need? Is it SATA or IDE? Is your USB cable Type A, B, or C, and what do they all do? What about your DisplayPort – is it the same thing as the Thunderbolt?

In the end, the best you can do is try to memorize as many of them as you can. That exercise can be futile unless you take the time to learn what all these cables do and why they are important. So here is a computer cable guide that will give you some insight into the cables that help power and operate your computer.

How Many Types of Computer Cables Are There?

There are two main types of computer cables:

  • Data Cables: These facilitate communication between devices. A good example would be the HDMI, DVI, or VGA cables that connect to your computer monitor or TV. There are a bunch of other data cables, such as USB cables, SATA, CAT5, and so on.
  • Power Cables: As the name suggests, these are any cables that help to power your devices. These include everything from the code that plugs into the wall to specific cables such as S/PDIF that is used with surround sound and DVDs.

Common Types of Computer Cables and Connections

dvi port image

Let’s start with the most common types of computer cables and connections:

The Computer Power Cord

The most basic of cables. This is also known as a “kettle plug” and connects your computer to the AC power socket. Without this cord, your computer, unless it is solar-powered, won’t come on.

USB (Universal Serial Bus)

This is probably the most common type of computer connector cables on the planet. Nearly every computer peripheral device you can think of today has USB connectivity. From keyboards to mice, flash drives, headsets, wireless adapters, and so on.

There are many different types of USB cables starting from USB 1.0 to USB 3.0 and even USB 4.x. The difference between these USBs is the speed at which they can transmit data. USB 1.0 transmits data at 1.5 MB/s while USB 3.0 transmits data at 625 MB/s. They get faster with USB 4.x transmitting data at blistering speeds of 5 GB/s.

USB 2.0 ports have black tips, and USB 3.0 ports have blue tips with USB 3.0s being backward compatible (can make the connection between USB 2.0 devices and USB 3.0 ports albeit at lowered speeds).

VGA (Video Graphics Array) and DVI (Digital Visual Interface) Cables

The VGA cable is also known as the analog video cable or D-sub cable. This helps to transmit media from your computer to a VGA enabled projection devices such as a monitor or TV. VGAs have 15 pins arranged in three rows of 5 each.

DVI cables came as an improvement of VGA cables when display devices moved from analog to digital video technology.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) Cables

HDMI cables pretty much wiped out the VGAs and DVIs of the world. With the capability to send both video and audio signals (unlike VGA and DVI that send only video), these cables are only compatible with newer devices because they only send digital signals.

hdmi cable image

They come in five different types from Type A (19 pins), Type B (29 pins), Type C Mini (19 pins and is mostly used with portable devices such as digital cameras), Type D Micro (19 pins used for mobile devices such as phones) and Type E which is much larger and used for automotive purposes.


A DisplayPort is very much like an HDMI cable and was designed to replace VGA and DVI. This cable also transmits both video and audio in digital format.


You probably have one of these on you right now. Thunderbolt cables carry data and video from an external device to your computer. These are most common with Apple devices.

Ethernet Cable

Commonly referred to as RJ-45 cable, these are cables designed to connect your computer to the router or network switch. Before there was Wi-Fi, these were the cables that you need to connect to your computer to get the internet. Now they connect to your wireless router.

IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics)

This is an “ancient” cable that used to connect the storage devices to your computer’s motherboard. If you ever opened up an old computer, you will notice a ribbon-looking cable that has more than two plugs.

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment)

SATA is to IDE what HDMI is to VGA. Newer computers use SATA ports. These cables have higher data transfer speeds. A SATA cable has more of an L-shape and can be identified by two connectors that each has seven pins.

sata cable image

There are also other lesser cables, such as the 3.5mm audio cable, also known as audio jacks that can connect to your computer and an audio device such as a microphone or speakers. These are the kind of cables that your wired headphones use to connect to your phone.

The thing about these cables is that, like almost everything else, they evolve with the times. Faster, better, and smarter cables are replacing older ones. A good example is the VGA to HDMI transformation and the IDE to the SATA shift. Within these types of cables, there are ranks often designated with ascending numbers with USB 3.0 being faster than USB 2.0 and such.