Let’s remember some cables

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Image: Gizmodo / Shutterstock (Shutterstock)

Gizmodo turns 20! To celebrate the anniversary, we are looking back in some of the most significant ways our lives have been disrupted by our digital tools.

Take a look at your laptop and you might see a single USB-C cable. The industry is consolidating into a universal interface used for data transfer, visualization, power delivery and more. It wasn’t always like that. Dozens of connectors and standards have come and gone over the past few decades, leaving behind a jumbled mess of cables and accompanying a passion for old devices that now only exist in our memories. On the occasion of Gizmodo’s 20th anniversary, we download our bag of cables in remembrance of those who have come and gone.

Audio jack

3.5mm headphone jack

3.5mm headphone jack
Image: Phillip Tracy / Gizmodo

Descending from a connector that originated in the 19th century, the 3.5mm jack is the most popular audio connector in consumer electronics, although it faces extinction on traditional portable devices. The beloved audio jack is a small and simple interface that provides stereo audio and microphone functionality for connecting to headphones, speakers and smartphones. Other portable devices are removing the headphone jack for a wireless connection.

Ethernet (RJ45)

Ethernet

Ethernet port
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

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Creating a path to the Internet, Ethernet was first created in the 1970s by Xerox and would become the leading LAN (local area network) technology. Ethernet connectors are most commonly found on gaming and business laptops, desktops, printers, security systems, and networking devices. Wired connections ensure stable internet connections versus patchy and unreliable Wi-Fi. Modern Ethernet supports Gigabit speeds, and the latest standard reaches 10 gigabits per second.

DVI

DVI

DVI
Photo: Evan-Amos / Creative Commons

Before HDMI and DisplayPort, there was DVI. The successor to VGA, DVI was a video connection for computers or computer monitors. There were different pin arrangements depending on whether the cable carried a digital (DVI-D) or analog (DVI-A) signal or both (DVI-I, for integrated). Dual-link was supported in the DVI specification to enable a resolution of 2560×1600 at 60Hz.

FireWire (IEEE 1394)

FireWire

FireWire
Photo: Edu-im / Creative Commons

Similar to USB in that it supports data transfer, FireWire has been used to connect peripherals, such as digital cameras and hard drives, to computers. Created by Apple, IBM and Sony, the interface was at one point faster and more versatile than USB and would eventually make it to Macs. Apple condemned the connector when it charged a usage fee, a decision that would kill it. standard, which has been replaced by the company with Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.

High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI)

HDMI

HDMI
Photo: Alex Cranz / Gizmodo

Found primarily on TVs and monitors, HDMI 1.0 was introduced in 2002 as an enhancement to DVI. It provided standard and 1080p video along with 8-bit color and a multi-channel audio interface. Transfer rates for the first standard hit 5 Gbps while HDMI 1.4 enabled 4K for the first time. The latest HDMI 2.1 standard supports resolution up to 10K at 120Hz along with improvements to HDR. HDMI replaced component audio / video (red, green, blue) and composite video (red, white, yellow).

DisplayPort

DisplayPort

DisplayPort
Photo: Alex Cranz / Gizmodo

Another video input, DisplayPort arrived in 2007 to replace VGA and DVI, and sported a maximum bandwidth of 10.8 Gbit / s (8.64 Gbit / s of data). Three years later, speeds increased to 17.28 Gbit / s. The latest standard reaches 80.00 Gbit / s for 16K video support with HDR at 60Hz. HDMI is more commonly used on televisions while DisplayPort is often found on monitors.

Mini DisplayPort

Mini DisplayPort

Apple announced Mini DisplayPort in 2008 and would eventually discontinue Mini-DVI and micro-DVI in favor of the smaller, faster connector. By 2013, every Apple product was using the standard, and adoption extended to competitors Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and others. The first version supported 2560 x 1600 at 60Hz while the newest one reached 4K at 60Hz with DisplayPort 1.2. Thunderbolt has almost replaced Mini DisplayPort.

USB type A

USB type A

USB type A
Photo: Phillip Tracy / Gizmodo

The port that never seems to die, the USB Type-A connector has been used to power peripherals, be it a mouse, keyboard, printer, controller, or other random device, ever since Intel introduced the standard in 1998. At that point, the maximum data rate was set to 12 Mbps. Today, the maximum speeds from USB-A are 10 Gbps over USB 3.1.

USB type B

USB type B

USB-B
Photo: Blachkovsky (Shutterstock)

This square connector with rounded corners is mainly found on printers and scanners. Each USB version besides the latest USB4 (USB-C only) supports the connector. They are less commonly used for optical drivers, floppy drives, and hard drives. Since it’s an upstream-only connector, Type-B (and the mini version) is usually mated at the other end with USB Type-A.

micro USB

micro USB

micro USB
Photo: Phillip Tracy / Gizmodo

A miniature version of USB, micro USB was the pre-eminent connector for non-Apple smartphones in the late 2000s and early 2010s. It became popular due to its versatility and extremely compact size. The micro USB connector, like the larger variant, can charge and power devices or transfer data. It has been replaced by USB-C, which allows for higher speeds and supports a reversible connector. There was a mini USB variant found on mp3 players, digital cameras, and cell phones, but it lost popularity once the micro USB came along.

USB Type-C

USB Type-C

USB Type-C
Photo: Phillip Tracy / Gizmodo

Quickly becoming the most popular connector in modern consumer gadgets, USB-C is smaller and faster than USB Type A and can transmit data, power and display simultaneously on a single cable. There are various specifications and standards, and while those complicated differences have threatened to hinder the adoption of USB-C, the connector has proven itself as the replacement for various other interfaces. Thunderbolt 3 and 4, developed by Intel and Apple, use the USB-C connector for 40 Gbit / s (5 GB / s) bandwidth, power and drive multiple high-resolution monitors.

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