Getting to Know Your PC – Part 2

Labeled Diagram of Common Computer PortsIn this second part about getting to know your computer, we will be covering what the back of your computer may look like, including some of the most common ports you may see on your own computer, and what goes into those ports. So, let's get started! The first one's easy: the Serial Port. the majority of home computer users will never have to worry about them. It used to be for barcode scanners, GPS devices, and other gadgets and gizmos, but more and more of these are being handled by USB (more on that later). The Monitor Port (or VGA port, if you prefer), is where most monitors have been connected for years, but it is becoming more and more common to see DVI Ports, like the ones pictured at right. The main difference between the two is that DVI Ports support full 1080p HD displays, and a VGA Port does not. Many newer monitors come equipped with the ability to plug into either VGA or DVI, although sometimes older monitors can only connect to one or the other. If you have a DVI input and only have a VGA cable, you can buy a DVI to VGA adapter here. It is also worth mentioning that some of the newest computers are incorporating HDMI output (just like your average HD Cable Television box) but, although these exist, they're not the standard, and will (almost) always have either a VGA or DVI port as well. The ridiculously large port on the right (in stylish magenta), is an older printer port (also called an LPT or parallel port). If you have an older, or sometimes highly specialized, printer, you may see a similar port to use to connect with your computer. However, generally speaking, most printers made in the last 5 years or so connect either through USB or wirelessly (more on this in the next post in the Getting to Know Your PC series). The pretty purple port is used to connect a PS/2 keyboard. As with printers, it is increasingly the case that keyboards are connected through USB. The same goes for the teal-colored Mouse port to the right of the Keyboard port. By the way, wireless keyboards and mice still must plug into the computer somehow, either through PS/2 or USB. The mouse or keyboard sends signals wirelessly to the little receiver you plug into your computer. The proper receiver for your keyboard or mouse will come in the package along with your product.
wireless mouse with small USB receiver

See? Tiny.

They are usually packaged to the side and are becoming increasingly smaller as time goes by, making them very easy to lose if you're not careful. The two ports labeled "Surround Sound" are for center (gold) and rear (black) speakers. The center speakers are the middle (or tweeter) and subwoofer. Rear speakers are the left and right speakers that go behind the listener in a surround sound setup. As mentioned in the previous post, there may also be a grey port. If so, that would be for the side speakers (extreme right and left). The pink port is for a mono-microphone (not stereo input, just a regular microphone). The green port is for left and right speakers directly in front of the listener (if you only have 2 or 3 speakers, they plug in here). The blue port will likely never be used by the average computer user, but it is for stereo input (as opposed to mono, like a microphone).

USB 3.0, recently released, is roughly 10 times faster than more common USB 2.0, but not widely supported yet.

USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports are becoming more and more popular as input methods, mostly because they are very fast at transferring data, and are also capable of transferring power (like with a USB phone charger, also increasingly popular). It's not uncommon these days for a run-of-the-mill computer to have ten or more USB ports. Examples of things that might plug into your USB ports are keyboards, mice, webcams, sometimes microphones, cell phones, wireless network devices, and even monitors on occasion. The last port listed above is an Ethernet Port, which is most commonly used to connect a computer to a home network and, subsequently (and most commonly) the internet. It connects to Ethernet cable, which looks like a telephone cable, only wider. You can also connect to a network (and the internet) wirelessly, but your computer needs to have either an internal or external wireless adapter.  

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  1. [...] almost unheard of for home-use printers (for information about parallel ports, see my post on Getting to Know Your PC – Part 2). Nowadays it’s pretty much either USB or wired/wirelessly networked (if you forgot what USB [...]

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