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Computer Hardware Ports: What They Are and What They Do

Roger from Karachi, Pakistan writes:

What are ports? Why do we need them and what do they do?

It’s likely that you’ve heard the term ‘port’ used in reference to computers, but you may now know exactly what a port is or how it is used. You may also be wondering if you actually need ports on your computer. The answer to that question is undoubtedly yes. Your computer’s ports allow you to plug various cables and pieces of equipment into your computer. They’re the holes in various shapes you see on the back, sides or front of your computer or laptop.

Types of Ports

The first thing you’ll realize when you look at the ports on your computer is that they are not all the same size and shape. This is because there are several types of ports. The most commonly used port on any computer is the USB port. It’s a thin, rectangular port that has a white or black piece inside. Computers typically have three or more USB ports since so many devices plug into them. Gadgets that utilize the USB port include keyboards, mice, flash drives and mobile phones.

Another common port found on most computers is the VGA port. This port is D-shaped and has 15 holes arranged in three rows. This port allows users to plug a monitor into the computer. Although not necessary for laptop users, anyone using a tower-style computer needs a monitor to use the computer.

There are quite a few other types of ports that can be found on computers, including FireWire, HDMI and Ethernet. You’ll want to make sure you have a compatible port for all devices you plan to plug into your computer. Any time you’re shopping for computers or peripheral devices (devices that plug into your computer), make sure you check to see if you’ve got the right types of ports.

Why You Need Ports

Computer ports are essential for all computers. Many devices will not work if they aren’t connected to your computer via some type of port. While there are several types of technology that allow devices to interact with your computer wirelessly, including WiFi and Bluetooth, certain things must be done via a direct cable connection. One example of this is charging your iPod or smart phone. You can transfer files wirelessly using Bluetooth, but you must connect the device via a cord to charge it.

Many computers these days come with wireless networking cards built in. A wireless network card allows you to connect to a computer network as well as the Internet without plugging anything into your computer. You may be wondering why these same computers also have an Ethernet port, which is the port needed to connect to a computer network via an Ethernet cable. There are two main reasons to make sure your computer has an Ethernet port as well as a wireless card. First, in the event your wireless card fails, you’ll want a backup way to connect to your network and the Internet.

If you return home one day to find out you have no Internet connectivity, you’ll need to troubleshoot your equipment to find out which component isn’t working properly. Most Internet service providers will ask you to connect your computer directly to your modem with an Ethernet cable so they can help you determine if it’s the wireless connection or the Internet connection that isn’t working.

Certain types of ports are standard on all computers, while others, including older port types and newer high-tech ports, may not be. Before purchasing a new computer or any other devices, make sure you’ve got ports to accommodate the  various devices you plan to use with your computer.

As you can see, ports for vital to your computer to work in the way you’d like it to. You would be very limited without them!

~ Chad Stetson