The Best Ways to Determine Which Type of Cable You Need

Our modern society uses more devices than ever for both work and play. While many of those gadgets are wireless, many still are not. Televisions, monitors, external hard drives, charging stations and much more require cables that facilitate communication and perhaps even provide power. With that in mind, let’s explore the basics of as well as some handy tips for determining the cable you need.

Check the Owner’s Manual

If you have the owner’s manual for your device, check there. The manual should have a diagram of the back panel and all connections. Pay attention to any notes since it is possible that a device requires a particular standard even if that standard has become deprecated.

Check Online Resources

If you don’t have access to the manual or the documentation seems outdated or incorrect, check online. If the manufacturer is still in business and the product still active, you should be able to download a digital copy of the manual. If not, don’t fret. There are a number of resources online that archive documentation like this, and a little Google should lead you to them.

Match the Connection Port

Worst case, snap a picture of the port with your phone. Use that photo to match it against the connection types you find online. There are also enthusiast forums online where someone should be able to determine the connection based on the model and/or your image.

Choosing One Option Over Another

Many modern peripherals support more than one connection type. Many monitors, for instance, offer HDMI and DisplayPort and even legacy connections like DVI and VGA. Select a cable based on compatibility first and performance second. In this example, HDMI and DisplayPort are the superior options for many reasons. HDMI is more prevalent and therefore potentially more convenient, but DisplayPort allows for 4K resolutions and beyond as well as higher refresh rates and better support for multiple monitors. Even if you don’t need these features now, choosing the technologically superior connection type makes your setup more future-proof.

Matching Standards

Connection standards tend to evolve over time. The Universal Serial Bus standard 1.0 was introduced in 1996 but was superseded by USB 2.0 in 2000. Along came USB 3.0 in 2008 as well as several revisions and updates since. Connection ports tend to be backward-compatible. A USB 2.0 cable will, for instance, work when connected to a USB 3.0 port, but it won’t allow the connected device to take full advantage of the port in terms of data speeds, power draw and so forth. As a general rule, choose your cable based on the device being connected, and choosing the newest standard available is usually a fine option.

Choosing Quality and Features

Some HDMI cables cost about five bucks while other seemingly similar options cost 50 or more. That can cause a lot of confusion among non-enthusiast consumers. Standards are standards, and a cable certified for a particular standard will work as well as another. You may opt to pay for quality control, but keep in mind that digital connections tend to be pass/fail, so bad eggs are easy to identify. A particular cable strength or wrapping may be worthwhile depending on your needs, but gold plating and the like generally aren’t worth the investment.

Digital vs. Analog

As mentioned, digital cables, such as HDMI, generally work or they don’t. The signal is either complete or there is no signal. The same can’t be said for analog connections. Analog connections are becoming increasingly rare, but many still use them for audio. It’s important to note that analog signals can degrade, and that makes higher-quality cables a worthwhile investment in these scenarios.

The Adapter Option

When working with older devices, you may encounter connections that are outmoded. Parallel ports, for instance, were once a pervasive computer connection and are now rarely seen beyond niche legacy support. Some of the earliest external hard drives, such as the Zip drive, used them. If you wanted to connect a Zip drive to a newer computer, one option would be a parallel-to-USB adapter cable. You’ll find adapter cables and computer cards for a wide range of legacy connections.

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