Multiple Ports on Your PC: What Do They Do for You?

eSATA: Redundant, but Useful

High-speed external storage is critical for archiving and editing of digital video and raw digital photographs. You’d think USB 3.0 would fill that gap, but sometimes you need a little more performance.

sSATA (external Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) port.
sSATA (external Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) port.

Enter eSATA or external SATA. The latest eSATA connections can handle 6gbps SATA drives and connections, which is a little faster than USB 3.0. A variety of external SATA enclosures exist that support various RAID formats if you’re looking for redundant storage.

Networking Connections

The most obvious networking connection on desktop PCs is the ubiquitous ethernet jack.

Gigabit ethernet port.
Gigabit ethernet port.

Gigabit ethernet is built into most systems today, and if you have a wired house, there’s currently no faster network connection available, though that may change if 802.11ac wireless networking becomes a reality.

Bluetooth wirreless connectors.
Bluetooth wirreless connectors.

Some motherboards support wireless connectivity. Those that do now ship with 802.11n Wi-Fi on board, which does allow for throughput up to 600 megabits per second. And you can even occasionally find Bluetooth on board, as this image indicates. This allows easier integration with Bluetooth-capable devices, such as smartphones.

The Sound and the Fury: Audio Connections

In the old days, sound cards handled audio output and input chores for the PC. Today’s PCs have built-in audio, and may include several different audio connection types.

Analog minijacks.
Analog minijacks.

The most commonly used audio connections are the analog minijacks on the back of the PC. If you’re one of those rare folk with a multichannel PC speaker setup, you’ll use three or four output connections--typically green, black, orange, and gray--to your speaker setup for multichannel audio. The pink one is the microphone input and the blue jack is the line input.

Toslink SPDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) connector.
Toslink SPDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) connector.

However, analog audio isn’t the only game in town. Some PCs also have digital audio outputs. The most common digital audio connector is the Toslink SPDIF output. Toslink is an optical connection using thin fiberoptic cabling originally developed by Toshiba (the “Tos” in Toslink.) SPDIF is more properly written S/PDIF, and stands for “Sony/Philips Digital Interface.” SPDIF is a signal level layer that can work with Toslink or copper as needed. It’s got enough bandwidth for uncompressed stereo, but compression is needed to support multichannel audio.

Other digital audio connections are also possible. Some USB-equipped devices, like headsets, can handle digital audio over USB. HDMI outputs and DisplayPort 1.2 can transport audio streams as well.

Next: Display Connectors

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