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

Showing Their Age

A number of connectors still show up in a few systems, even though they’re rarely used by most home PC users. Some of these are more useful for businesses, which may need them to support older hardware still used to help run some applications.

PS/2 mouse or keyboard connector.
PS/2 mouse or keyboard connector.

The most common of these older connectors is the PS/2 mouse and keyboard connector. Most motherboards that include PS/2 connectors offer two of them, though we’ve seen quite a few lately with just one, as this in this photo. Businesses that still have a lot of older keyboards or mice may still require it. I recently encountered an actual PS/2 mouse with a mechanical ball instead of an optical sensor at one small business.

FireWire (IEEEE 1394) port.
FireWire (IEEEE 1394) port.

FireWire, or IEEE 1394, is also still fairly common, though rarer on the newest motherboards. It’s useful if you have older camcorders or pro audio gear.

Parallel printer port.
Parallel printer port.

The parallel printer port is still occasionally found, even on some newer boards. Few printers really need it any longer, but a number of legacy devices in some businesses--devices like point-of-sale hardware--still use parallel ports.

Nine-pin serial port.
Nine-pin serial port.

The nine-pin serial port is almost impossible to find any longer; this picture is from an old Pentium 4-based motherboard. Despite that scarcity, a number of laboratory instruments, point-of-sale devices, and other hardware in some businesses require serial connections. In fact, you’ll find serial-port pinouts available on many recent-generation motherboards, but no way to actually connect them. You can buy PCI bracket adapters with serial ports that plug into these motherboard connectors, and a few boards do ship with those adapters.

Future Connections

We haven’t shown some connections you’ll likely see in PCs this coming year, or may already exist on some Apple Mac OS systems. One example is Thunderbolt, the new high-speed serial interface that has appeared on some Apple systems. It’s likely that we’ll see Thunderbolt ports on upcoming Ivy Bridge-based systems running Windows later this year.

The good news is that the variety of ports needed on the back of PCs will likely decrease over time. Even systems supporting integrated graphics may have only a DisplayPort and an HDMI connector in the next year or two. Those systems will also likely have a Thunderbolt port, a number of SuperSpeed USB ports, and audio and networking ports. Simplification in connectivity options is a good thing, since back-panel real estate on a PC is getting scarce, particularly on compact PCs.

So what type of oddball connector is on the back of your system? Drop by and tell us what’s on the back of your PC that we haven’t mentioned.

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