What Are the I/O Ports on a Laptop?

What are all those ports for, anyway?

I/O ports refer to input/output ports. These are connectors on your laptop that enable you to connect to digital cameras, video cameras, televisions, external storage devices, printers, and scanners. The number and type of I/O ports will vary with the style of laptop and you will pay to have more port options.

Side of a laptop showing various connection ports


Bluetooth dongle device

 EsaRiutta / Pixabay

Bluetooth uses wireless technology over short distances (approx. 30 ft) to transfer data between devices. When looking at laptops with Bluetooth, look for models that will let you turn off your Bluetooth without having to jump through a lot of steps. As a security precaution, on older laptops, you won't want to leave Bluetooth enabled while traveling.

DVI Port

DVI cable

webandi / Pixabay

DVI stands for Digital Visual Interface and is a high-quality connection between the laptop and an external display or an older television. The biggest difficulty mobile professionals may run into with using DVI is if they have access to older TVs or monitors which do not have DVI connection capability. It's best to be prepared to use another means of connecting to an external screen or monitor.

FireWire 400 & 800 (IEEE 1394 and 1394b)

FireWire cables

Mikkel Paulson / Wikimedia Commons


FireWire ports were originally only found on Apple computers and laptops. It is a high-speed connection that is well suited for transferring video, graphics, and music. There are now external hard drives that connect by FireWire and this makes transferring information between your laptop and FireWire hard drive very quickly.

FireWire devices can be connected to each other and then one device is connected to a laptop. You can also transfer data from one FireWire device to another without needing your laptop. This can be handy with video cameras or digital cameras. Rather than lugging your laptop everywhere you can take a portable hard drive instead.

Headphone Port

Headphone cord and jack

Qimono / Pixabay


Again, the headphone jack is easy to understand. You can plug in headphones if you don't want to disturb those around you or use external speakers to share your music.

IrDA (Infrared Data Association)


 Bartosz Senderek / Wikimedia Commons

Data can be transferred using infrared light waves between laptops, your laptop, and a PDA and printers. This can be very convenient as you don't need any cables. IrDA ports transfer data at about the same speed as parallel ports and you must make sure that the devices transferring to each other are lined up and within a few feet of each other.

Memory Card Readers

Card reader with two cards

Marco Verch / Flickr

Most laptops now have built-in memory card readers but the laptops will not always be able to read/write all the types of memory cards. In those cases where there isn't a memory card reader such as the MacBook, an external memory card reader will be required.

Depending on the type of memory card, an adapter may be required to insert the memory card into your laptop. microSD can be read and written to in laptops with the use of an adapter. Most microSD cards will include an adapter. The memory card reader connects to your laptop via USB. They range in price and capabilities. D-Link and IOGear are makers of commonly found memory card readers.

Memory Cards

Memory cards

 kieutruongphoto / Pixabay

Memory cards are a way to expand the memory on your laptop and share files between devices. Memory cards can be specific to a type of gadget, such as the Sony Memory Stick used in Sony digital cameras. Other memory card formats can be used in any type of device and don't require special software.

The most common types of memory cards are Compact Flash I and II, SD, MMC, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick Pro & Pro Duos XD-Picture, Mini SD and Micro SD. Larger capacity memory cards are best if you can afford to buy them. You'll spend less time transferring data and you can do more with higher capacity memory cards.

Microphone Port

Laptop with microphone

kieutruongphoto / Pexels 

Just as the name implies, this is a port to connect a microphone which can be handy when narrating your great movie creation or a PowerPoint presentation for work. You can also use a microphone with different Instant Messaging programs and VoIP programs. The quality of input will vary with laptops and as always, you get better quality and sounds cards with higher-priced models.

Modem (RJ-11)

Network cables

 TheDigitalWay / Pixabay

The modem port enables you to connect to telephone lines for either a dial-up Internet connection or to be able to send and receive faxes. You connect a regular telephone line cord to the modem and then to an active phone jack.

Parallel/Printer Port

Printer cable

ancestors125 / Pixabay 

Some older laptops and desktop replacement laptops will still have parallel ports included. These can be used to connect to printers, scanners and to other computers in some cases. Parallel ports are a slower transfer method and in most cases have been replaced by USB and /or FireWire ports.



 byrev / Pixabay

PCMCIA stands for Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. It was one of the original methods for adding more memory to laptops. These three types of cards are all the same length but have different widths. PCMCIA cards can be used to add networking capabilities, ROM or RAM, modem capabilities or just more storage space.

Each type of card fits into a particular type of PCMCIA slot and they are not interchangeable although Type III can hold one Type III card or a combination of Type I or Type II. Table 1.3 shows the card type, thickness and the possible uses for each type of PCMCIA card. NOTE - Compact Flash cards can be used in PCMCIA ports and in order to use them you will need a PC card adapter.

RJ-45 (Ethernet)

Ethernet port

Amin / Wikimedia Commons

The RJ-45 Ethernet port enables you to connect to wired networks to share computer resources or Internet connections. Some laptop models will have 100Base-T (Fast Ethernet) ports and newer laptops have Gigabit Ethernet which has a much faster transfer rate.


S-Video connection

Evan-Amos / Wikimedia Commons 

S-Video stands for Super-Video and is another method for transferring video signals. S-Video ports are found most often on desktop replacement models and media laptops. This lets you connect your laptop to a television to view your creations on a bigger screen or transfer movies and television shows to your laptop.


Laptop USB port

Casey McLaughlin / Wikimedia Commons

USB means Universal Serial Bus. You can attach just about any kind of peripheral to your laptop with USB. USB has replaced serial and parallel ports on laptops. It provides a faster transfer rate and it is possible to connect up to 127 devices on one USB port. Lower-priced laptops generally have two USB ports and higher-priced models can have 4-6 ports.

USB devices draw their power from the USB connection and do not draw very much power so they won't drain your battery. Devices that do draw more power will come with their own AC/DC adapters. To connect with a USB plug-in the gadget and the system should recognize it. If your system doesn't already have a driver installed for that device you are prompted for the driver.

VGA Monitor Port

VGA monitor connector

Emilian Robert Vicol / Pixabay 

The VGA monitor port enables you to connect an external monitor to your laptop. You can use the external monitor on its own (handy when you have an ultraportable laptop with a 13.3" display). As monitor prices come down, many laptop owners invest in a large screen display and use their laptop with the external large display.

Laptop operating systems (Mac and Windows) support the use of multiple monitors and it easy to set up. There are also hardware solutions such as the Matrox DualHead2Go and TripleHead2Go which allow you to add either 2 or 3 external monitors to your laptop. Working with an additional monitor or two can make work much less tedious and working with multi-media much more enjoyable.


Laptop outside on grass

Goumbik / Pixabay 

Find models that have an external switch to turn Wi-Fi on and off. If you aren't working and don't need a wireless connection you do not need to have the wireless turned on. It will merely drain your battery faster and potentially leave you open to unwanted access.

Was this page helpful?