PCWorld's Giant Cable Guide

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PCWorld's Peripheral Cable Guide

From FireWire to Bluetooth, and from PATA to PS/2, we have information on all the plugs you need for your hard drives, cameras, phones, input devices, and other peripherals.

FireWire 400 (aka IEEE 1394, IEEE 1394a, or i.Link)

Use it for: Camcorders and external PC drives; also works (but is rarely used) for networking

If you have a choice, select it instead of: USB 1.1 (for PC equipment); composite or S-Video cables (for video gear)

It's similar in performance and use to: USB 2.0 (for PC equipment)

It adapts to: Four- and six-pin styles; FireWire 800, with a physical adapter, will connect at FireWire 400 speeds

Add more ports by: Installing a PCI-card upgrade; connecting a hub; daisy-chaining devices

This audio/video and general PC serial connector comes in four- and six-pin variants. The four-pin FireWire option is most often found on camcorders and some laptops, while the six-pin version is usually on midlife Apple laptops, hard disks, and many desktop PCs. Some TVs, cable boxes, and other video gear use it. The six-pin style carries power, as USB does, so external hard drives often need no other cable. FireWire 400 runs at a theoretical speed up to 400 megabits per second.

FireWire 800 (aka IEEE 1394b)

Use it for: Hard disks and other PC drives; also works (but is rarely used) for networking

If you have a choice, select it instead of: FireWire 400 or any type of USB

It's similar in performance and use to: eSATA

It adapts to: FireWire 400 connectors (falling back to those speeds)

Add more ports by: Installing a PCI-card upgrade; connecting a hub; daisy-chaining devices

This general PC serial interface doubles the theoretical speed of the original FireWire while maintaining backward-compatibility (with an adapter); if you use it with old FireWire, the speed will be cut in half. You'll find this connection on Apple computers, and on many midrange and high-end PCs.

USB

Use it for: Attaching basic, slow peripherals; charging gadgets

If you have a choice, select it instead of: PS/2 keyboard and mouse inputs

It's similar in performance and use to: PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports

It adapts to: Physical differences in more-recent USB styles

Add more ports by: Installing a PCI-card upgrade; connecting a hub

The classic, original USB is the bread-and-butter serial connector for linking input devices to a PC. In addition to mice and keyboards, you'll use it for printers, scanners, and other peripherals. One device, usually a PC, connects with the rectangular "A" end; the relatively square-shaped "B" end is often hard-wired, or connects to external devices. On this kind of connection, devices are hot-swappable, meaning that you can change them without restarting the PC. It also carries power and has become a ubiquitous charger plug for small gadgets.

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