Gizmodo is 20 years old! to celebrate the anniversary, We look back In some of the most important ways our lives have been thrown a loop through our digital tools.
Take a quick look at your laptop and you might see a single USB-C cable. The industry is integrated into a global interface used for data transmission, display, power delivery, and more. It wasn’t always this way. Dozens of connectors and standards have come and gone over the past few decades, leaving behind a jumbled mess of wires and an accompanying fondness for old hardware that is now only found in our memories. For Gizmodo’s 20th anniversary, we unpacked our cable bag in memory of those who came and went.
Descended from a connector that originated in the 19th century, the 3.5mm jack is the most prevalent audio connector in consumer electronics, even as it is dying out on mainstream portable devices. The popular audio jack is a small, simple interface that provides stereo audio and microphone capabilities for connecting to headphones, speakers, and smartphones. More mobile devices are removing the headphone jack for wireless connection.
Creating a Path to the Internet Ethernet was first created in the 1970s by Xerox and became the preeminent LAN (Local Area Network) technology. Ethernet connectors are commonly found in gaming and business laptops, desktop computers, printers, security systems, and networking equipment. Fixed wired connections ensure stable internet connections compared to choppy and unreliable Wi-Fi networks. Modern Ethernet supports gigabit speeds and the latest standard reaches 10 gigabits per second.
Before HDMI and DisplayPort, there was DVI. Behind VGA, DVI was a video connection for computers or computer monitors. There were different arrangements for the pins depending on whether the cable carried a digital (DVI-D), analog (DVI-A) signal, or both (DVI-I, for integration). Dual link is supported in the DVI specification to allow for a resolution of 2560 x 1600 at 60 Hz.
FireWire (IEEE 1394)
Similar to USB in that it supports data transfer, FireWire has been used to connect peripheral devices, such as digital cameras and hard drives, to computers. Created by Apple, IBM, and Sony, the interface was at one point faster and more versatile than USB, and will eventually find its way into Macs. Apple doomed the connector when it charged a usage fee, a decision that would kill the standard, which was replaced by the company with Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.
High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI)
HDMI 1.0 is found primarily on televisions and monitors, and was introduced in 2002 as an enhancement to DVI. It offered standard and 1080p video along with 8-bit color and a multi-channel audio interface. Transfer rates for the first standard reached 5 Gbps while HDMI 1.4 enabled 4K for the first time. The latest HDMI 2.1 standard supports resolutions up to 10K at 120Hz along with improvements to HDR. Replace HDMI component audio/video (red, green, blue) and composite video (red, white, yellow).
Another video entry, DisplayPort, arrived in 2007 as an alternative to VGA and DVI, and boasts a maximum bandwidth of 10.8 Gbit/s (8.64 Gbit/s data). Three years later, the speeds increased to 17.28 Gbit / s. The latest standard reaches 80.00 Gbit/s to support 16K video with HDR at 60Hz. HDMI is more commonly used on TVs while DisplayPort is often found on monitors.
Apple announced Mini DisplayPort in 2008 and will eventually discontinue Mini-DVI and micro-DVI in favor of the smaller, faster connector. By 2013, every Apple product used the standard, and adoption extended to competitors Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and others. The first version supported 2560 x 1600 at 60 Hz while the latest version reached 4K at 60 Hz with DisplayPort 1.2. Thunderbolt has all but replaced Mini DisplayPort.
USB Type A
The port that never seems to die, the USB Type-A connector has been used to power peripheral devices—whether it’s a mouse, keyboard, printer, console, or other random device—since Intel introduced the standard in 1998. At this point, the limit Maximum data speeds are set to 12 Mbps. Today, maximum speeds from USB-A are 10 Gbps over USB 3.1.
USB Type B
This square connector with beveled corners is mainly found in printers and scanners. Supports every USB version as well as the latest USB4 (USB-C only) connector. They are less commonly used with optical drives, floppy disk drives, and hard disk drives. Since it’s an upload-only connector, the Type B (and the micro version) on the other end is usually paired with USB Type-A.
A mini version of USB, micro USB was the preeminent connector for non-Apple smartphones in the late 2000s and early 2000s. It became popular due to its versatility and extremely small size. The micro USB connector, like the larger variant, can charge and power devices or transfer data. It has been replaced by USB-C, which enables faster speeds and supports the reverse connector. The micro USB variant used to be present in mp3 players, digital cameras and cell phones, but it lost its popularity once micro USB arrived.
USB Type C
USB-C is fast becoming the most popular connector in modern consumer gadgets, it’s smaller and faster than USB Type-A and can transfer data, power, and display simultaneously over a single cable. There are many specifications and standards, and while these complex differences have threatened to hinder USB-C adoption, the connector has proven to be an alternative to many other interfaces. Thunderbolt 3 and 4, developed by Intel and Apple, use a USB-C connector for 40 Gbit/s (5 Gb/s) bandwidth, power delivery, and drive multiple high-resolution displays.