Gizmodo turns 20! To celebrate the anniversary, we are looking back in some of the most significant ways our lives have been turned upside down by our digital tools.
Look at your laptop and you might see a single USB-C cable. The industry is consolidating on a universal interface used for data transfer, display, power supply, and more. It hasn’t always been this way. Dozens of connectors and standards have come and gone in the last few decades, leaving behind a jumble of cables and accompanying a fondness for old devices that now only exist in our memories. On Gizmodo’s 20th anniversary, we’re throwing away our bag of cables in remembrance of those who have come and gone.
Descending from a connector that originated in the 19th century, the 3.5mm jack is the most ubiquitous audio jack in consumer electronics, even as it faces extinction in mainstream wearable devices. The beloved audio jack is a small, simple interface that provides stereo sound and microphone capabilities for connecting headphones, speakers, and smartphones. More portable devices are ditching the headphone jack for a wireless connection.
Creating a path to the Internet, Ethernet was first created in the 1970s by Xerox and would become the preeminent LAN (local area network) technology. Ethernet connectors are most commonly found on gaming and business laptops, desktops, printers, security systems, and networking equipment. Wired connections ensure stable Internet connections compared to spotty and unreliable Wi-Fi. Modern Ethernet supports Gigabit speeds, with the latest standard reaching 10 gigabits per second.
Before HDMI and DisplayPort, there was DVI. The successor to VGA, DVI was a video connection for computers or computer monitors. There were different pin arrangements depending on whether the cable carried a digital (DVI-D) or analog (DVI-A) signal or both (DVI-I, for integrated). Dual link was supported in the DVI specification to allow a resolution of 2560 × 1600 at 60 Hz.
FireWire (IEEE 1394)
Similar to USB in that it supports data transfer, FireWire was used to connect peripherals, 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 would eventually find its way to 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)
Found primarily in televisions and monitors, HDMI 1.0 was introduced in 2002 as an enhancement to DVI. It provided 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 resolution up to 10K at 120Hz along with enhancements to HDR. HDMI replaced component audio/video (red, green, blue) and composite video (red, white, yellow).
Another video input, DisplayPort, arrived in 2007 as a replacement for VGA and DVI, and boasted a maximum bandwidth of 10.8 Gbit/s (8.64 Gbit/s of data). Three years later, speeds increased to 17.28 Gbit/s. The latest standard reaches 80.00 Gbit/s for 16K video support with HDR at 60Hz. HDMI is most commonly used in televisions, while DisplayPort is often found in monitors.
Apple announced Mini DisplayPort in 2008 and would eventually discontinue Mini-DVI and micro-DVI in favor of the smaller, faster connector. By 2013, all Apple products used the standard, and adoption spread to competitors Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and others. The first version supported 2560 x 1600 at 60 Hz, while the most recent reached 4K at 60 Hz with DisplayPort 1.2. Thunderbolt has almost replaced Mini DisplayPort.
USB type A
The port that never seems to die, the USB Type-A connector has been used to power peripherals, whether it be a mouse, keyboard, printer, controller, or other random devices, ever since Intel introduced the standard in 1998. At the time, maximum speeds Data rates were set at 12 Mbps. Today, maximum USB-A speeds are 10 Gbps over USB 3.1.
USB type B
This square connector with beveled corners is found primarily on printers and scanners. All versions of USB, apart from the latest USB4 (USB-C only), support the connector. They are less commonly used for optical controllers, floppy drives, and hard drives. Because it’s an upstream-only connector, Type-B (and the mini version) is usually paired at the other end with USB Type-A.
A miniature version of USB, micro USB was the preeminent connector for non-Apple smartphones in the late 2000s and early 2010s. It became popular due to its versatility and extremely compact size. The micro USB connector, like the larger variant, can charge and power devices or transfer data. It has been superseded by USB-C, which allows for faster speeds and supports a reversible connector. A mini USB variant was found in mp3 players, digital cameras, and mobile phones, but fell out of favor once micro USB arrived.
usb type c
Quickly becoming the most ubiquitous connector on modern consumer devices, USB-C is smaller and faster than USB Type-A and can transmit data, power, and display simultaneously over a single cable. There are various specifications and standards, and while those convoluted differences have threatened to hamper USB-C adoption, the connector has proven to be a replacement for several other interfaces. Thunderbolt 3 and 4, developed by Intel and Apple, use the USB-C connector for 40 Gbit/s (5 GB/s) bandwidth, power delivery, and control of multiple high-resolution monitors.