Apple Mac Ports - Your Guide To Plugging Things In

The Mac can be connected to hard drives, printers, scanners, cameras, projectors, routers, and a host of other peripherals.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a look at the ports that make this possible.

Hopefully, this will make it a little easier to shop for cables and equipment.

USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt And SDXC

USB 2.0 and 3.0

USB 2.0 transmits at a rate of 480 Mbit/s. USB 3.0 transmits at a much faster 5 GBit/s.

USB 3.0 is the latest standard and is used on all new Macs.

USB ports on the Mac are rectangular with a smaller rectangular bar inside the port head.

Apple Mac Mini USB Ports

USB 3.0 ports will accept USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 cables. The USB 3.0 port is backwards compatible.

USB 2.0 ports on older Macs will only accept USB 2.0 cables.

USB 3.0 cables are often colored blue to help differentiate them from USB 2.0 cables.

Apple Mac USB 3.0 Cable

Cables should be inserted into a USB port with the the USB symbol facing the user.

Apple Mac OSX USB

USB ports on the Mac are female. USB cables and cable extensions can be bought with either Male or Female heads.

Many USB cables have a standard head that connects to the Mac and a USB Type B head at the other end that connects to the device.

Apple Mac OSX USB - Type B

As devices get smaller, USB heads have also miniaturized.

There are several types of Micro and Mini-USB 2.0 and 3.0 heads with some specific to single manufacturers.

If you need help in this area a Google search will provide all the information you need.

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Firewire 400 and 800 / IEEE1394a and IEEE1394b

Firewire, also know as IEEE1394, comes in two variations, Firewire 400 and the faster Firewire 800.

Firewire 400 transmits at up to 400 Mbit/s. Firewire 800 supports speeds up to 800 Mbit/s.

Firewire 400 ports are Female 6 pin conductors, rectangular in shape with a curve at one end.

Firewire 800 ports are Female 9 pin conductors, roughly square in shape with a groove on one side.

Apple Mac Firewire 400 and Firewire 800 Ports

Firewire 400 cables should be inserted with the curved end pointing down.

Firewire 800 cables should be inserted with the groove facing the user.

Firewire cables can be bought with either Male or Female 400 or 800 heads on either end.

Apple Mac Firewire 400 and Firewire 800

There are Micro-Firewire 400 and 800 cables available, but they are not widely used.

Firewire devices can be daisy-chained together; i.e., a firewire drive can be connected to a Mac, a second drive connected to the first, a third connected to the second and so on. You cannot do this with USB devices.

Firewire can also be used to access a Mac in target disc mode. This is extremely useful for data retrieval in cases where a Mac will not longer boot.

Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2

Thunderbolt ports are the fastest ports on the Mac and are included on all the latest models.

Thunderbolt 2 is not yet available on the Mac, but will make an appearance later this year in the new Mac Pro.

Thunderbolt has a speed of 10 GBit/s with Thunderbolt 2 clocking in at 20 Gbit/s.

Thunderbolt ports are rectangular, straight on one side, curved on the other with a rectangular bar inside the port.

Apple Mac OSX Thunderbolt Port

Cables should be inserted with the Thunderbolt symbol facing the user.

Apple Mac OSX Thunderbolt - Cables

Thunderbolt ports are incredibly powerful and versatile.

They can be daisy-chained and with the addition of low-cost adapters can connect to Firewire 400/800, network, or digital video devices.

SDXC Card Slot

SXDC stands for Secure Digital Extended Capacity.

SD Cards are used by many digital cameras and by some medical devices.

Data transmission rates depend on how the SXDC slot is configured internally on the Mac.

Speeds are generally 480 MBit/s or better.


Insert the card with the metal contacts facing down and toward the computer.

MAc OSX SDXC Card Logo

Cards that conform to the SD 1.x, 2.x, and 3.x standards should work. More details are available on Apple’s website.

Unreadable cards may not be damaged. They may simply be in a format your Mac cannot read. Check compatibility with the manufacturer.

That’s it for ports for now. Hope you have a great weekend.

If you have questions, please use the Comments section below.

John Carroll - No Problem Mac

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