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.
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.
Cables should be inserted into a USB port with the the USB symbol facing the user.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cables should be inserted with the Thunderbolt symbol facing the user.
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.
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.
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Hi thank’s for your guide. I still need help. I have a Canon Lergia HV40 camcorder, which I formerly could connect to my “old” Mac. Out (connected to the camcorder) HDV/DV in Mac FireWire. But the FireWire in on the Mac has changed it shape, I can no longer connect with my “old” FireWire HDV/DV wire.
I have tried HDMI/HDMI out of Canon, in Mac with Adapter HDMI/ThunderBolt, but it still can’t connect my camcorder… any advice which wire I should use?
It sounds like you used to use Firewire 400 and now the mac is using Firewire 800. You just need a 400 to 800 Firewire adaptor.
Can you please direct me where to get instructions on “how to do a Mac target disc mode” from another Mac that will not do a ‘normal boot’ but can do a ‘safe mode boot’. I need to get moving with some unfinished work from it.
Here’s Apple’s support document on Target Disk Mode. It works this way regardless of your version of OS X –
How do I connect a Macbook Pro to the HDMI outlet on our TV? Thank you.
I’d need to know the model of Macbook Pro, before I could answer your question. Look under the black Apple in the top left hand corner and choose About this Mac. Post that Model info here. My guess is you need a Mini Display Port to HDMI cable. You can get them onlne at Monoprice.
Help i want to move 10 gig from my imac 2009 (firewire800) to my mac mini (has tunderbolt)
What cable do i use, do i Need an adaptor or can i go from firewire 800 to thunderbolt
Hi Walt – You need a Firewire to Thunderbolt Adaptor. Apple have them in their online store. – John
My son uses a joy stick on his Microsoft dell to play games as he is disabled. I am now getting a i Mac and am worried about how to connect the cable into this. It is a grey round cable with many holes. Can you help me please. My phone number is 01707875669
Hi Patricia – If it’s a PC joystick, it’s highly doubtful that it will work with a Mac. It’s possible you won’t even be able to connect the two. I would look on Amazon at the Mac controllers they have (see link below). I would check first on game availability before you buy anything. traditionally, PC have many more games than the Mac. – https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Video-Games-Mac-Game-Controllers/zgbs/videogames/405585011
I have a macbook pro mid 2010 which has 2 x usb 2 ports which I use, one for my usb hub and i for my wireless mouse. I would like to use my redundant firewire 800 port to run the usb peripherals I have attached to the usb ports but cannot find a solution. I have searched for a firewire 800 male to usb female cable with no luck. Any suggestions.
Hi James – I don’t believe there are any adaptors that do Firewire to USB. You need a powered USB hub… as I’m sure you know. – John C
I know this is an old post, but any answer would be a godsend. Due to the pandemic, I will be working remotely indefinitely. I have an old iMac (24-inch, Mid 2007) which is currently upgraded to El Capitan, the highest it can go. The screen resolution is as good as the day I got it. I really want to use this as a monitor with my work laptop, which is a PC. I was thinking of connecting via HDMI cables… what do you think? Is this even possible?
Thanks so much
Hi Julia – Unfortunately, no iMac can be used as an external monitor. The only workaround might be to use something like Zoom and screenshare a meeting with your laptop. If you have Apple TV you could use your TV as a monitor. Let me know how it goes. Good luck. – John
I have a 2019 macOS Catalina and a late 2015 macOS Catalina I would like to use the 2015 as a monitor. I need to get the correct hookup cables to connect them. can you recommend them. Thanks Bob Parks
Hi Bob, I’d need to know the type of Apple computer and the model. Look under the black apple in the top left hand corner for about this Mac.
What about the last port on the right?
Hi Karim – I need to know the type of Mac, Year, etc,., that you’ll find under the black apple. With that I can give you an accurate answer.
Hi, John! Thx for replying!
I’m talking about the last port on the right (with a square between two lines) from the picture where you labelled the FireWire ports.
Hi Karim – This is a Mini DisplayPort. Have a great weekend. – John
I have a IMAC 2007 with El Capitan, resolution is great, Not fast but works great. I want to use it as dual monitor through my MacBook PRO with both thunderbolt and hdmi.
Any suggestions for what cables to use. Please be gentle I’m not good at cables.
Hi Melanie – Unfortunately, you cannot use any iMac as an external monitor. – John