An expansion port and an expansion slot is the connectivity socket and slit along the sides, front, back and even bottom of a laptop. They are designed to broaden the functionality of your laptop via a physical connection point.
You can think of a port like a socket that helps you connect external devices to your laptop. And a slot is like a dock for a printed circuit board to link to an internal BUS.
It’s important not to overlook these connectivity interfaces when buying a laptop. Expansion ports and slots allow various types of external devices to connect to your laptop so you can get more stuff done.
But how do you identify them? How do they work? And which ones do you need for your laptop?
Expansion Ports and Expansion Slots
A Universal Serial Bus is the most popular kind of expansion port on a laptop because of the wide array of peripherals that can be connected to it.
Capable of speeds of USB-2.0 and USB-3.0 (with 3.0 speeds being the fastest). It’s a standard cable connection interface that links your laptop to other devices that support the USB industry standard like keyboards, mice, printers and even monitors.
The USB connector on these devices come in several physical layouts to transfer digital data. And electrical power across a cable to each other.
USB Type-A ports are the most common and have a rectangular shape. Many peripherals come with a USB Type-B port, which has a square shape. Since you won’t find them on laptops. Such devices usually have their own USB Type-A -to- USB Type-B wire to connect to your laptop.
USB Type-C Port
This expansion port is fast becoming the only expansion port you’ll ever need. Able to fit on slimmer laptops like the MacBook 12-inch. It’s thinner than USB Type-A, USB Type-B, and microUSB. And since it’s reversible. You don’t have to worry about plugging it in incorrectly.
On top of that. USB Type-C ports can support many different standards; though not all offer the same functionality.
Files can be transferred at either USB 3.1 gen 1 (5Gbps). Or USB 3.1 gen 2 (10Gbps) speeds. It can also accept USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) so you can charge your laptop. And it can send DisplayPort signals out via its “alt mode” to support the highest video out.
If there’s a lightning bolt symbol by this port. It can also double as a Thunderbolt 3 port. And support the highest transfer rates.
The laptop you’re considering should have at least two USB ports (3 or 4 is even better). When it comes to storage. A USB 3.0 will make a huge difference over USB 2.0. But for plugging into devices like a keyboard or mouse. There’s no difference in performance.
If high speed connectivity is a priority for you. Thunderbolt 3 is an expansion port that transfers data at up to 40Gbps, which is 4x faster than USB 3.1 gen 2. Making it the fastest, common connection on the market today.
This expansion port first appeared in laptops at the end of 2015, and use USB Type-C connections to double as USB Type-C ports. This enables laptops that support these ports to link to just as many peripherals like high-speed storage devices. And in most cases, you can also use this connectivity medium to charge the laptop.
A single Thunderbolt 3 port carries dual DisplayPort signals. And can output to up to two 4K monitors, simultaneously. Since it uses an expansion bus. Your laptop can connect to a hub to provide extra ports like USB 3.0, Ethernet and more.
If you get a slim laptop like an Ultrabook, which usually comes with integrated graphics. Thunderbolt 3 can connect to an external graphics card so you can play high-end games.
Very few laptops used them. But older systems may come with Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 standards. You can connect to Thunderbolt 3 devices with an adapter cable.
The chart below illustrates the transfer rate of a USB 2.0 port, up to a Thunderbolt 3 port for comparison:
The High-Definition Multimedia Interface is the most common expansion port for connecting laptops to televisions, external monitors, and projectors. One reason why HDMI is so popular is because it can send audio, as well as video signals. Super slim laptops like Ultrabooks sometimes use mini HDMI connectors. There’s no difference in the information it sends.
A lot of monitors and projectors still don’t have HDMI or Display Port support. So, you may need to buy an adapter to connect your laptop to DVI or VGA ports.
PCAdvisor.com provides instructions on how to connect your laptop to a television.
Not only can you use this expansion port to connect your laptop to an external screen like a television. But it also carries audio signals. You can expect a pixel resolution of 3840 x 2160 at 60 frames per second with this digital connection.
Although a Video Graphics Array port is common on many monitors and projectors. You’ll be hard-pressed to find this expansion port on the latest laptop.
Dating all the way back to 1987. The 15-pin connector is a chunky analogue standard. And in 2010, computer manufacturers announced the phase out of the technology in favor of HDMI.
It’s advantage over HDMI, however, is that it can display different resolution images. Whereas HDMI is a digital standard that might just put a black box around an image it can’t scale.
The down side is VGA only outputs to 1920 x 1200 pixels-per-square-inch. And longer cable connections could lead to signal degradation.
This expansion port connects to most of the world’s wired headphones and external speakers. Some older devices have a jack for the microphone, and a jack for the headphone. The 3.5mm jack is the most common. You’re sure to find one on most laptops, tablets, and phones.
It’s a space-saving technology that allows various ExpressCards to be slotted in as different functions are needed. And it’s the largest Expansion slot on a laptop.
ExpressCards have a 26-pin connector. And are hot-pluggable, which means you can remove and insert them without needing to restart the laptop.
The cards come in two standard formats: 34mm and 54mm, which describes the width of the slot. The depth is always 75mm. They support a data transfer rate of 2.5 Gigabits per second.
Memory Card Reader
It’s an expansion slot worth considering if the laptop or tablet you’re thinking about has very limited internal storage. Common to modern-gen laptops. It’s referred to by many names including: microSD Card slot, microSDHC reader, and microSDXC.
A memory card reader can read files and data stored on a tiny MicroSD memory card, like the kind used by smartphones, digital cameras, portable gaming systems and some MP3 players.
The SDHC card reader is also known as a 3-in-1, 4-in-1, or 5-in-1 card reader. This slot is used to read memory cards from digital cameras.
By simply inserting the memory card into the slot. Files can be transferred between the card and the laptop hassle-free without connecting USB cables.
MicroSD, MiniSD, and SD are the industry standard for these non-volatile, data storage cards. SD is the largest in the series. And they are governed by the Security Digital Association (SD Association).
FireWire/ IEEE 1394 Port
FireWire is Apple’s brand name for the IEEE 1394 standard expansion port. It also goes by i.Link, which is Sony’s brand name for this laptop expansion port. And Texas Instruments calls it Lynx.
Commonly known as FireWire, the term is a reference to the type of port, cable, and connector for various kinds of devices like digital video cameras, external hard drives. And some printers and scanners. The FireWire port on these devices will either have 4- or 6-pins.
The IEEE 1394 standard is designed to support plug-and-play, which means the operating system can automatically find the device linked to your laptop by this type of port. And ask to install a driver to make it work.
FireWire is also hot-swappable, which means that neither the laptop. Or device connected to it needs to be shut down to connect or disconnected. But the USB standard is much faster than FireWire ports.
Ethernet Port (RJ-45 Jack)
Also known as a Network Adapter, Network Jack or 10/100 Ethernet. This expansion port wires directly onto the network adapter inside the laptop so you can connect directly to wired network. You can find these ports primarily on business laptops.
Ethernet ports come in handy when the wireless signal in the location you are in is poor. An RJ45 jack is basically a telephone connector. “RJ” stands for “Registered Jack” and was endorsed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
No matter how they’re marketed. All modern Ethernet ports operate at up to 1 Gigabyte-Per-Second. As Wi-Fi continues to improve, and laptops become slimmer. Manufacturers are beginning to drop the Ethernet Port.
The External Serial Advance Technology Attachment socket is a BUS interface expansion port that supports the SATA and USB standards for connecting to external storage devices.
It’s a professional-class port that provides a faster way to off-load thousands of files and data between your laptop and an external storage drive faster than a standard USB port.
You’ll find them mostly on desktop replacement and workstation laptops.
eSATA ports are an esoteric interface. Meaning that unlike USB ports. They have a solitary purpose that’s strictly for transferring information to and from a storage device. Which is what makes it faster than USB.