For most of us, getting a printer to work as it should, is already more of a chore than a lackadaisical task. Straight out of the box, a new printer is bundled with its driver CD and a bunch of wires. If it’s your first time unboxing and about to setup a printer, you need to identify a cable should be connected to its appropriate port or socket. It’s not that hard to distinguish a printer cable from other cable or wires. But if you’re opening a new old stock (NOS) printer with a different type of cable you need to know that the cable being used has a different port that may not be supported by your PC’s motherboard or laptop.
USB AB Cables – the USB printer cable
USB has been the industry standard for connecting peripheral devices to a computer since 1996. A USB AB cable has two different plug shapes on each ends of the cable. The A-part has a flat, rectangular shape that is connected to the USB port of your computer while the B-part has a square plug with two curved edges that should be connected from your printer. USB AB cable is not just limited for printer use though, as it is also used in some hardware for a mixer / sound interface or an external hard drive. If your printer has the newer blue-colored USB 3.0 or 3.1 cable, it can still be supported by your older USB ports from your computer as the newer USB versions are designed to be backward-compatible to older USB versions.
Ethernet cable is a cable meant for network use which is commonly found bundled in modems and routers. It should not be confused as a printer cable yet it’s useful if your printer supports network and shared printing. But it’s only necessary to use this feature if your office or home has multiple computers connected to a network or workgroup. If you have only one PC or laptop you don’t need to use this feature unless you absolutely have to.
Telephone Cable for Fax
A telephone cable is only necessary if you plan to send fax from your PC to anyone. Even if your all-in-one printer has a telephone cable port, the cable cannot serve as a connector for printing from any device.
The Legacy Cables
With the possibility that you’re using a dated printer, chances are it may have a serial, parallel (LPT), or FireWire (IEEE 1394) cable. A serial cable is a cable used to connect two devices utilizing a serial communication protocol; sending a few bits per second. A parallel (LPT) cable works by sending multiple bits at once in parallel communication but has more data lines by design that’s why the port is usually larger than a serial cable and more commonly used as a printer cable way back then. FireWire cable on the other hand, was designed for high transfer rates up to 480Mbps usually intended for camcorders, hard drives, and cameras but rarely being supported by printers (only the Epson Stylus Photo R1800 and R2400 come into mind that supports FireWire). These legacy connectors are no longer supported natively by any modern laptop or motherboard.
New laptops like the MacBook Pro or Microsoft Surface have the newer USB-C ports but lacks the standard USB-A ports. USB-C ports are smaller than their older counterparts and slowly becoming the new USB standard. If you have a laptop or a device that only has a USB-C port, get a USB-C to USB-B cable or USB-C to USB-A female cable or adapter. Same thing with legacy printer cables, whatever USB port you may have, you will need an aftermarket cable or adapter for your old printer to work.