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Connecting Things to Your Computer – The USB Port

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Jim Cerny
Director, Sarasota PCUG, Florida
December 2012 issue, Sarasota PC Monitor
www.spcug.org
jimcerny123 (at) gmail.com

Printers, cameras, flash drives – is there any limit to what you can connect to your computer?  Today we want to look at how to connect all those wonderful devices to your laptop or desktop. Almost all such connections (which are not wireless connections) are through a “USB” port cable. USB stands for Universal Service Bus and just like a city bus can carry all kinds of people a USB connection can connect almost anything. The purpose of this article is to provide you with the information you need to connect things using the USB connection port. All computers have at least two and maybe three or more USB ports. They are rectangular “holes” in your computer, approximately one-half inch wide by 3/16 inch thick. Any device you purchase which can connect to your computer will probably come with a connection cable with one end being a USB port connector. The other end of the cable will probably have a different shape which plugs into the device you are connecting (camera, printer, mouse, etc.). Here is how you connect something to your computer using this port:

1.. Using the connection cable, plug your device into your computer’s USB port. (The USB plug does have a “right side up,” so if it doesn’t fit one way, turn it over).

That’s it. There is no second step. Oh -- maybe you have to turn on the device you are connecting.

Yes, it’s simple, but I think it is helpful to know a little of what is going on and how to best use your USB ports on your computer. For example, did you know you can have as many USB ports as you need?  If you have three USB ports and they all are used and you have a fourth device to connect, what do you do? You go to a store a buy a USB multiplier (or “splitter”) that connects to one USB port and provides four more ports!  Believe it or not, you can connect over 100 different devices through one USB port.

So what basically happens when you connect something to a USB port? Well, the computer, all on its own (please make sure the device you are connecting is turned on), identifies the device and establishes the communication code or language it must use to work with the device. If the computer does not have this code it its memory it will go to the internet and get it. So it is usually a good idea to be connected to the internet when plugging in something new to your computer. Pretty neat, huh?

If you are connecting some kind of memory device, such as an external disk drive or a flash drive, there will be an exchange of data to and from the device while you are using it. You can save files to the device and you can change or delete files already on the device. The only danger here is what if you disconnect the device (i.e. unplug it) while it was receiving information from the computer? The file could be incomplete – a file error. So, the idea is to make sure that the device is done transferring data before you disconnect it. Here’s how to safely disconnect a memory device:

In Windows, when you connect a memory device to your computer you will see a new icon in your SYSTRAY– those little icons by your clock on the right end of your taskbar.. The icon will look like a USB cable connector plug and a green circle with a white checkmark in it (in Windows 7). It will be tiny, so look closely. (If you don’t see it, click on the little arrow to the left of these icons to reveal the icons that didn’t fit into this area). Whenever you connect a new memory device to your computer Windows assigns it a drive letter. Most computers have the main “C” drive and a CD/DVD drive assigned the letter “D”. When you connect another memory device to your computer it would then be assigned the letter “E”. When you are ready to disconnect your device, click on this icon. You will then see a list of all the memory devices connected to your computer (most of the time it will be only one device). Click on the specific device on the list to tell the computer you are through using it. You should then see a message displayed that says it is safe to remove the device. It is just a little extra step to make sure you are not unplugging a device while it is in use. Another way is to simply turn off the device before you disconnect it.

There are other connection ports (i.e. “holes”) in your computer where you can plug things in, like the ISDN connector, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other cables. Make sure you are plugging your USB plug into a USB port – match the shape carefully!  Remember, there IS a “right side up” on the plug too, so if it does not go in one way, turn it over and try again. Never force a plug into a port!

USB ports have made connecting many devices very easy. So go ahead and buy that camera or jump drive and plug them in!

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