If you've owned more than one MacBook over the years, you've seen the ports on the sides change over time.

The number of ports has decreased significantly, but the ports themselves have become more powerful and versatile. This is evident from the types of accessories and external devices you can connect to Thunderbolt 3 ports compared to older USB 2.0 ports.

Below we've described the types of devices that support different ports on different generations of MacBooks. Hopefully this will show you why some ports have been changed and what accessories you can get for your MacBook.

MacBook ports from 2016

You can find these connectors on the following MacBook models:

  • 2016 to 2020 MacBook

  • 2016 to 2020 MacBook Pro

  • 2017 to 2020 MacBook Air

  • 2021 M1 MacBook Pro

  • 2021 M1 MacBook Air

Lightning 3

Thunderbolt 3 ports are so fast that you can plug in practically anything and work on your Mac. The USB-C form of Thunderbolt enables "alternate modes" for the port, which supports HDMI, MHL, Ethernet and DisplayPort connections in addition to general USB connections. It also allows a Mac to be charged via Thunderbolt 3 ports.

So you can connect an external hard drive to a Thunderbolt 3 port one day and plug an HDMI cable into the same port the next day. SD cards can also be supported with adapters to fit into the ports.

With the USB-C shape allowing cables to be inserted in any orientation, Thunderbolt 3 ports are incredibly versatile in terms of what can be plugged into them and how they can be connected.

To access the many uses of the Thunderbolt 3 port, you will likely need several types of adapters or even specialty Thunderbolt 3 hubs. But at least with these and the right cables, you can basically use anything with these Macs!

3.5mm headphone jack

The only other port on these MacBook models is the 3.5mm jack, so headphones can be used with a Mac. It also connects built-in microphones to headphones and earbuds.

You may not need this port if you prefer bluetooth headphones, but for those who still like cords or noise-canceling features, it's nice that this port stays close by.

MacBook connections from 2012 to 2016

You can find these connectors on the following MacBook models:

  • 2013 to 2015 MacBook

  • 2013 to 2015 MacBook Pro

  • 2012 to 2016 MacBook Air (this Mac doesn't have HDMI)

Lightning 2

With the same shape as the Mini DisplayPort and supporting Mini DisplayPort video output, Thunderbolt 2 has improved the form factor even further by supporting 4K video streaming and writing 4K video to a hard drive while the video is streaming.

For these reasons, Thunderbolt 2 is best known for connecting external monitors and cameras to a MacBook. However, the port also supports external hard drives and other storage devices at faster speeds than USB, FireWire, and Thunderbolt 1 ports.

USB 3

USB-3 ports are shaped like USB-A – the traditional USB shape that you are probably familiar with. It supports a large number of computer accessories including flash drives, external hard drives, external CD / DVD players, and more.

It also allowed iPhones, iPads, and iPods to connect to a MacBook for charging and data transfer or management. It can also power some small microphones and USB accessories.

Despite the speed advantages over USB 2 and USB ports, the USB 3 port is not fast enough to connect monitors or high-quality webcams.

With USB-A connections, the direction of the cable entry cannot be distorted – a cable must be plugged in perfectly for the connection to work. But anyway, and because of the speed problem, it was an important port on most MacBooks and Apple computers for a long time!

SDXC card slot

The SDXC card slot allows a MacBook to read and write to SD cards.

A converter or adapter would have to be used to insert miniSD cards here. But SD cards, which are typical of digital photo and film cameras, are used immediately and can be accessed on a MacBook the second they are inserted.

HDMI

HDMI connectors are designed to allow computers to stream audio and video content to external displays. This means it's mainly used to connect MacBooks to TVs and computer monitors, but there are also some HDMI webcams that use this connector to work.

MagSafe power connector

The MagSafe port was what Apple attached to the ends of its MacBook chargers until USB-C charging took over. MagSafe plugs can be plugged in in any direction and thanks to the magnetism between the plug and the MagSafe connection, they do not fall out.

The MagSafe port only supports Apple's MagSafe ports and the thinner MagSafe 2 ports and does not support any other devices. But with the porting to all MacBooks until 2017 you can see that it worked really well for a long time.

Other included ports and notices

These MacBook models also have a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Ports on the 2012 MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro 2012 had the following ports.

Lightning 1

Like Thunderbolt 2, the original Thunderbolt ports replaced the older Mini DisplayPorts and thus mostly connected video output devices. While Thunderbolt 2 goes up to 20 Gbit / s, Thunderbolt 1 only goes up to 10 Gbit / s, so data transfer is a bit slower.

Gigabit Ethernet

A MacBook can be connected directly to a router, modem or wall socket via the Gigabit Ethernet port in order to access the Internet.

Using an Ethernet cable in this port instead of Wi-Fi can make the internet faster on your MacBook. Additionally, the port doesn't have many uses.

FireWire 800

With faster transfer rates than a USB port, FireWire ports can connect things like high-speed external hard drives, as well as camcorders and webcams.

Some cameras can be connected to MacBooks via USB and will only transmit images over this connection. To transfer video, you may need to connect the camera to the FireWire 800 port.

FireWire is therefore used extensively in the film and editing area, in addition to everything that needs a fast connection to work.

8x SuperDrive

The built-in CD and DVD drives in certain MacBook models allow users to watch movies and listen to music on their laptops. It also enables users to burn their own DVDs and CDs.

The inclusion of the drive made the laptop much heavier, and for this reason it was omitted from the 2012 MacBook Air and most subsequent laptops.

Kensington lock slot

Kensington is a company that makes locks for computers. They allow you to attach a laptop to a table leg with a cable or attach a desktop to a desk via a locking station, making it much more difficult to steal computers.

The lock slot on MacBooks allows certain models of Kensington cable locks to be used with a MacBook without using a USB port, which you may need to do your work. So there is a port included for security if you have a lock of this type.

Other included ports

The 2012 MacBook Pro also included a MagSafe power connector, two USB 3 ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and an SDXC card slot.

MacBook connections from 2011

You can find these connectors on the following MacBook models:

  • 2011 MacBook

  • 2011 MacBook Pro

  • 2011 MacBook Air (this Mac doesn't have Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, or SDXC)

USB 2.0

In the USB-A form, most commonly known as USB ports, the USB 2.0 ports are essentially the same as the USB 3 ports – only slower. USB 2.0 ports operate at speeds of 480 Mbps, while USB 3 connections can reach speeds of up to 5 Gbps.

A wide variety of accessories can still be connected to USB 2.0 ports, including keyboards, mice, and headsets. For faster connections, however, you'll need the FireWire port on the 2011 MacBook Pro or a MacBook with USB 3 ports.

Audio input socket

Next to the 3.5mm audio-out jack, many MacBook models had an audio-in jack so that microphones could be connected and heard by the computer.

At some point this connection became superfluous, as the 3.5 mm socket enabled audio input and output at the same time. However, with these earlier MacBook models, you must plug a microphone into this port with a 3.5mm cable in order to use it.

Other included ports

These MacBook models also have MagSafe, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, Thunderbolt 1, 3.5 mm headphone jack, SDXC card slot and Kensington lock slot.

* The 2011 MacBook Air just didn't have Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, and SDXC ports / slots.

MacBook ports from 2009 to 2010

You can find these connectors on the following MacBook models:

  • 2009 to 2010 MacBook

  • 2009 to 2010 MacBook Pro

Mini DisplayPort

The Mini DisplayPort allows a computer to be connected to a television or computer monitor with a Mini DisplayPort cable.

The 2010 MacBook Pro's Mini DisplayPort could also support audio transmission, like an HDMI port. Mini DisplayPorts in 2009 required the use of USB, FireWire, or audio line cables for this function.

SD card slot

Despite the name difference to the SDXC card slot, the SD card slot is not really different. It can read and write to SDXC cards as well as SD and SDHC cards.

Apple does not report any speed or transfer differences between the SD and SDXC card slots, so the difference seems to be only in name. The name difference is sufficient for us to list this separately, but its usage is the same as for the SDXC port discussed above.

Other included ports

These MacBook models also have MagSafe, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, two USB 2.0 ports, 3.5 mm audio output, audio input and slots for a Kensington lock.

MacBook ports from 2006 to 2008

You can find these connectors on the following MacBook models:

  • 2006 to 2008 MacBook

  • 2006 to 2008 MacBook Pro

Mini DVI

Like Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, and Thunderbolt, the Mini-DVI port on early MacBook Pro models enabled external displays to be connected. It existed as an alternative to the mini-VGA and enabled the MacBook models of that time to be thinner due to its smaller size.

FireWire 400

Just like FireWire 800, a FireWire 400 port allows faster data transfers than USB ports. FireWire 400, however, works at a speed of 400 Mbit / s, while FireWire 800 is twice as fast at 800 Mbit / s.

FireWire 400 accessories also include cameras and high-speed external hard drives. The FireWire 800 equivalents are only slightly more powerful overall.

Other included ports

These MacBook models also have Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0 ports, 3.5 mm audio output, audio input and slots for a Kensington lock.

Lots of ports, lots of connections

The evolution of the ports on MacBook computers shows the history and evolution of computers over time. What used to require many ports now only needs one or two. Features that were once essential have become obsolete with advances elsewhere.

We hope that our guide to MacBook connectors will help you better understand your MacBook model and the accessories to get it. We find the changes between the MacBook models fascinating and hopefully interesting for you too!

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About the author

Jessica Lanman
(24 articles published)

Jessica has been writing tech articles since 2018 and loves knitting, crocheting, and embroidering little things in her spare time.

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By Jessica Lanman

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