One cable to rule them all: a look at Apple's retired connectors through the years

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited July 2018
There has been a near-constant debate about Apple and the choices it has made with ports and connectors spanning the company's entire history. AppleInsider takes a look back at most of the different ways Apple devices have connected over the years -- and what they tell us about the company itself.

Firewire


From the original Apple computers to the many generations of Macs to the iPhone and iPad, Apple's devices have all had one thing in common: They've had to connect to something. And as the underlying technology has changed and been upgraded over time, so too have the connecting ports and plugs.

Apple has a long and storied history of going its own way with connectors on the Mac, going back to the original 128K Macintosh.

DB-9 connector and a phone cable for the keyboard

Back of Mac 128K


When the Macintosh line debuted in 1984, with the 128K model, it featured DB-9 connectors from the main computer to the mouse and modem, while the keyboard was connected via what was basically a coiled phone cable.

This would remain the case for the next Mac, the 512K, which arrived later in 1984, and later the 512Ke in April 1986, which was the last to feature the DB-9.

DIN-8 connector

The 1986 Mac Plus


When the Mac Plus arrived in early 1986, it offered mini DIN-8 serial ports, for the modem and printer, also operating on the RS-422 standard.

The RS422 standard allowed for networking via LocalTalk, which played a key role in the rise of the Mac itself. But the disadvantage to the DIN-8 was that it wasn't that era's standard serial port, and if the user wanted to use a printer other than Apple's own ImageWriter, it required a different plug. This was at a time when adapters on the market were not especially reliable.

The Beige PowerMac G3 would be the final desktop Mac to use the DIN-8 serial port. There were USB adapters for it available for many years from third parties.

SCSI

Apple adopted a version of the Small Computer System Interface (SCSI), debuting it on the Mac Plus in early 1986. It remained on Mac models through the Mac SE and Mac II. SCSI advantage was both daisy chain-able, and much faster than the AT attachments in use at the time.




SCSI was primarily a storage interface. But, high-speed devices like Apple's scanner line, and the LaserWriter IIsc used the protocol for connection as well.

Apple's SCSI implementation spanned multiple standards over the years, gradually getting faster over time like the protocol itself. It contributed a connector to the standard -- the HDI30 plug, found on PowerBooks like the 500 series.

Like many other things, SCSI was excised from the motherboard in the transition from the Beige G3 to the Blue and white PowerMac G3, in favor of FireWire.

ADB (Apple Desktop Bus)

The Apple Desktop Bus made its debut in 1986, with the Apple IIgs. Invented by Steve Wozniak, ADB utilized four pins, and was used to connect keyboards and mice, as well as a handful of other low-bandwidth devices.

Apple Desktop Bus from 1986


ADB debuted in the Apple IIgs, and was brought into the Macintosh family starting with the Macintosh SE and Mac II. It even found its way onto some of Steve Jobs' NeXT computers when that company launched in the 1990s. As a bonus, it allowed users to turn on some Macs straight from the keyboard.

A major complaint about the ADB port was that it was not hot-swappable across the board. It was generally unsafe to unplug them while the machine itself was on. Some machines were able to have ADB peripherals hot-swapped, and some weren't -- but Apple was never clear on what was what.

"I have also seen the ADB port become dead because of this very same thing. Although rare, hardware damage can occur to both your computer's port and the devices you plug in," the site Low End Mac wrote in 2001.

Those looking to save money on what could be expensive ADB cables could turn to SVHS cables, as the pinouts and specs for the cables were essentially the same -- but they nearly never matched Apple's grey in use at the time.

The Apple Desktop Bus port was phased out in the late 1990s, with the arrival of USB. The final Apple product to include ADB was the blue and white Power Macintosh G3 in 1999.

Apple Attachment Unit Interface

AAUI was introduced in the late 1980s as part of an Apple system called FriendlyNet, which was used to connect computers in Ethernet networks. It utilized a 15-pin D connector on the computer end, and an assortment of connectors on the other end depending on the manufacturer and model including coaxial for token ring, and 10-base-T Ethernet jacks.

Apple's AAUI


AAUI appeared on a variety of Mac models in the '90s, starting with the Macintosh Quadra in 1991. It continued to appear through the Powerbook and Power Macintosh lines until it was phased out when the Beige G3 arrived. AAUI ultimately gave way to the next generation, as the technology was getting expensive by that point as compared to the Ethernet jack integrated into a motherboard.

G3 Personality Card

The "personality" card debuted with the G3 in late 1997, and placed both stereo in/out capability and 56kbps modem on the same card. Three different cards were available, with one having a hardware DVD decode chipset.

The G3 Personality card (via eBay)


The advantages to the personality card were mostly on Apple's side. The card allowed for easy addition of AV features, while also saving money on production costs as it allowed for one unified motherboard across the Beige G3 line.

The personality card was never used again in any other Apple model after the G3. Mac OS X arriving only a few years after the Beige G3 didn't support AV in at all.

HDI-45

The HDI-45 was a very short-lived, 45-pin, cable-to-onboard video connector, which was used only in the first generation of Power Macintosh computers in the mid-1990s. In a push by Apple towards user-friendliness, HDI-45 offered a single-cable, plug-once connection to audio, video-in, and ADB in the AudioVision 14 display.

HDI-45 (via an eBay auction)


While HD-45 didn't last long, it many ways it heralded things that came later, such as ADC and even Thunderbolt 3, in that it was an easy, single-cable solution that has worked towards Apple's overarching vision of a "one port to rule them all" concept.

No other Apple display used this connector, although adapters were available at the time.

Like so many other things, the HDI-45 was dropped when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and introduced the iMac.

NuBus and the Processor Direct Slot

NuBus, the 32-bit parallel computer bus, was developed at MIT in the late 1980s and brought to Apple products starting with the Macintosh II in 1987.

The NuBus graphics card


NuBus was upgraded multiple times, with an improved version later used in the Power Macintosh computers of the mid-1990s. It was also used, at the same time, by NeXT computers.

Apple dropped NuBus in the mid 90s, replacing it with conventional PCI.

NuBus was praised for its plug-and-play attributes and was favored by end-users. However, it was disliked by developers and manufacturers. Although it was a 32-bit pathway, at a time when of 8- and 16-bit displays, NuBus required a controller, and a great deal of cost and extra work for developers.

An Ars Technica discussion in 2000 referred to NuBus as "quite possibly the most idiotic expansion card bus known to man."

An off-shoot of the technology was used mostly in the LC line, and was called the PDS slot. It allowed for internal modems, the Apple IIe card, and the like. It lasted for even less time than Nubus did.

Parallel ATA

Apple switched to the parallel ATA standard, following a long run with SCSI, in the early 1990s. This happened during the era of the Mac Performas in the mid-1990s, with the change complete around the time of the launch of the blue-and-white G3 in 1999.

The Apple Mac G3


Apple would switch to Serial ATA (SATA) starting with the 2003 Power Mac G5 tower. SATA cut both the cost and cable size of PATA, saving not just space, but improving ventilation.

ADC

The ADC (Apple Display Connector) made its debut on the Power Mac G4 and G4 Cube.

ADC's big advantage was that it reduced cable clutter with one connection to a display from the host computer. But, at the same time, the rapid improvement in monitors at that time required users to obtain adapters to get ADC to work with their new displays.

ADC card


While convenient for users that adopted it, and Apple's second attempt at a single-cable solution for input and output, ADC was phased out in 2004, following the Power Mac G5.

The mezzanine/"PERCH" slot

The slot known as "mezzanine" was something of a mystery -- it debuted in the original iMac in 1998. It was used by a few accessory manufacturers, but never gained traction and it was discontinued with the 1999 edition of the iMac.

FireWire

FireWire, the brand name for the IEEE 1394 High Speed Serial Bus, was developed by Apple back in the late '80s. It quickly became ubiquitious in Apple products but had a short shelf life, ultimately replaced relatively quickly by Thunderbolt.

The FireWire specification was ratified in 1995, and later became known as "FireWire 400," after the 400 Mbit/s speed which greatly eclipsed USB and USB 2 speeds. It drew praise from Apple enthusiasts for making SCSI termination rules a thing of the past. FireWire 800 was ratified in 2002.

Firewire cables


It first appeared in an Apple computer in 1999. And while Steve Jobs declared Firewire "dead" in 2008, the final Mac products featuring the technology hung on until 2012, when the Thunderbolt standard took over.

FireWire had a significant impact on non-Apple products. It would become the standard for the first wave of popular digital video cameras in the early 2000s.

The 30-pin connector

This is one of the more ubiquitous connectors in Apple history. While the first few iPods connected via Firewire, the 30-pin connector was featured on the first five editions of the iPhone, as well as the first three iPads and several itineration of the iPod Touch. In a sense, it created a whole separate industry of third-party docks and other accessories, present everywhere from the bedroom to the car.

Apple's 30-pin connector


Apple's 30-pin connector carried USB, FireWire and eventually video. It could charge, while connecting to a speaker, and it helped pave the way for both thinner iPods and later the iPad through the third generation of the device.

The 30-pin was replaced by the eight-pin Lightning connector, with the release of the iPhone 5 in 2012, to much handwringing.

Connecting Through the Years

With its present setup, charging and connecting Macs with USB-C, iPhones and iPads with Lightning, and data to both wirelessly, it appears Apple has achieved much of what it's been reaching for much of its history. There's ease of use, and one cable instead of many.

Also, dongles and adapters have been a constant over computing history. Any suggestion that adapters are a new phenomenon, or that "the old Apple wouldn't have done this" is revisionist history.

However, there remain additional frontiers- including unconfirmed rumors of Apple removing Lightning from forthcoming iPhones altogether. That may not happen, but if Apple has taught us anything, it's that it will always continue to innovate not only devices themselves, but the ways they connect.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 56
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,062member
    Funny how the tech types always want Apple to use standardized interfaces and plugs and then turn right around and complain that Apple doesn’t innovate.
    crabbymattinozwilliamlondonmacxpresswatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 2 of 56
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    Nice survey. That last sentence is a key point though. The Thunderbolt 3 bus over USB type C port will not be the one port to rule them all, it will just be one more port.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 56
    hobshobs Posts: 5member
    I enjoyed reading the article. HDMI should have been included as well (not sure if it is the same as HDI-45). Regarding FireWire it wasn’t short lived at all (1999-2012 as mentioned in the article itself). Probably one of the standards that has survived the most in Apple computers (actually Apple being the only one in the industry that persisted on it).

    While all of these are data conectors, maybe power connectors (the MagSafes and previous generations) could have been included. 
    retrogustoaylkwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 56
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,806member
    We're living in the golden age of port interfaces. This doesn't go into all the connectors used by WinPCs, but thanks to Apple moving to USB we saw a lot of those fall away much faster than they would have had Apple not made the first move. I do not miss all the variants of DVI that appeared on Macs over the years. Long live the USB-C port interface.


    ascii said:
    Nice survey. That last sentence is a key point though. The Thunderbolt 3 bus over USB type C port will not be the one port to rule them all, it will just be one more port.
    The USB-C port interface is the closest we've ever come to that and it's one of two port interfaces on the current MBP. I see no reason why protocols graters than USB 3.1 and TB3 won't be able to utilize USB-C in the future so why don't you think it fits the "to "one port to rule them all" mantra?
    edited July 2018 fastasleepwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 5 of 56
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,570administrator
    hobs said:
    I enjoyed reading the article. HDMI should have been included as well (not sure if it is the same as HDI-45). Regarding FireWire it wasn’t short lived at all (1999-2012 as mentioned in the article itself). Probably one of the standards that has survived the most in Apple computers (actually Apple being the only one in the industry that persisted on it).

    While all of these are data conectors, maybe power connectors (the MagSafes and previous generations) could have been included. 
    We had thought about HDMI, but it's not dead on the Mac line just yet. We'll see what happens in the next year.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 56
    ascii said:
    Nice survey. That last sentence is a key point though. The Thunderbolt 3 bus over USB type C port will not be the one port to rule them all, it will just be one more port.
    Try explaining that?

    One connector with both a professional (40 Gbit/s bi-directional 80 Gbit/s)  and consumer (10 Gbit/s) level data transfer standards on it. Plus, it's backward compatible with all versions of USB without a dongle (converter), just change the cable, $5 each and at most you'll need 3 cables. I had been waiting a long time to replace a lot of my external devices, now I only buy USB-C/TB-3 and most come with USB-C to USB-A cables.

    It can pretty much can replace everything out there (USB, Firewire, Serial, parallel, mini-SATA, HDMI, Display Port, ethernet, audio, etc).

    Plus with a dock, you can channel everything to include audio, video, ethernet, a discrete GPU and 100w of laptop power through a single cable. If anything the laptop power will make it the go to standard, since no other cable does it and that power can be drawn from a power supply or another device, like a monitor.

    I only use a dock at home so I can use one cable to connect everything. I'm only on Thunderbolt 1 and it works like a charm.

    I can't think of a single consumer device (TVs, computers, smartphones, etc,) that couldn't replace all of it's ports with this one connector, maybe with the exception of ethernet, since that plug is unlikely to be replaced due to the nature of the cabling.

    edited July 2018 2old4funDangDavewilliamlondonwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 7 of 56
    FireWire 400 is actually faster throughout then USB 2 480 megabit at least a TV the time , or maybe still. Because FireWire is peer to peer. And USB requirres the hosts CPUs attention to do transfers. 

    Firewire is higher voltage. We would probably be still using FireWire if it wasn't for Apple wanting royalty payments on every computer sold

    if the iPhone and iPad had FireWire Ports. You wouldn't even need iTunes. You could just sync all your apple devices by connecting them to each other. Technically you could back up your iPhone to your iPad Pro with FireWire 
    aylkwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 56
    Pata had a problem where you could only have 4 hard disk devices. Each pair of hard disks took up an IRQ. And the host of course has to do the transfers. so accessing your hard disk steals attention from the cpu

    scisi supported a chain of up to 15 devices and it only used one IRQ. And the hard disks can move data between each other without the CPU being involved. 


    IRQs back in the old days were very precious. if your computer had a printer , a sound card , a modem , and a mouse. Well that was it. u had no more room for any more devices.  Maybe you could throw in additional cards that don't use IRQs

    the IBM PC AT gave you more IRQs. But you really only had irq 9 free. And that was used for your video card 

    you young kids that build your own computers don't know the pain
    edited July 2018 Solipscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 56
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,806member
    Pata had a problem where you could only have 4 hard disk devices. Each pair of hard disks took up an IRQ. And the host of course has to do the transfers. so accessing your hard disk steals attention from the cpu

    scisi supported a chain of up to 15 devices and it only used one IRQ. And the hard disks can move data between each other without the CPU being involved. 


    IRQs back in the old days were very precious. if your computer had a printer , a sound card , a modem , and a mouse. Well that was if. You had no more room for any more devices. 

    the IBM PC AT gave you more IRQs. But you really only had irq 9 free. And that was used for your video card 

    you young kids that build your own computers don't know the pain
    I don't miss those days.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 56
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 603member
    Worth noting that the first iPod used FireWire. This had the unintended consequence of making it the most affordable, high speed portable hard drive on the market; Steve Jackson’s crew used them to ferry Lord of the Rings footage from New Zealand to Hollywood. 
    edited July 2018 chiawatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 56
    jingojingo Posts: 92member
    What about GeoPort? Definitely an obsolete port, and definitely not featured in the article! Technically quite interesting because of the direct connection ir provided from the DSP in AV Quadras.
    chiawatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 56
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,570administrator
    jingo said:
    What about GeoPort? Definitely an obsolete port, and definitely not featured in the article! Technically quite interesting because of the direct connection ir provided from the DSP in AV Quadras.
    Geoport was pretty cool. It is an evolutionary offshoot of the DIN-8 serial connector with an extra pin for the protocol, and really didn't go that far, but could have.

    As an exercise for the reader, look up the saga around Geoport and Versit.
    edited July 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 56
    HDMI is not really a computer port, so that is why it is not mentioned.  It is more of an AV port for home audio and video equipment, even though it did appear on a few MacBook Pros for convenience.

    The iPod should have been mentioned with FireWire because that was huge.  It was during a time when other MP3 players, most notably the Creative Labs Jukebox, used USB 1.1 for data transfer and it took literally 5 hours to fill up the 4GB drive on the Jukebox.  The iPod with FireWire, about 10 minutes to fill its 5GB drive.

    The GeoPort should have been mentioned as well because that was featured on the Quadra AVs and Apple pushed the GeoPort Telecom Modem for functioning as both a modem and handling phone calls.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 56

    Eric_WVGG said:
    Worth noting that the first iPod used FireWire. This had the unintended consequence of making it the most affordable, high speed portable hard drive on the market; Steve Jackson’s crew used them to ferry Lord of the Rings footage from New Zealand to Hollywood. 
    I think you mean Peter Jackson.
    Eric_WVGGwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 56
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,806member
    HDMI is not really a computer port, so that is why it is not mentioned.
    Considering how versatile USB-C is, especially when paired with TB, that it can replace all these other posts I think it should be added. Being a dedicated port for A/V doesn't mean it's not used on computers, or we'd have to say that DVI is even less of a "computer port" when it's dedicated to only video without audio.
  • Reply 16 of 56
    crabbycrabby Posts: 38member
    It appears there is not much of a market for my old SCSI cables. They were expensive...
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 56
    Let's not forget the various kinds of PCI that came out with a flurry - different voltages, lanes, types, whatever. They were the most devastating of all the changes, because among other things they made a lot of perfectly good $10K+ Digidesign Pro Tools systems obsolete (among other digital audio tools that were only a few hundred dollars). Expensive computer cards are a very short-lived investment.

    Today the danger is more from server-side changes requiring software updates that only run on the latest hardware. Personal example: DirecTV's iPad app needed an iPad 2 only three months after I'd bought an original iPad.

    So much for the argument that the system will continue to work, you just can't update it.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 56
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    “FireWire was quickly replaced by Thunderbolt”? 1999 to 2013 is quick in the tech world?
    edited July 2018 aylkwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 56
    In this story I'm missing the db-19 floppy drive connector, the y cable for the apple ][ card in the LC, the duodock port, the pb 100 floppy drive connector, the pb1xx scsi connector, the pb165/180 video connector, the magsafe 1/2, the db-15 video connector, displaport, mini displayport, thunderbolt 1/2/3.

    Lotsa things change in 40 years:the power plug, mouse and keyboard have remained the same more or less :smile: , the on screen mirror image did change a bit :wink: 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 56
    Today the danger is more from server-side changes requiring software updates that only run on the latest hardware. Personal example: DirecTV's iPad app needed an iPad 2 only three months after I'd bought an original iPad.
    IMHO even a bigger danger is drm and encryption related issues: server and client keys expire, or just become unavailabe. When the OS isnt supported anymore, also these encryption and therefore communication, licenses, programs and files become disfunctional. DRM and encryption with keys is lemmings technology .....
    watto_cobra
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