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How to choose the right printer port for your business

In a perfect world, every printer would work seamlessly with every computer, paper would never jam, and everybody would be happy. Unfortunately, to ensure that data flows, and our printing works, we still need to navigate the wonderful world of printer ports. Printer port types, printer port speeds, printer port costs – there are a ton of variables to consider. Each type of port offers something slightly different, from parallel ports to USB ports.  

Here’s how to find the right one for your business.

What is a printer port?

A printer port is simply the interface on a computer or printer that enables the two machines to talk to one another. That’s it. The port is the connection point – the thing through which data flows between printer and computer. 

Different ports work at different speeds, and some computers will only work with a certain printer port. Ideally, we’re looking for the port that delivers the best combination of speed, easy setup and recognition, flexibility and cost. And that will vary, depending on the nature of your business – and what you’re printing.

What are the different types of printer ports?

We’ll keep this relatively top level, otherwise we’ll be here all day. There are essentially two overarching ‘types’ of printer port: software and hardware. Software ports are sort of the keys – the middlemen between computer and printer. The most common software ports are 9100 and 6001. 

Hardware ports are the physical interface that connects a computer to a printer. AKA the dusty cables and weird-shaped holes on the back of your computer. There are a bunch of different types of hardware ports, ranging from the old-school parallel ports (also known as LPT1 or parallel SCSI) to modern USB ports. 

Of course, within both these categories there are dozens of different ports, cable types and configurations. Let’s run through some of the common ones.

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Parallel vs USB vs Network ports

Parallel printer ports – These are the printer ports you might have grown up with: the big, toothy, trapezoid ports you still find on old legacy systems. They’re called parallel because they send multiple bits of data at once (as opposed to serial ports, which send bits one at a time). Parallel ports are often simpler to set up, but most modern computers don’t have them, and they usually offer the slowest transfer speed.

USB – USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, and it’s probably the most common type of printer port (although the benefit of USB is that it can obviously be used for all sorts of data transfers, not just printing). USBs can be plugged into a mouse, a camera, a keyboard, or an external storage device. They transfer data at anything between 12 Mgbps and 5Gbps  – much faster than the old parallel ports

Network – Network are also known as TCP/IP ports. They’re wireless software printing ports, usually using a wireless card and printer driver inside the computer to synch with printers on the network. This is obviously a great choice if you’ve got multiple computers that need to print from the same device, but wireless speeds can vary, and wireless networks do come with added security concerns. Just something to keep in mind.

How do I find the right port for my business?

To find the right port for your business, you need to consider a few factors. How often are you printing? How many computers will need to access the printer? How much are you looking to spend? Unfortunately there’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all printer port (yet). It’s a matter of fitting the square peg in the square port, so to speak.

I need speed – If speed of data transfer is your only concern, ethernet ports and USB 3.0 and 3.1 are going to be your best bet. These are both hardware ports, using cables to form the bridge between printer and computer. Obviously, because these require direct connection between the two devices, they might not be practical for larger printing networks. USB 3.0 ports offer transfer rates around 5Gbps.

I need multiple users – Large offices will generally use Wi-Fi or network printing to allow all employees to easily access the same printer. There’s no need for physical cables – modern printers use the same software port as if they were connected to your PC, but the actual ‘communication’ is done through the wireless router. Just be aware, printing networks can be fiddly to set up, and do come with additional security risks.

I need quick mobile printing – Bluetooth printer ports can be great for printing quickly from mobile devices, like phones and tablets. They also offer proximity-based printing – i.e. only authorized users close-by can access the printer. These ports can sidestep a busy Wi-Fi network, but they do offer limited transfer speeds. You also need a Bluetooth-compatible device, and printer, to make them work.  

Ultimately, there is no ‘best’ printer port. Only what’s best for you and your business. If you need help finding the right printer port, get in touch with our team. We’ll be happy to sort you out.

Want to learn more about Printer ports?

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