Serial vs. Parallel vs. USB vs. Ethernet vs. Wireless Printer Connections

22. January 2012 09:00 by Calvin Yu in Troubleshooting and Printer Tips  //  Tags:   //   Comments

Early computers connected with most peripheral devices, including printers, through the use of a serial port. This limited the speed of the connection because the data could only be sent one bit at a time. Finding a new printer that allows an old style serial connection is very unlikely. Although there are old printers still in use that connect through the RS-232 standard, the connector is no longer a feature on new devices. To hook up this type of printer to a modern computer requires a special adapter. There may still be times when a standard serial connection is preferred because it is possible for the printer to be up to 1000 feet from the computer and still function reliably at a speed of 115 kilobits per second.

Canon PIXMA MP560 ink printerIn 1970, Centronics introduced the parallel printer interface. It replaced the single wire of the serial port with eight wires which allowed it to operate at a much higher speed because it could send eight bits of data at one time. While serial interfaces were used for connecting many kinds of devices, the parallel port soon became known as “the printer port.” It was for decades the standard of the computer industry because the multi-wire configuration allowed it to transfer eight times the 115 kilobits per second at once. While most printers today have moved on to other methods of connection, there are new printers available with parallel connector capability.

Since the introduction of the much faster Universal Serial Bus (USB) in 2000, both the standard RS-232 serial connector and the parallel “printer” port have become almost extinct. Although standard USB cables are only 15 feet long, it is possible to connect several together with hubs for a total distance of up to about 80 feet. USB also has the advantage of being much simpler to install. However, USB printers are not always easy to share with other computers across a network. For networking purposes a better solution is an Ethernet or Wireless interface.

An Ethernet cable with an RJ45 connector will allow a printer to connect directly to a Local Area Network (LAN). While there are many types of USB to Ethernet adapters available, most of the better printers come with both USB and Ethernet ports. At 54 Mbps, Ethernet is about four times as fast as USB and an Ethernet cable can be as much as 300 feet long without the use of hubs.

The latest printer connection option is wireless which is available on many models like the Canon MP560 ink printer . This can be accomplished with either a Wi-Fi Router or through a Bluetooth adapter. While wireless printers are fairly new and the less expensive models will not offer built-in Wi-Fi, a Bluetooth adapter that plugs into the printer’s USB port can present a viable alternative in many cases. With the growing trend toward the use of portable devices instead of desktop computers, a wireless printer setup will become more common.

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