You Got a New Apple Laptop, Now What – The 2021 Edition

If Santa left a shiny new Apple laptop for you under the tree this year, you may be asking a question we often hear… “How do I connect all of my existing accessories?”  Whether you have a MacBook Air, a 13” MacBook Pro or the newest 14” or 16” MacBook Pro, we all face the same issue, so we have put together some ideas on how to make the most of the peripherals you have, with minimal extra expense.

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What Ports Do I Have

The current MacBook Air and the 13” MacBook Pro each have two (2) Thunderbolt 4 ports, that supports charging,  DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 (up to 40Gb/s, USB 4 (up to 40Gb/s and USB 3.1 Gen 2 (up to 10Gb/s).

The newer 14” and 16” MacBook Pro models have a greater selection of ports.  They include an SDXC card slot, an HDMI port, a MagSafe 3 port (for charging), Three (3) Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports with support for Charging, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 4 (up to 40Gb/s and USB 4 (up to 40Gb/s).

While the newer MacBook Pro models to provide some alternate connection types, none of the current Apple laptop models have an easy way of connecting older USB-A peripherals. For that, you will need some additional accessories.

Cables and Dongles and Hubs – Oh My!

Many people use their laptop purely as a laptop.  If all you need is power to charge your laptop, no additional equipment is needed. And for all Apple you’ll still have at least one USB-C port available.

Apple sells a variety of dongles that can help you connect most of your peripherals, but we find them to be expensive for what they provide and, in some cases, won’t do what you want them to do.  That said, the Apple connectors are one option and if you are a Mac loyalist and only want their products, it is certainly a choice.  For those that use their laptop for both portable and desktop use, here are some suggestions to get you up and running.

Let’s Start with a Hub

Since we know we need to make several different types of connects, we’ll start by adding a dongle or a hub.

Once of the most common dongles is the Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter.

Using a single USB-C port on your laptop, you can connect a USB-C cable to charge your Mac, connect an HDMI cable for an external monitor and have a USB-A port to connect an external hard drive or other USB device. But at $60.00+ (from Amazon), we think it is a bit over-priced.  In addition, the USB-C port only charges you laptop.  When we tried to connect a small USB hub to connect a wired keyboard and mouse, they would not function.  Connected individually to the Apple dongle, they worked fine.

Like a dongle, a hub offers multiple connection types but often have a greater variety of designs and functions.  Hubs tend to fall into one of two major categories.  They either have built in USB-C ports that mate directly to the side of your laptop, or they have a short cable with a USB-C plug that can plug into your laptop. Which style you pick is purely a matter of personal choice.  We prefer the style with the cable and plug as then tend to be a little smaller so they are easier to transport, and they leave the extra USB-C port exposed when connected.

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Hubs come in an endless variety of styles with a wide variety of connections.  Most of the hubs we looked at had slots for SD cards and Micro SD cards.  Our primary need was a way to charge the laptop, connect our monitor, continue to use our external hard drive for Time machine, which needs a USB-A style connection and have a couple of extra USB-A ports available.

After looking at many of them, we landed on the LENTION USB-C Multi-Port Hub.

This hub has four (4) USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C power delivery port and an HDMI port.  In addition to charging the laptop, it powers the USB ports which would handle the mouse and keyboard issue.  It connects to the USB-C port Mac from a short cable.  It seemed to meet all our needs and at around $35.00, was significantly cheaper than the Apple dongle.  It’s also available in Silver or Space Gray to match your laptops finish.

Another great option is the CalDigit SOHO Dock. It provides a variety of ports to meet almost any connectivity need. It includes an HDMI port for your external monitor.

So Much to See – Connecting a Monitor

If you have a newer external monitor, there is a good chance it has a built-in HDMI port.  If so, you just need to connect an HDMI cable between your monitor and the HDMI port on the LENTION or CalDigit hub.  If your external monitor uses a DVI-I cable as its primary connection, you’ll need a way to connect it to the HDMI port on the hub.

To convert a male DVI cable to a male HDMI cable check out the Tripp-Lite 8-inch HDMI-M to DVI-D (F) Cable.

The DVI-I plug fits into a DVI-D socket so we it still fits your cable but can also be used on another monitor if they have the “D” style cable.  We also know that Tripp-Lite is a well known brand and worth the few extra pennies compared to some of the other models available.

Another option would be to replace the cable completely with a DVI to HDMI cable.

Some monitors and projectors only have a VGA connection and use a VGA cable.  Since VGA is an analog signal, it needs to be converted to a digital signal to work with an HDMI connection.  There are many options available but a simple and inexpensive solution is an  HDMI to VGA 1080P HDMI Male to VGA Female Video Converter.

If you travel a lot and often need to connect your Mac to monitors or projectors of others, it’s hard to know what type of connection they use.  Given the reasonable prices, we think it’s a good idea to get both the VGA and DVI adapters and keep them in your travel bag so you are prepared for any type of connection.

Some Extra Items

But there are still some things to consider as you make the transition to the new USB-C technology.

You may recall we previously had some 2.5” HDDs and SSDs that we wanted to use as external drives and recommended the UGREEN USB 3.0 HDD Enclosure.

It is reasonably priced and has a 4.7 rating on Amazon with over 14,000 reviews.

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Thanks to the extra port on our hub, we can continue to use this drive and easily share it with others who may still have the older USB-A connections. But we also want to take advantage of the faster speed of the USB-C standard and fortunately, the folks at UGREEN have an answer with their USB-C HDD Enclosure.

In Case You Need to Share

It’s not unusual for us to travel with our laptop and an external hard drive.  Depending on the size of the files and the availability of a strong Wi-Fi signal, you still sometimes need a way to manually move files between computers. That left us thinking about the different connections.

USB-C Flash Drives are becoming more popular but what if the other party doesn’t have USB-C? We could use our older USB-A style external drive and take our hub with us but we don’t really need it except for that drive connection.  Fortunately, there is a simple and cost-effective solution.

This USB-C to USB-A 3.0 cable solves the problem.

By adding this adapter to our travel bag, you can take any USB-A external hard drive and just use the adapter if needed.

One More Thing

We’ve taken care of just about everything but there is one more thing we should address.

Currently, Apple still uses USB-A to Lightning connector for iOS devices, which leaves us needing a way to connect our iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to your new laptop.  Fortunately, you can keep using your current USB-A to Lightning cable and use a USB-A to USB-C adapter.

The Bottom Line

We have heard from many people that they are concerned about the transition to the newer USB-C platform.  As you can see, there are many options to allow you to repurpose your older technology without breaking the bank.

These suggestions do not cover every possible need but just as we have shown inexpensive solutions for some of the most common connection type, know that there are many other adapters, cables, dongles and hubs to meet almost any need.

We also know that some of our suggestions overlap and you may decide, for example, that a single adapter is all you need, instead of a cable. There is no right way to adjust.  Do what works for you.  The point is, USB-C is nothing to be concerned about as you upgrade to a newer Mac.

Have you made the change to USB-C?  How did you manage your transition and what are your favorite connector types?  Why not join the conversation and add a comment below.

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This article was last posted in December 2019. The content has been updated to reflect current product availability.

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