The new MacBook Pro comes with two or four external ports, depending on the model you pick. And the new MacBook Air has a pair of ports. But those ports are only of one type: Thunderbolt 3, which is compatible with USB-C.
But you probably have devices that use USB-A, Thunderbolt 1, Thunderbolt 2, DisplayPort, HDMI, or something else. How do you connect these devices? With an adapter.
If you’re planning to buy a new MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, make sure you set aside a considerable amount of cash for the adapters you need. Apple doesn’t include any in the box, except for a power adapter.
Your best bet is to get a combination dock, like the Satechi Slim Aluminum Type-C Multi-Port Adapter ($60 on Amazon). It connects via USB-C, and includes a USB-C pass-through port, two USB 3.0 ports, and an HDMI port with 4K (30Hz) support. With this, you don’t have to carry around multiple adapters.
If you don’t want a dock, or you can’t find a dock with the mix of connections you need, Apple or another company probably has an adapter for you. We’ve come up with this guide to help you sort out what you need, and we link to the appropriate adapter in the online Apple Store or on Amazon. You can also use the quick link list below to jump to the info you need.
How to connect:
- USB-C devices
- USB-A devices
- Micro B SuperSpeed USB
- iPhone or iPad
- Lightning Earpods
- Headphones with a 3.5mm headphone plug
- Thunderbolt 1 or Thunderbolt 2 devices
- DisplayPort and mini DisplayPort
- SD cards
- FireWire devices
- Printer with USB-B
Be sure to check the return policies; sometimes adapters from third-parties don’t work. Read user reviews whenever possible, and read the specifications to make sure the adapter can do what you need it to do.
How to connect USB-C devices
The Thunderbolt 3 ports in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air work with USB-C devices, which have the same connector shape. If you want to use a USB-C device, you can just plug it into one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports. No adapter necessary. Whew.
How to connect USB-A devices
USB-A is the USB connector with which you’re probably most familiar. It’s the USB connector that was on the previous MacBooks, and it’s the connector that comes on your iOS device’s sync cable in the box. (Terms like USB 3 and USB 2 refer to the speed at which data travels through the connector.)
This problem first came up when Apple released the 12-inch MacBook, which has a single USB-C port. You can get a dock, like the before-mentioned Satechi. Or you can get Apple’s $19 USB-C to USB Adapter.
If you need to connect multiple USB-A devices, get a USB-C to USB-A hub. Anker sells a USB-C to 4-Port USB 3.0 Hub ($18 on Amazon) that provides four USB-A ports.
How to connect micro B SuperSpeed devices
This connector is often used with external storage devices. You’ll need a new cable, like the $15 StarTech USB C to Micro USB Cable.
The name of the cable is confusing, because it could be mistaken for micro USB. But if you check the product page on StarTech’s website, you can see a clear shot of the micro B SuperSpeed connector on the cable, which is quite different from micro USB.
How to connect an iPhone or iPad
If you are still using the USB-A to Lightning (or 30-pin, if you’re using an older iOS device) cable that came with your device, you can get the USB-C to USB Adapter mentioned above in the USB-A section.
How to connect the Lightning EarPods
There’s now a USB-C to Lightning adapter, thanks to the folks at Anker. It’s $30 on Amazon. This adapter has a female Lightning connector on one end, so you can plug in your Lightning earphones. The other side is a standard USB-C connector that you plug into your MacBook.
How to connect headphones with a 3.5mm headphone plug
You’re in luck. The MacBook Pro and MacBook Air comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack. Just plug it in and you’re good to go. That was easy.
Now, say you need a second headphone jack. You can use a splitter, like the Belkin Speaker and Headphone 3.5 mm AUX Audio Cable Splitter ($5 on Amazon). Or you can use a USB-C to headphone adapter, like this Motorola one on Amazon for $6, or you can get the $12 Google USB-C Digital to 3.5 mm headphone adapter. If you need multiple headphone jacks, the $10 Belkin RockStar 5-Jack Multi Headphone Audio Splitter plugs into the headphone jack and adds five jacks.
How to connect Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 devices
Older versions of Thunderbolt have a different connector than Thunderbolt 3. The adapter you need is Apple’s $49 Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter.
How to connect an external display
This one can eat up a chunk of your budget, because there are so many different types of display connectors. Be prepared to buy several adapters.
DisplayPort and mini DisplayPort
To connect to a DisplayPort display, you need a USB-C to DisplayPort cable or adapter. Amazon sells the Cable Matters USB-C to DisplayPort Adapter cable for $17, and it supports 4K video at 60Hz.
To connect a display with mini DisplayPort, you need an adapter like the Belinda USB C Type to Mini DisplayPort/Mini DP Adapter Cable ($19 on Amazon).
Apple offers the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, a $69 device that also provides a USB-A port and a USB-C port that’s for charging only. Be warned: Apple released a new version of this adapter (model number A2119) in August 2019 that supports HDMI 2.0. The older version (model number A1621) supports HDMI 1.4. If you shop in person, you can check the box for the model number, and at an Apple store, you very likely will get the new model. But if you shop elsewhere, you could end up with the old model. Apple has a support document that details the differences between the two adapters.
If you don’t want to spend that much, you can get an adapter that’s just a USB-C to HDMI adapter, such as UGreen’s USB-C to HDMI Adapter ($16 on Amazon). We really like the Nonda USB-C to HDMI Adapter ($19 on Amazon). When shopping for such adapters, look out for 1080p support. The Nonda adapter has 4K video support.
To connect a VGA display, Apple has a USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter ($64 on Amazon). In addition to a VGA to USB-C connection, it also provides a USB-A port for connecting a USB device, and a USB-C charging port to keep your laptop battery happy.
On the more affordable side but without the USB ports is the Simple.Fly USB-C to VGA Adapter, which is available on Amazon for $10.
How to connect the MacBook Pro to ethernet
You’ll probably use Wi-Fi most of the time, but using a wired ethernet connection has its advantages. To connect to an ethernet network, you need an adapter like the Belkin USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter, which is available on Amazon for $24.
How to connect SD cards
If you use a DLSR or other type of stand-alone camera, it might have a way to transfer your files wirelessly. If not, you need an adapter to access the SD card, like the Cable Matters Dual Slot USB C Card Reader ($10 on Amazon).
If you have a USB-A card reader, you can try using the Apple’s $19 USB-C to USB Adapter, or get a USB-C dock.
How to connect FireWire devices
Ugh, this one could be a problem. Apple has a Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter for $29, but it has a older Thunderbolt connector that doesn’t plug into the Thunderbolt 3 port on a new MacBook Pro.
You could try daisy-chaining adapters, but that’s always risky and may not work. Plug the Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter into Apple’s $49 Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter and then plug that into the MacBook Pro.
How to connect a printer with USB-B
Many printers nowadays have wireless support, so there’s no need for a cable. But maybe you have an older printer, or you find wireless printing unreliable. Most consumer printers have a USB-B port. It’s a squarish connector, much different from USB-A or USB-C.
You need a cable like the Cable Matters USB C Printer Cable, which has a USB-C to USB-B connection. A 1 meter cable is $7; other lengths are available.
If you already have a USB-C to USB Adapter, you can take the USB-A to USB-B cable that came with your printer and plug it into the adapter. Then you plug the adapter into the laptop.
How to add a MagSafe power connector to the 13-inch MacBook Pro
The power adapter that comes with the new MacBook Pro plugs into a Thunderbolt 3 port. Sadly, there is no breakaway MagSafe connector. If you’ve ever had to plug in your MacBook at a coffee shop and had someone trip over the power cable, you know how much of a lifesaver MagSafe can be.
But you can still add a MagSafe connector to the new 13-inch MacBook Pro. Griffin’s BreakSafe Magnetic USB-C Power Cable ($13 on Amazon) is a power-only cable that is used to charge the laptop. It includes an adapter that acts like a MagSafe connector. Our review of the BreakSafe covers how it works with a 12-inch MacBook, but the breakaway connector should work the same way for the new MacBook Pro.
However, Griffin specifically states that the cable works with the 13-inch laptop; the company doesn’t say it’s compatible with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. That’s because the cable is rated at 60 watts, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a 61-watt power adapter. The 16-inch MacBook Pro needs more wattage than the Griffin cable is designed to handle.