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Printers use one of the following methods for connecting to a computer or sending and receiving print jobs:

Connection Type Description
Parallel Parallel printers used to be the standard method of connecting printers to a computer. Be aware of the following when using parallel connections:
  • Parallel communication is generally faster than serial communication.
  • A cable with a 25-pin DB male connector on one end and a Centronics-36 connector on the other end is used to connect the cable to the printer.
  • Some printers, particularly Hewlett Packard laser printers, use a Mini Centronics connector, which also has 36-pins, just closer together and in a smaller housing.
  • Maximum standard cable length is 15 feet (9 to 12 feet is optimum). Newer IEEE-1284 cables can go up to 30 feet and some specialty cables will allow a distance of 50 feet. As a rule, any distance over 10 feet should probably be accommodated by a network connection.
  • Parallel printers are increasingly rare today.
Serial Older printers used the serial port to connect to the computer.
  • The serial connection makes serial printers slower, but the connecting cables can be longer.
  • The same configuration information is required for serial printers as any serial device (start bits, stop bits, transmission rate, parity).
  • Serial printers are rare today.
USB, IEEE 1394 Many newer printers come with both parallel and USB connectors allowing for configurations that include scanners, external drives, or additional printers. The USB connections increase speed considerably over a standard serial port. Firewire connections provide the additional option of isochronous data transfer.
Infrared/Wireless Many printers allow you to connect using a wireless connection. This also allows for special configurations and is especially useful with laptop computers.
  • Infrared connections are actually serial connections using light and air instead of wires to make the connection. Infrared requires a line-of-sight connection (no obstructions in the path).
  • Bluetooth is a wireless technology for creating simple connections between two devices. Unlike infrared, line-of-sight connections are not required.
  • 802.11a/b/g wireless standards use radio waves and are used to create wireless networks between multiple devices.
SCSI SCSI printers are used mostly for high-end printers where performance is an issue. SCSI devices are connected in a chain to the computer.
Network Some printers also have their own network interface card, which allows them to connect directly to a network. Network printers can also be connected to a computer that is connected to the network. Another way to connect a non-network-ready printer to a network is with a network interface device. Network printers are useful for allowing multiple people to share the same printer. This is a common way to connect printers used in a business environment.