Ports Available on Your Windows 8 Tablet - dummies

Ports Available on Your Windows 8 Tablet

By Andy Rathbone

Tablets, including the Windows 8 tablets, usually include at least four holes along their edges, technically called ports: USB, a display port, a docking port, and a headphone/microphone jack.

They each come in handy when plugging in accessories to let your tablet do more tricks.

USB ports on your Windows 8 tablet

This simple port, lacking on the iPad and not fully supported by Android tablets, lets you plug in nearly any item that works on a desktop computer: flash drives, portable hard drives, a mouse, a keyboard, a TV tuner, a digital camera, and other common gadgets. Windows 8 recognizes most items as soon as you plug them in.

If you’re connected with the Internet, Windows installs drivers for them automatically, so they work without your intervention.

Tablets running Windows RT don’t accept nearly as many USB devices as tablets running Windows 8. They accept most mice, keyboards, and storage devices, including most digital cameras. Forget about installing TV tuners, dial-up modems, or anything else that comes bundled with software.

Your Windows 8 tablet’s video port

All Windows 8 tablets include a tiny video port that lets you plug in an external monitor or HDTV — if you have the correct type of cable, that is. Unfortunately, very few tablets include that cable in the box.

Most tablets send their video through either a Micro HDMI port or the newer miniDisplayPort. The two ports look almost identical, but the Micro HDMI port nearly always has the word “HDMI” stamped next to it.

Docking stations for your Windows 8 tablet

Many tablets offer optional docking stations — little props that serve as stands. When you slide your tablet into its docking station, your tablet sits facing you, much like a traditional monitor.

Most docking stations include a set of ports for attaching a full-sized keyboard and mouse. That lets you use your tablet like a regular PC by nestling it into its dock.

When shopping for a dock, make sure you buy one made specifically for your particular Windows 8 tablet. Different manufacturers’ docks use slightly different connectors, and they’re rarely interchangeable between models.

Your Windows 8 tablet’s microphone and speakers

All tablets include a built-in microphone, usually visible as a pinhole (or two, for stereo) along one of the tablet’s edges. The built-in microphone works fine for recording meetings, classes, dictation, or even soundtracks to home movies shot with your tablet’s built-in camera.

But if that’s not enough quality, move to the headphone jack: Those jacks also work with special microphones created for iPods, iPads, and iPhones. (The headphone jack has extra depth, and senses when you insert a specially designed microphone.) Most iPod microphones cost under $20.

For a professional-quality recording, however, buy a microphone that plugs into the USB port. These range from around $50 to several hundred dollars.

As for speakers, all tablets include stereo speakers that work fine for casual listening. You can plug a set of headphones into the headphone jack, of course, for private listening. To fill the room with sound, plug in a pair of standard desktop computer speakers.

Memory card slot on your Windows 8 tablet

Most Windows 8 tablets come with small hard drives of 32, 64, or 128 GB. Most desktop PCs, by contrast, include at least 300GB of space — more than twice as much.

If your tablet begins running out of room for your files, turn to the memory card slot. Most tablets come with slots that accept micro-sized memory cards — the ones about the size of your little fingernail.

How big of a memory card do you need? In short, as large as you can afford. They come in sizes of 32, 64, or 128GB.

The table shows the approximate amount of information you can pack onto different-sized memory cards. Each cell in the table shows how many albums, photos, high-definition video hours, or apps it would take to fill the card.

Approximate Memory Card Storage Capacities
Size Albums Photos HD Video Apps
16GB 80 400 2 hours 16
32GB 160 800 4 hours 32
64GB 320 1,600 8 hours 64
128GB 640 3,200 16 hours 128

Most tablets include a microSDXC card slot, the type of slot commonly found in smartphones. MicroSDXC slots accept three types of cards, ranked according to how much information they can store. (The slots are backward-compatible, so the newer card slots can still read the older types of cards.)

The slots on most tablets accept all of these cards:

  • Micro Secure Digital (microSD): The oldest version, these cards rarely held more than 2GB in capacity.

  • Micro Secure Digital High Capacity (microSDHC): These cards hold up to 32GB in capacity.

  • Micro Secure Digital eXtended Capacity (microSDXC): These newer cards currently come in 64GB sizes, but expect to see 128GB cards out soon. (Theoretically, they can hold up to 2TB in capacity.)