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One of the biggest changes to computers — especially laptops — over the past five years has been a march towards making them thinner, lighter, and sleeker looking. But computers that are easy on your eyes and back, come with a cost: an abundance of different types of ports. This is especially true of Apple’s MacBook line, which only have Thunderbolt 3 ports, which are confusingly shaped like USB-C ports, and work with USB-C accessories.
If you want to connect a computer without an HDMI or VGA port to a monitor, TV, or projector, the best solution is a graphics adapter. This accessory converts one of your USB ports into the one you need. The upside is that you can unplug the graphics adapter when your computer isn’t hooked up to a monitor — you’re not giving up a USB port forever.
We’ve saved you time by rounding up the best graphic adapters available online. Each one is best suited to a different type of situation, but all of them get the job done. If upgrading to a new laptop has left you without some of the functionality of your old one, this accessory can restore some of it.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Graphics Adapter
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right graphics adapter for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
HDMI vs. VGA: All of the graphics adapters in our guide get plugged into a USB port (more on that in a second), but some terminate into a VGA port while others terminate into an HDMI port. Both ports carry a video signal, but HDMI also carries an audio signal. Make sure to check which type of port your monitor uses before getting an adapter, to ensure it’ll work properly.
USB vs. USB-C: For a long time, all computers had full-sized USB-A ports on them (they’re shaped like rectangles), but many ultra modern computers have USB-C ports instead (they’re shaped like a small oval). We’ve included graphics adapters that can connect to USB-A and USB-C ports in our guide, but make sure to take a look at your computer to determine the right one for you.
Maximum Resolution: USB ports have a fixed amount of bandwidth (the amount of data it can transfer at one time), which determines the maximum video resolution it can output. All of the adapters in our guide can produce at least a 1080P (Full HD) video signal. Some can go beyond that, but have a lower refresh rate, which means video will look sharper but choppier. For reference, a refresh rate of 60Hz is ideal for a smooth experience.
Single Use vs. Hub: If the only port your computer is missing is an HDMI or VGA port, a single-use graphics adapter is the right choice for you. But, we’ve also included USB hubs in this guide; this accessory is a graphics adapter with additional ports on it (USB, Ethernet, an SD Card slot, etc.) If you want to restore all of the functionality computer makers have stripped away over the past few years, a hub is worth considering.
Compatibility: Unless otherwise stated, the USB graphics adapters will work on both Mac and Windows computers without any additional software.
1. StarTech USB 3.0 to VGA Adapter
StarTech’s USB 3.0 to VGA graphics adapter is a great choice if you need to connect your computer to an older computer monitor. The pocket-sized accessory has a short cable, so it won’t mess up your desk, and a slim frame.
Typically, VGA cables can lock into a VGA port via two screws located on the right and left sides of the cord. StarTech’s ultra-slim design doesn’t have holes for those screws, so you will have to be a little more careful not to yank your VGA cable out of this graphics adapter. If you’re a little cautious, you’ll be fine.
This adapter can output video at a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels (slightly higher than 1080P), but won’t carry audio. If your monitor has speakers, you’ll have to connect your computer to it using a 3.5mm audio cable to use them. This is a standard graphics adapter, so it doesn’t have any additional ports, but if all you need is a way to connect your computer to a monitor or projector, you’ll be fine.
Pros: Its slim design makes it easy to carry around in your laptop bag or backpack. Its higher-than-HD maximum resolution ensures a clear picture on an HD monitor.
Cons: Your VGA cable can’t screw into the port on this adapter, so you’ll have to be a little more gentle. It can’t carry an audio signal, but that’s a limitation of VGA, not StarTech’s adapter.
2. Plugable USB 3.0 to HDMI Video Graphics Adapter
Plugable’s HDMI Video Graphics Adapter is a single-use accessory that allows you to connect your computer to more than just a monitor. Because HDMI is a widely-used port, you can use this graphics adapter to plug your computer into a TV or projector. It has a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, which is between 1080P HD and 4K, but only at 50Hz, which means your video signal will run a little more slowly. If you opt to output video at 1080P, the video signal will be displayed at 60Hz, which will look more smooth.
Another benefit of HDMI is that it allows you to send a video and audio signal using a single adapter, which is nice if you’re planning on using your computer to watch YouTube videos in addition to working with productivity software. One downside is that Plugable’s adapter blocks video from games and HDCP protected content (videos from Netflix, for example). That aside, this is a perfectly good USB to HDMI graphics adapter for those who want to focus on getting work done.
Pros: This adapter’s super-high resolution and ability to carry both an audio and video signal will reduce cable clutter and provide a super crisp image.
Cons: The adapter doesn’t display video from major streaming services or games.
3. Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter
If you’re a Mac user who’s stymied by Apple’s decision to only have Thunderbolt 3 ports on all of its laptops, the company’s USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter is the right graphics adapter for you. It has three ports: a USB-C passthrough (allows you to charge your device through the adapter), USB-A port (allows you to connect older accessories to the computer), and a high-powered HDMI port.
The HDMI port on Apple’s graphics adapter can output a 4K video signal at 60Hz (if your MacBook is capable of outputting video at a high-resolution), which enables you to use your computer with any monitor without any compromises. The USB port and USB-C passthrough are nice touches because they restore additional functionality that used to be built into Apple’s previous-generation laptops.
It doesn’t block HDPC video or gaming, but this adapter only works with Apple’s hardware, so if you’re a Windows user, you’re out of luck. On the upside, you can use this accessory to connect an iPad or iPad Pro to a monitor, projector, or TV, so if you’re heavily invested in Apple tech, this graphics adapter has multiple uses.
Pros: This graphics adapter can output 4K video without restrictions, and works with Apple’s modern laptops and iPads. It includes a USB port and USB-C passthrough for charging, which restores additional functionality lost in Apple’s transition to its modern laptop design.
Cons: It only works with Apple hardware.
4. Satechi USB-C Multi-Port with Ethernet Adapter
Satechi’s USB hub is an HDMI graphics adapter with a maximum video output of 4K at 30Hz, but it can also do so much more. The adapter has two USB ports, a USB-C port for passthrough charing, an Ethernet port to connect to a cable modem or router, and both SD and MicroSD card slots to read memory cards. All of this functionality fits into a hub that’s 5.2 inches long and weighs just 3.5 ounces.
You could conceivably connect your computer to an HDMI monitor, cable modem, flash drive, USB microphone, and two camera memory cards at the same time. This will restore all of the ports most computer makers have stripped from laptops lately, and satisfy all but the stodgiest of videophiles.
Using this adapter at its full 4K video resolution will be a lesser experience because of its lower 30Hz framerate, but it can achieve 60Hz video output at 1080P or 2560 x 1440. This is a USB graphics adapter you can use even when your computer isn’t connected to a monitor.
Pros: This USB hub can be used as more than just a graphics adapter. If you have a lot of older accessories, you can connect many of them at once.
Cons: It can only output 4K video at 30Hz.