What Is a Peripheral Device? Definition and 10 Examples

Updated on August 12, 2019
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Paul's passion for technology and digital media goes back over thirty years. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida, USA.

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What is a Peripheral Device?

A peripheral device, also sometimes called an auxiliary device, is any connected device, internal or external, that provides a computer with additional functionality.

Peripheral devices fall into three main categories:

  • Input devices, which send data to the computer.
  • Output devices, which receive data from the computer.
  • Input/output devices, such as storage devices.

10 Examples of Peripheral Devices

  1. Mouse
  2. Keyboard
  3. Webcam
  4. Microphone
  5. Monitor
  6. Speakers
  7. Projector
  8. Printer
  9. USB Flash Drive
  10. External Hard Drive

I go into more detail regarding each example below.

1. Mouse

A mouse is an input device that uses "point and click" technology to interact with a computer. Modern mice typically have two buttons, the left button and right button, with a scroll wheel in between the two. The device was named a "mouse" because the inventors thought that the wire that connects the device to the computer resembles a mouse tail. Nowadays, mice often connect to the computer using wireless technology.

2. Keyboard

Keyboards are the most common input device. The user enters letters, numbers, and other symbols to give the computer with information and instruction. Using a keyboard to enter a lot of information is called typing. The keyboard works through push buttons or mechanical switches, known as "keys", being pressed, and the resulting signal being sent to the computer. In the past, keyboards used to connect to the computer via a DIN connector, but nowadays they are more likely to connect via a USB port or be wireless.

3. Webcam

These input devices are video cameras that connect to a computer. They can be external or built-in. Webcams are most often used to enable people to see each other when communicating over the internet, or for recording video blogs, or other videos. As well as computers, webcams can also be built into mobile phones. The first webcam was developed in 1991 at the University of Cambridge and pointed at a coffee pot so that researchers from around the Computer Science Department wouldn’t make a journey, only to discover it was empty.

4. Microphone

Microphones are audio input devices. The microphone feeds a sound signal to the computer, where it can be recorded, or streamed across the internet. Microphones are often built into laptops, webcams and mobile phones nowadays. The earliest microphones were telephone transmitters invented in the latter half of the 19th century. Various designs were tried, but the first to have reasonable sound quality were (loose-contact) carbon microphones that were developed independently by David Edward Hughes in England, and Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison in the US.

5. Monitor

The most common output device, monitors enable users to interact with a computer more easily. The monitor essentially displays a signal sent by the computer in a visual format. Monitors look similar to televisions in outward appearance, but typically have a higher display resolution than televisions, enabling greater visual detail, plus they lack a tuner to change channels. As with televisions, modern computer monitors use flat screen technology and have fallen in price in recent years.

6. Speakers

A computer speaker is another common type of output device. They typically come in pairs to provide stereo sound and sometimes with a subwoofer unit too in order to enhance bass frequency. Computer speakers usually have built-in amplifiers and therefore require a power supply, either from the mains, batteries, or via a USB port. In the past, speakers typically received their audio signal via a 3.5 mm jack plug, but there are many wireless speakers nowadays that use Bluetooth technology. Altec Lansing claim to have produced the first commercially available computer speakers in 1990.

7. Projector

Projectors are optical output devices that enable a roomful of people to see visuals generated by a single computer. As their name suggests, projectors "project" still or moving images onto a screen, blank wall, or other surface. Digital projectors first came onto the market in the early 2000's and have now largely completely replaced older, pre-digital models. They are typically used for presentations, watching movies, or as a teaching aid, and connect to the computer via the HDMI port.

8. Printer

Printers are another common form of output device. They are used to generate hard copies of electronic data stored on a computer, most often text or images onto paper. The first electronic printer to be invented was the EP-101, released by the Japanese company Epson in 1968. Inkjet and laser printers are two of the most common types of printer found today, with modern printers connecting to the computer via the USB port or WI-FI. The rise of other technologies such as email and data storage devices have somewhat diminished the importance of printers in recent years.

9. USB Flash Drive

Also called a thumb drive, gig stick, flash stick, pen drive, USB stick, jump drive, flash-drive, memory stick, or USB memory, the USB flash drive is a data storage device that consists of flash memory with an integrated USB interface. Small and light, USB storage drives are usually removable and rewritable. Since their appearance in the year 2000, these storage devices have gradually increased their storage capacity, while falling in price. They are commonly used for transporting and transferring information and are durable, thanks to a lack of moving parts.

10. External Hard Drive

External hard drives are input/output storage devices that usually connect to a computer via USB. They hold relatively large amounts of data and plug and play drive functionality enables them to be easily used with a variety of different computers. There are two categories of external hard drives: portable and desktop. Portable external drives are more compact, powered by USB and designed for transporting, whereas the desktop version is typically larger and needs external power bricks for power.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Paul Goodman

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