How to Connect Stuff to Your New MacBook with the Fewest Dongles

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Apple has made quite the splash with their new MacBook Pros. While the Touch Bar may have garnered the most attention, it’s what Apple removed from their top-of-the-line laptop that has people talking. Namely: ports.

It seems Apple has made its mission to get everyone to use USB-C. The new MacBook Pro comes in a few configurations: there’s a 13-inch model with two USB-C ports, and a 13-inch and 15-inch models with four USB-C ports. Meanwhile, the MacBook, which was released last year, comes with one measly USB-C port for everything.

Needless to say, if you’re planning on making the jump, you’re going to need to be able to connect your stuff to it. Chances are you probably don’t have a lot of USB-C devices laying around yet, which means in order to connect your USB thumb drives, external hard drives, and even iPhone, you’re going to have to buy at least one, if not more dongles—or cables.

The goal of this article however, is to show you how to connect your stuff to your MacBook or MacBook Pro with the least amount of dongles.

The Simplest Option: a USB-A to USB-C Dongle

For the vast majority of people, you’ll need at least one dongle to get started: a traditional USB-A to USB-C connector, which Apple helpfully sells for $19, and which is on sale through the end of the year for $9.

Though it would make sense and appease the angry masses, Apple will not include this item with any of its USB-C only computers.

This connector will get you connected to the vast majority of your current devices, including your iPhone (using any USB to Lightning cable), but keep in mind that if you want to connect more than one USB device to your MacBook Pro at the same time, you’re either going to need several of these dongles, or more preferably, a multiport USB hub.

If you’re buying a new MacBook Pro, this is more than likely the one dongle you will need.

A Better Value: Multiport Adapters Can Connect Everything with One Dongle

Buying separate cables and dongles can quickly become an expensive headache, especially if you need to connect multiple devices at once—and especially if you need to connect more specialized devices, like an external display.

In that case, you might be better off buying a multiport adapter. These are a bit pricier than the standalone cables, but when you consider how much you will end up spending when buying single adapters for all your devices, they turn out to be a better deal.

Apple sells this adapter, which lets you attach one USB-A device, one HDMI display, and a USB-C charging cable all at once. (There’s also a VGA version if you have an older display.)

As we stated, this turns out to be the more frugal route when you take into consideration that buying all these connectors separately may end up costing you more, not to mention you then have to deal with multiple dongles.

Want more than just two USB and one display port? One of the biggest complaints many professional artists will have with the MacBook Pro is the lack of a SD card reader. Or maybe you want Ethernet. In that case, you’ll want a multiport adapter that can accommodate just about everything. Sadly, Apple does not offer an all-in-one solution–but you can grab third-party adapters on Amazon, like this one from CableMatters or this one from Satechi. They not only have the required USB-A ports, but an SD card reader, an Ethernet port, VGA, HDMI, and more.

This isn’t cheap, however. The CableMatters model shown above costs about $70, which might seem like adding insult to injury after you spend at least $1300 or more on a base 13-inch MBP model. But, you don’t have to buy this particular adapter of course. Maybe you don’t need something so feature-complete. Maybe you don’t need to plug in displays, or you already have a card reader.

Be advised, third-party products, while typically less pricey and more practical, may not be as reliable as Apple-branded ones. Take a moment and shop around, there are plenty of inexpensive options out there. Just be sure to read reviews and make sure you get one from a reputable brand.

The Non-Dongle Route: Buy New Cables Instead

Humorously, you cannot connect an iPhone to the new MacBooks with the cable that came with it. You will have to use the above dongle and then attach a Lightning-to-USB cable, of which you probably already own several.

That said, you may prefer to connect your iPhone directly. In that case, you’re going to need a special Lightning to USB-C cable.

Apple sells two versions: a 1-meter cable for $25, or a 2-meter cable for $35.

The same goes for other devices. Got an external drive with a microUSB port? Instead of attaching a dongle to its included cable, you can buy a microUSB-to-USB-C cable and just use that instead. It’s one fewer link in the chain that can get lost or broken.

To be clear, however, you can easily avoid this extra expense by just buying one of the dongles mentioned above. To the best of our knowledge, using one of these cables provides no technical advantage over the dongle/Lightning cable method. You can still charge your device, and sync and transfer data.

More Dongles Means More Stuff to Carry Around

Keep in mind, if you go the dongle route, you still have to have your original cables. The advantage to using a multiport adapter is that it only adds one item to your gear bag.

That said, if you are intent on buying a newer Mac like a MacBook or MacBook Pro, the solution to connecting your devices is clear—buy a USB-A to USB-C dongle if your already have a USB hub, card reader, or multiport adapter, or buy a USB-C multiport adapter, or buy both. That’s two extra items, at the very most.

Having separate cables such as USB-C to Lightning or to connect your iPhone is a nice luxury, but it makes far more sense to buy the USB-A dongle and use the cable you already own—at least until all your other devices support USB-C in the future.

We’re overall pretty lukewarm about Apple’s decision to go USB-C only. While it is clearly meant to be forward thinking, the fact is that this isn’t like Apple removing the CD drive or Ethernet port, which though inconvenient, were forgivable.

This is something far more aggravating, and Apple’s refusal to compromise by slowly migrating to USB-C (or even including a simple $10 adapter in the box) over the course of several product model updates may end up alienating a large portion of its core user base: the very professionals at whom the MacBook Pro is allegedly aimed.

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and dyed-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.