How to Connect USB Devices to Your MacBook Pro

The traditional USB port on the MacBook Pro vanished with the 2015 model, leaving users with little more than USB-C ports. But many devices like printers and flash drives still have the traditional USB-A connection, so how do you connect them to your MacBook Pro? 

The easiest and cheapest way to connect USB devices to your MacBook Pro is with a USB-A to USB-C adapter. Plug the USB-C connector into one of the available ports on your MacBook Pro, and then plug your regular USB device into the other end of the adapter.

As a former Mac administrator and everyday Mac user, I can help you find the best solution for connecting your USB devices to your MacBook Pro. We’ll look at different USB types, adapters, and docks and even answer some of your frequently asked questions.

Shall we get started?

Types of USB Ports

Before recommending specific solutions, we would be remiss not to point out that the rounded rectangular, reversible ports you find on modern MacBook Pros are, indeed, USB. They are simply a different type called USB-C.

In fact, what most people think of when they refer to “USB” is a specific connector type called USB-A. You know, the rectangular one you can never plug in right the first time, so you have to flip it over and then flip it again?

By Amin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67330781

Before USB-C, few people bothered to distinguish between the different variations of standards that ran on the USB-A connector. But there have been quite a few. The three most popular are USB 1.1, USB 2.0, and USB 3.0.

We didn’t need to bother much with the standard type because, for the most part, these standards were backward compatible. You could plug a USB 2.0 device into a USB 3.0 port–both running over the USB-A port–and the device would just work.

Hence the “U” in USB stands for universal (Universal Serial Bus).

Then came a new connector called USB-C that changed everything. In reality, the new connector allows for faster data transfer speeds, greater power delivery, and it’s reversible!

As it often does, Apple ditched the inferior USB-A technology in favor of the sleeker, more advanced ports.

How to Connect USB Devices Using an Adapter or USB-C Dock

It is good that Apple includes the latest and greatest technology with its MacBook Pros, but what if you just need to plug in a keyboard, printer, or flash drive?

Because USB-C is still “universal,” it’s pretty easy to convert the port to a standard USB-A.

The best solution depends on your setup. Do you use your MacBook in an office setting, connected to an external monitor and multiple peripherals for most of the day?

If so, you want a pricier but more robust docking solution.

Do you use your MacBook on the go more often than not? Grab a portable USB-C adapter.

If you want the flexibility of both options, you can keep a small USB-C dongle in your bag and a docking station at your desk.

Let’s look at the options.

MacBook USB-C Adapter

The great thing about USB-C is that it is an open standard, giving you many adapters to choose from. Therefore you’re not stuck buying Apple’s USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, a device that works fine but costs more than other options.

One good option is Hiearcool’s USB-C Hub (available on Amazon.com), which gives you two USB-A 3.0 ports and a micro SD, standard SD, HDMI out (30Hz refresh rate), and a USB-C port for passthrough charging to your MacBook.

This is just one of many quality options available.

Once you settle on an adapter, connecting your device is simple. Plug the USB-C connector into your MacBook Pro, and then plug your USB-A device into the other end. Easy, right? Your Mac will automatically recognize the device just as if you plugged it in directly.

MacBook USB-C Dock

A full-fledged USB-C docking solution might work best if you have quite a few peripherals or are tethered to your desk most of the day. In addition to giving you USB-A ports, a docking station can provide Ethernet, multiple monitor support, and more ports than your typical adapter.

A couple of our favorite options are the Kensington SD5700T and the CalDigit TS3 Plus.

These docking stations require external power, so make sure you connect them to a power outlet with the provided adapters. Then connect the USB-C cable to one of your MacBook Pro’s available ports, and you’ve got multiple standard USB ports at your disposal for keyboards, mice, and other devices.

Upgrade to USB-C Peripherals

Another option you might consider, if possible, is replacing your USB-A devices with USB-C equivalents. This isn’t always possible, but USB-C flash drives, for example, are becoming more popular.

Upgrading devices to USB-C might be a hassle, but you’ll be able to take advantage of the technological improvements of the latest USB standards.

FAQs

Here are some other questions you might have regarding USB and your MacBook Pro.

How can I connect USB devices to a MacBook Pro 2021?

The steps are the same as above since the MacBook Pro 2021 has USB-C ports. Purchase a compatible USB-C adapter or docking station, plug it into your Mac, and then plug the USB-A device into the adapter.

How do I get my Mac to recognize a USB device?

If you’ve followed the instructions above, but your MacBook still isn’t recognizing your device, there are a few things you can try.

First, unplug your USB-C adapter and plug it back into your MacBook. Also, make sure your USB-A device is seated correctly in the adapter.

If the device is a USB drive, ensure it is formatted correctly. macOS can read from FAT, exFAT, APFS, NTFS, and the Mac OS Extended disk formats. (MacOS can read from but not write to NTFS-formatted drives.)

If your disk is formatted any other way, macOS won’t be able to read its contents. Use the Disk Utility application to reformat the device if necessary. (Doing so will erase all data on the drive.)

If your Mac doesn’t recognize other types of USB peripherals, you probably need to install some software with drivers included for your MacBook Pro to be able to utilize the device. Consult the documentation for your particular USB peripheral device.

How can I connect multiple USB devices to my MacBook Pro?

Yes, use an adapter or docking station with multiple USB-A ports. Be sure to plug the adapter into a power source if that’s an option. Many USB devices draw power as well as communicate data.

Conclusion

Connecting standard USB devices to your MacBook Pro is pretty simple once you have the proper hardware in place. Since USB is “universal,” the translation from USB-C to USB-A is usually pretty seamless.

Do you have a favorite adapter or docking station for your MacBook Pro?

About Andrew Gilmore
Based in Norman, Oklahoma, Andrew is an ex-certified Apple technician with over fifteen years of experience in the IT world specializing in macOS and iOS. When he's not writing, he enjoys video games, reading, and really bad movies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  • Barb McCarron

    Clear, concise, well written article. It sure made the subject of computer connections easier for me to understand, and just what I needed moving from a MBP (early 2013) to the latest 2021. Thank you Andrew.

    Reply
    • Andrew Gilmore

      Thanks Barb! Glad the article helped you out!

      Reply