Continuing to Use Your Old Parallel Port Printer

A problem with building a newer system is that you may not always have the older ports needed to support older devices. In some cases, it pays to replace the device because you want to gain the added functionality that a newer device can provide. However, if you have a major investment in a device, such as a printer, that doesn’t necessarily provide additional support, then you need to find another solution. I cover all the major port types in Build Your Own PC on a Budget. However, in today’s post you discover a way around the whole issue of supporting an older, yet usable, parallel printer when all you have is USB ports on your new system.

One way around the problem is to connect the printer to an older PC that does have a parallel port. You can then share the printer through a network connection. Of course, this solution assumes that you have an older PC that you want to devote to print server duties and a network to use. However, it’s a solution that many organizations have used over the years with great success.

Another solution is to obtain a special connector cable, such as the Sabrent USB to Parallel printer cable shown in the following picture.

A USB to DB25F parallel port connector with 6 foot cable.
USB to Parallel Port Connector

It’s important to note that the parallel end of the cable is a DB25F. You need to ensure the parallel end of the cable is of the right type for the connection you want to make. The package contains just the cable with the appropriate ends. It also contains a tiny piece of paper with some contact information, but there isn’t any special software required.

Make the connection between the USB port and the printer with the system off. Power the system and the printer up and log in as normal. In most cases, the system will automatically detect the printer and install appropriate drivers for you (or ask you to supply the needed drivers). However, you may need to install the drivers manually on some platforms. The chance of successfully making the connection work do diminish when installing the drivers manually because it usually means that the printer and the system aren’t communicating properly.

The only complaint I had about this solution is that the female parallel connector has screws instead of nuts, which means that you can’t secure the male printer cable to the female USB cable. Yes, the connectors work just fine, but they aren’t screwed together, which means that they could become loose at some point and you’ll lose contact with the printer (probably at the worst possible moment). Even so, the solution does work well.

A side benefit of this solution is that it’s possible to use a longer cable. Depending on who you talk with, the maximum cable length for a parallel printer is between 15 feet for the older Centronics standard and 25 feet for the newer IEEE 1284 standard. Using this solution makes it possible to work with a longer cable. The length tested for this post was 31 feet and I haven’t noticed any glitches, misprints, miscommunication, or loss of speed. Let me know your thoughts about continuing to use older peripherals with newer computers at