4 Things to Look for When Buying a USB Hub

Usb Hub Featured

USB hubs are a useful way to get more out of a single USB port. They’re mostly used for laptops which have limited room for USB ports, but there’s nothing stopping you from getting more value out of a front USB port on a PC.

When getting a USB hub, there are some “hidden” specifications to look for. We say “hidden” because they’re not actually hidden from you – they’re in plain sight. They’re just very easy to overlook when buying a hub, which can lead to some disappointing purchases.

1. The Number of Ports

This may seem a little condescending, but it’s good to think beyond what you need for ports. For example, let’s assume you hate the touchpad and keyboard of your laptop. As such, you naturally assume you need a two-port hub — one for a mouse, one for a keyboard.

Usb Hub Port

But take a little while to think before you buy. Do you use a USB stick to transfer data? If so, is there another USB port on your laptop you can use for it? If not, consider getting more than two ports. That way, you don’t have to unplug a keyboard or mouse to use your memory stick.

Forward-thinking like this will prevent annoyances in the future. It’s worth looking at the USB hubs that have a few more ports than what you need; if the increase in price is negligible, you can grab that one and save yourself some trouble in the future.

2. The Power Output of the Hub

When you’re buying a hub, you can choose between hubs that work off the original port’s power or hubs that use an external power source. The former may seem more tempting; after all, they’re often cheaper than an electric plug socket.

Usb Hub Limit

However, consider what you’re plugging in before buying a hub without an external plug. Each of your devices drains a specific amount of power from the USB port. When you convert a port into a hub, the computer port’s total power limit is divided among the ports on the hub.

What this means is that if you overload a hub that doesn’t have an external power supply, some of the devices on the hub won’t work. You can check how much power the hub can support in its product description; it’ll be a number followed by “mA.” It’ll usually be around 500mA for a self-powered hub.

Once you have the power limit, count the power drain for your peripherals. Sometimes this is on a sticker on the underside of the peripheral. For instance, my mouse is 100mA, and my keyboard is 400mA, which equals a total operating current of 500mA. This neatly fits the 500mA requirement for a self-powered hub, but if I add a memory stick, the entire setup would come crashing down!

3. The Hub’s Power Source

Usb Hub Plug

Speaking of powering the hub, take some time to think about what you’ll use the hub for. Let’s say you’d like the hub to power or charge your devices while the PC is off. If you get a hub powered by an external source, you can charge your gadgets regardless of whether your PC is on or not. You may have a PC that can still charge devices when turned off, at which point you can probably forgo the external plug.

4. The Hub Port’s USB Version

Be sure to take a look at the version of the ports on the hub itself. Some hubs will use USB 2.0 to lower costs, but this will result in slower data transfer for USB 3.0 devices. Of course, if all your devices use USB 2.0, this is fine! If you do have some 3.0 devices, however, it’s worth paying a little extra for a hub that can keep up with them.

Much Hubbub About Hubs

USB hubs are very useful, but there are “hidden” specifications to look for when buying one. These specs will help you make the best purchase for your usage.

How would you put a USB hub to good use? Let us know below!

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4 comments

  1. “2. The Power Output of the Hub”
    Getting a wall-powered hub introduces additional wires to the rat’s nest under the desk. :-)

  2. Good, straightforward, advice. Well done.

  3. Thanks for this. I did not realize that there were power limitations on hubs – I will have to check the ones that I have to see the mA number. I also did not know that there were hubs that were powered externally.

    Another suggestion I would make is to consider the shape and other characteristics of the hub. If it plugs right into the USB port, some of the devices being plugged into the hub might not reach easily. Also if the ports in the hub are too close together, it might be hard to fit devices in that are not “traditionally” shaped – there are a lot of novelty USB drives these days, for example. Also, if it lights up or something, that might be distracting. I was given a square USB hub – the entire top of it lights up and changes color. I found this to be really distracting and annoying.

  4. I bought an externally powered hub for my Raspberry Pi, but now I wonder if it automatically uses the external power source or uses the usb power? I might assume it uses external power, but I read somewhere that you should actually remove the power connection to the hub from the usb source, because it may cause problems for the Pi.

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