How to Add More USB Ports to Your PC or Laptop
Standardization is great because it eliminates the need to have multiple adapters, cables, dongles and ports, for devices which could all use the same type of port, which is why USB is great, or rather, why it could be.
Even with USB, there are different types, namely type A, B and C, and even they have various sizes, such as mini and micro, which also means a different connector.
Typically, computers have a limited number of USB ports, mostly USB type A and more modern ones, type C.
Adding more USB ports to a computer is relatively easy, and following are tips on how to approach the issue.
How to Add More USB Ports to PC – Various Expansion Methods
Expanding on the current number of USB ports can be done with relative ease, provided that you have a single unused USB port or a free PCIe slot in your case, when using a desktop computer. The unused USB port should be as fast as possible, which means it should be the newest possible generation on that platform.
USB4 is relatively new, but not all devices have yet to implement it as a standard. USB 3 can be found in its many iterations on both desktop and laptop computers. Check which port has the highest bandwidth and then move to the following solutions.
The most basic way of increasing the number of available ports on your PC is a USB splitter, which is a cable that splits into multiple USB ports. These types of cables are often cheap and with that, their quality is also sub-par.
They might be worth it if you only want an extension cable, but with a few extra ports, preferably not using multiple at once (such as copying files from different flash drives).
USB hubs are the next thing in line if you want to expand your USB capacity. Hubs are devices which are similar in design to power strips, however, they are used to split the USB signal from one of the available ports, to multiple ports. Some hubs have an SD card reader, among other possible connectors.
Standard hubs can have issues, especially with devices that require more power, especially if the USB port the hub is plugged in is anything below USB 3.2. In this case, USB 2 or even USB 3 would not suffice.
Powered USB Hubs – More Power, More Devices
If you plug in an RGB keyboard and mouse into a standard USB hub, chances are that you will run out of power and that the devices will start to malfunction. This can be remedied by purchasing a powered USB hub. They are similar to regular USB hubs, but they have a mains in, where you plug in an adapter which goes into a power strip or the wall, depending on your setup.
Powered USB hubs are typically more complex than regular ones, having more ports, such as HDMI, DisplayPort, various USB types, as well as SD ports. Some of the ports can also transmit extra power and can be used to charge smartphones and other devices.
A powered USB hub is an essential piece of gear if you have multiple devices that are somewhat power hungry, such as modern keyboards and mice with RGB, external storage and multiple external monitors.
The Issue With USB Hubs
All USB hubs suffer from the same issue, and that is bandwidth. While you do not need a lot of bandwidth for peripherals, you do need bandwidth if you plan on using external storage devices, or any portable storage device, for that matter.
Most computers don’t have a USB4 port, and not that many even have USB 3.2 gen 2×2 ports, unless they are newer computers with higher end motherboards. This is one of the reasons why USB hubs should be avoided, if there is a need for a lot of bandwidth.
PCIe Expansion Cards
PCI express is an expansion standard that is nowadays used for all types of high-speed connections, from graphics cards to storage. This means that on most desktop computers, you could add a PCIe expansion card, with various USB ports, mostly type A and type C.
The caveat is that you will need an x1 slot free, preferably with the PCIe lanes connected directly to the CPU and not to the chipset and then the CPU. The former is better, simply because it is faster. The latter could work better than USB hubs, but there will be a reduction in speed compared to the slots directly connected to the CPU.
PCIe 5 x1 has a bandwidth of 3.94 GB/s, which is comparable to USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 and USB4. PCIe 5 x2 and upwards will be faster than USB4, not to mention the upcoming, already specified, PCIe 6.
This option is unfortunately not available for laptops.
Add USB Ports to Laptop – Splitters and Hubs
Laptops often have an issue with USB ports, the most common issue being a lack of ports. Modern laptops tend to be thinner and thus they “save” on space by omitting useful things such as USB ports.
Laptop users have no choice other than using splitters or preferably, hubs, powered ones. For most laptop users, the USB ports that are lacking would be used for something like peripherals, or in some cases, portable storage.
A powered USB hub is recommended, so as not to waste the laptop’s battery charge.
Conclusion and Summary – Hubs Work but PCIe Expansion Cards Are Better
For PC users, if there is a need for more USB ports, the fastest and most stable way to add ports is by using a PCIe expansion card. These will work with most computers, miniITX builds being the most problematic, due to a possible lack of a PCIe x1 slot or a lack of space in the case.
Laptop users can only use USB hubs or splitters, powered hubs being the recommended option. The limitations of a USB hub lie in the port they are connected to, its generation and bandwidth, as well as the required bandwidth and power of the downstream connected devices.
It is up to the user to decide which option would benefit them the best, depending on the circumstances.
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