Since the mid 90’s we have seen the birth and growth of a connective technology called Universal Serial Bus (USB). Originally designed to connect computers and telecoms equipment, it has slowly become the primary means of connecting a whole host of other devices and has made significant contributions to today’s IT world.
The sheer number of USB products on the market today is just staggering, from mice and keyboards, modems, external hard drives to USB fans, lights and coffee cup warmers! Most external computer related devices today connect to a computer via a USB port. So it’s no wonder that before long, most computer users find themselves wondering what to do when the USB ports (sockets) on their computer are all used.
There are two solutions to the problem, constantly plug and unplug connectors when swapping between USB devices, or invest in a simple, low cost device called a USB Hub. A USB Hub is a small unit with two or more USB ports, which plugs into an USB port on your computer, allowing you the freedom to connect more USB devices without disconnecting others. Expanding the number of USB ports of your computer in this way not only saves wear and tear on your USB ports and connectors, but also puts and end to all that clambering around behind your PC! Generally speaking, there are four types of available:
Internal USB PCI Card
An internal PCI USB Card needs to be installed by opening up the case of your PC and inserting a card into a vacant PCI slot on the motherboard, this type of USB expansion is not advised unless you are familiar with working with and inside computers. If you have the older USB1.1 and upgrade to USB2.0, your version of Windows will also need to be updated so that your PC can support USB2.0 functionality.
USB Hub (Non Powered)
An external non-powered USB Hub is a cheap and simple device that plugs directly into one of your computer’s existing USB ports and that’s all there is to it. These are usually very compact and so make ideal solutions for mobile users with laptops and for desktop users.
Be aware that some USB devices require a small amount of power through the USB port, usually mechanical devices such as printers, scanners, digital cameras and so on. This type of USB Hub may not be able to supply adequate power to these devices especially if you are using a few USB devices together.
Powered USB Hub
An external Powered USB Hub is also compact and plugs directly into one of your computer’s existing USB ports, so again there is no need to open up your computer to install it. The only difference is that the Powered Hub comes with a separate power supply that must be plugged into the mains socket, supplying the power to all the USB ports on the hub allowing ANY type of USB devices to function properly.
Most Powered Hubs come with a sensible length of USB cable allowing the Hub itself to be positioned in a more accessible place e.g. on top of your computer or on your desk, making plugging and unplugging USB devices much easier. This makes the Powered Hub the all round best solution for desktop computer users.
USB PC Card
If you use a Laptop and are on the move, you have an additional choice to the USB Hub, the USB PC Card also known as the PCMCIA USB Card. This device slots into the PCMCIA slot/port found on the side of a Laptop and instantly provides two extra USB ports without using up any of your existing USB ports on the Laptop.
This is the most popular solution for mobile Laptop users. When buying a suitable external USB Hub, consider the location of your computer’s USB ports. If they are located at the back of your computer or in an awkward position, you can make your life so much easier by using a USB Hub that comes with a USB extension cable, or by buying a separate USB extension cable. This allows the USB Hub to be positioned to a more accessible place for plugging and unplugging your USB devices.