Are Your USB Ports Too Close Together? Here’s How to Fix It!

Ads by Google

usb ports too close togetherIf you’re like me, you probably make good use of USB on your PC, from connecting keyboards and printers to smartphones, USB flash memory, Bluetooth, 3G or Wi-Fi dongles, headsets, game controllers and more.

USB is a versatile and easy-to-use connection format, but there is one thing that bugs many people (including me) about it: the inability of computer manufacturers from Apple to Lenovo, Dell to HP (short version: all of them) to correctly space the positioning of pairs of USB ports so that two devices can be connected at the same time!

However, upon investigation into this state of affairs, it seems that this inability is little more than an unnecessarily inflexible adherence to a set of agreements governing the use of USB on such devices. The result of this is that users will have to put up with the narrow gap between ports on their PCs and laptops and instead spend money on alternatives.

Typical Measurements For USB Ports

USB seems to be pretty ubiquitous, found on PCs, laptops, mobile phones, tablets, games consoles, NAS devices, set-top boxes and routers. With the advent of USB 3.0 it shows no immediate sign of going anywhere soon, but there remains this problem of the distance between port sizes failing to match the real-life situation of USB connectors being too big to sit side-by-side when connected to a laptop or PC.

The usual situation is that two USB cables can be connected concurrently, but that a cable and a USB wireless dongle (or other “fat” device) cannot be. Similarly, two “fat” devices cannot be connected together – some of the oversized USB devices might even overhang onto the neighbouring USB port.

Ads by Google

It seems that 5 mm is between ports is common, a gap governed by the USB port hardware selected from a list of hardware by the computer’s manufacturer. There is little that can be done about this in physical terms, it would seem, other than to avoid purchasing “fat” USB devices (there is the possibility of filing down the side of the device connector, but in the case of something like a wireless dongle this might well make the peripheral useless).

Fortunately, there are workarounds that you can use to overcome this most frustrating of computing issues…

Solution #1 – Use One Port At a Time

It might not be flexible and it might be obvious, but the option to use just a single port at any time is there.

Of course, if you’re using a pair of devices that require connecting at the same time – such as a webcam and a microphone – this is going to prove difficult.

usb ports too close together

However for things like USB flash RAM and wireless dongles, this might just be the best option.

Solution #2 – Break Out The Hubs

Meanwhile, USB hubs are dirt cheap these days (although you might want to pay a little more for a decent unit) and can easily be connected to your computer. The result of this should be that you have additional ports, potentially a far preferable situation than the standard pair of ports on the side of your laptop or on the front of your PC tower.

usb ports too close

Additionally, hubs can be found in unusual places. Dell monitors often have a USB cable so that you can connect memory sticks and other devices to the computer via the monitor, while some keyboards come with built-in hubs. Printers often have USB hubs too, intended for printing directly from flash memory sticks.

One creative solution to requiring additional USB ports comes in this Instructable, explaining how to turn your mouse into a USB hub.

Solution #3 – Extender Cables

Perhaps not as cheap as a hub but potentially more flexible, extender cables often ship with wireless dongles and other hardware. Constructed with narrow connectors that can successfully sit alongside another similar connector, this solution can be used with any USB item you might have and has the added bonus of adding a few extra inches to an existing cable, something that might prove useful connecting printers,  scanners and smartphone/tablet stands.

Which Is Your Solution?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the world’s computer manufacturers got together and came to an agreement about the distance between USB ports? The thing is, of course, they’re not entirely blameless.

usb ports too close together

USB has been used as a connection form factor since 1996. USB hardware manufacturers have had more than enough time to design dongles and cables that easily sit side-by-side in computers.

All-in-all, it’s a funny state of affairs, but at least we can find solutions in the form of cables, hubs and other peripherals that might have additional USB ports.

Let us know what your preferred solution is.

Image Credit: USB hub via Shutterstock

Ads by Google

41 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Joel Lee

Do USB hubs slow down speeds? I would assume they do. I tried using one before for my mouse and keyboard and it made my mouse all jittery sometimes. Never heard of an extender, though.

I just wish manufacturers would stop creating USB plugs that are so big, bulky, and just nonsensically designed. Argh!

Yiz Borol

it depends on the type of hub, if it’s one that requires external power then you can usually expect speeds similar to those w/o the hub, but even so, if you’re using all the ports, you’re going to experience a slowdown simply because the main port can only work at a certain speed, no matter what else is connected to it.

Reply

W

Christian, the electrical and mechanical specifications are governed by a set of standards created and agreed to by USB.org. These standards include the spacing between USB ports and the size of the connector that plugs into the ports. The standards were developed and agreed to by members of the organization.

USB accessory manufacturers can pay a fee to submit their products to be USB Certified, but there is no requirement to be certified before offering for sale. I can almost guarantee that none of the products shown in your article are certified; they are out of specification. There is nothing to prevent companies from selling non-compliant USB devices, nor you from buying them.

Your article points the finger at the PC manufacturers as being the problem when in fact it is the manufacturers of USB accessories that are to blame. Try giving the vendor a call and complaining that their USB accessories don’t fit into a standard USB port with other USB devices. I did this with a USB network vendor and they sent me a short cable with male to female Type A connectors at no cost!

Increasing the mechanical spacing between ports increases the number of components that must be used on the PCB and the number of holes in the enclosure will increase the cost of the products. You should target the accessory vendors instead and ask them to either make compliant USB peripherals or include the cabling that would make them compliant? Blaming the PC manufacturer is like blaming the car manufacturer when your aftermarket wiper blades don’t fit.

Lisa Santika Onggrid

Well, you’re right. This is what happens when one side is too stubborn. What’s the point of giving two ports if we can only use one at a time?
I’m not accusing PC manufacturers. I cringe at every bulky flash drive, cable, or modem. It’s unnecessary to make such weird shapes and sizes.

Reply

Mustafa A.

I think USB dongles do decrease the speed a bit, especially if you buy a cheap one. I’ve had both cheap and higher quality hubs, and the higher quality ones work quite well–almost as good as plugging into the USB port directly. The thing about an extender is that you don’t want to get one that’s too long as the connection quality drops significantly with increased length.

Reply

Boni Oloff

I think will get a really good solution. Everybody knows all of these i think.

Reply

Achraf Almouloudi

Did you notice the example picture is ridiculously stupid, you can place 3G dongle on the right and the memory in the left .

Michael Greene

That third one on the right looks like an hdmi or an esata port, not a usb port.

Achraf Almouloudi

It is an Esata port, foundi it .

Boni Oloff

Yeah, that looks not a usb port.

Reply

Adrian Rea

Solution 4 – Upgrade your USB to USB 3 with an expansion card. This will speed up the most time consuming data transfers and alleviate pressure on other ports.

Reply

FĂ©lix S. De JesĂşs

The solution is using the Extension… avoiding conflict is better than getting the USB hubs broken.

Reply

Mac Witty

Got an extender cable together with a usb device and use it if I need many usb-items at the same time and any of them are wide.

Reply

chip

Seriously! This passes for a post?

Reply

Efi Dreyshner

LOL very annoying….
I am using USB hubs.
The best solution…

Reply

Mike Merritt

Cheap USB extender cables (male-female) can be purchased at Dollar Stores. The molded ends are usually small enough to fit next to a ‘fat’ device; and allow another ‘fat’ device can be plugged in at the end of the extension.

Reply

Ritwick Saikia

The extender cable comes in handy and I got one with my 3G dongle. Also takes up much less space than a hub.

Reply

Zaiyuddin Abdullah

Nowadays there a lots of UBS dongles in the markets with various shape. Just choose one for yourself, for fast speed use UBS 3.

Reply

josemon maliakal

Most of the cheap usb hubs will slow down the speed..and it will be expensive if you buy a superb one

Reply

Lisa Santika Onggrid

I thought I’m the only one annoyed by this problem, given that manufacturers never actually change the horrid design. Glad to know I’m very much normal.
I usually resort to using a device a time, but if I absolutely need more hubs, I’d use the ones at the back of the CPU. Granted, it’s quite hard to reach depending on your setup, but it’s the cheapest solution. Mine is pretty easy to reach, but some places like internet cafe makes it ridiculously difficult by placing the CPU up high and whatnot so I should resort to hubs. Extender is nifty, but it’s a rare find. By the way MUO, please upgrade the comment system. It strips away all formatting, making long, hierarchical answers and lists an eyesore.

Reply

raymond mcnatt

Hubs because you can never have enough USB Ports

Reply

Setrodox

I broke my USB drive casing once on accident, so from experience: Solution #? – when possible, break the casing to make connector smaller.

Reply

Brandoom Clark

With over 10 USB ports on the tower, and another 2 on my keyboard.. I don’t have a problem at all.

Reply

Igor Rizvi?

http://www.yogaretnam.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/usb_extension_cable.jpg You can simply use and usb extender from your old mp3/mp4 player like me,good thing I saved that cable :)

Reply

Anonymous

are there any hubs available for usb 3.0

Adrian Rea

loads, just put usb 3 hub into amazon :)

Reply

Roystan Ang

i once tried to plug in the WiFi adapter to a USB hub and it gives the “this usb can perform faster” and sometimes not even detecting properly.. =(

Reply

Scott Pickett

With my laptop I have 4 ports but 2 are on the back and really unusable when I have my laptop docked in the docking station. So I employed a 4 port hub. I had to find one that could charge at least 2 devices at the same time so I went with a powered version but since it just stays in place that wasn’t a big concession.

Reply

Chaos Emperor

Everyone already know this.Right?

Reply

Chaos Emperor

What is usb hubs?Never heard of it

Reply

susendeep dutta

I would like to use extender cables as they usually costs ~ $1 and has no trouble of external power supply or low power that’s associated with USB hubs.

Reply

Adam Campbell

my macbook has the same problem…i just live with it

Reply

Paul Nockolds

Where is the best place to purchase a USB hub for UK users?

Christian Cawley

Probably Maplin, but you’ll get a better deal at eBay or Amazon, I would have thought.

Paul Nockolds

Thanks for the reply – i’ll take a look

Reply

Austen Gause

I love extender cables.

Reply

Anonymous

Extender is a lot preferable though…. :) doesn’t slow the pc down… :)

Reply

Márcio Guerra

I use both second and third options. What can we do? Anyway, good approach on number one, ehehhe! When the problem has no solution… we have no problem! If the problem has a solution… we have no problem!

Cheers!

Reply

EdmarJohn SanDiego

i have an extender and a hub. LOL

Reply

Bob

Why won’t manufacturers mount usb sockets above/below one another, instead of side by side. problem solved

Reply

null

You can also get adapters that will allow you to tilt the USB drive. I tilt one up and the other down.

Your comment