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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.

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).

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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

  1. null
    April 26, 2013 at 7:50 pm

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

  2. Bob
    March 31, 2013 at 11:01 pm

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

  3. EdmarJohn SanDiego
    February 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    i have an extender and a hub. LOL

  4. Márcio Guerra
    November 30, 2012 at 7:10 am

    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!

  5. Anonymous
    November 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm

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

  6. Austen Gause
    November 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    I love extender cables.

  7. Paul Nockolds
    November 20, 2012 at 11:15 am

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

    • Christian Cawley
      November 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm

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

      • Paul Nockolds
        November 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm

        Thanks for the reply - i'll take a look

  8. Adam Campbell
    November 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm

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

  9. susendeep dutta
    November 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    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.

  10. Chaos Emperor
    November 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    What is usb hubs?Never heard of it

  11. Chaos Emperor
    November 6, 2012 at 6:36 am

    Everyone already know this.Right?

  12. Scott Pickett
    November 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    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.

  13. Roystan Ang
    November 5, 2012 at 8:23 am

    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.. =(

  14. Anonymous
    November 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    are there any hubs available for usb 3.0

    • Adrian Rea
      November 5, 2012 at 2:55 am

      loads, just put usb 3 hub into amazon :)

  15. Igor Rizvi?
    November 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    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 :)

  16. Brandoom Clark
    November 4, 2012 at 8:36 am

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

  17. Setrodox
    November 4, 2012 at 2:36 am

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

  18. raymond mcnatt
    November 4, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Hubs because you can never have enough USB Ports

  19. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 3, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    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.

  20. josemon maliakal
    November 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm

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

  21. Zaiyuddin Abdullah
    November 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm

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

  22. Ritwick Saikia
    November 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm

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

  23. Mike Merritt
    November 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    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.

  24. Efi Dreyshner
    November 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm

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

  25. chip
    November 3, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Seriously! This passes for a post?

  26. Mac Witty
    November 3, 2012 at 7:40 am

    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.

  27. Félix S. De Jesús
    November 3, 2012 at 1:06 am

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

  28. Adrian Rea
    November 3, 2012 at 12:43 am

    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.

  29. Achraf Almouloudi
    November 3, 2012 at 12:00 am

    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
      November 3, 2012 at 1:38 am

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

      • Achraf Almouloudi
        November 3, 2012 at 2:08 am

        It is an Esata port, foundi it .

        • Boni Oloff
          November 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm

          Yeah, that looks not a usb port.

  30. Boni Oloff
    November 2, 2012 at 11:45 pm

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

  31. Mustafa A.
    November 2, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    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.

  32. W
    November 2, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    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
      November 3, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      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.

  33. Joel Lee
    November 2, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    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
      November 4, 2012 at 12:08 am

      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.

    • Sam
      January 25, 2015 at 9:57 am

      USB hubs dont work with certain appliances and fail, but are a 50% solution
      the problem lies on both ends of the market.. the manufacturers of usb sticks and usb appliances always make their sticks sideways-wide, instead of vertically wide perpendicular to the insertion plug (90% flip on the usb stick in relation to the insertion pin)
      So the people who make the stuff you plug in are stupid and forget that you might want to use 2 usb. They make one usb stick and think 'one, one' one' not 'two, two, two side by side' they just dont have the vision.. uin fact they musrt be pretty stupid indeed.
      As to laptop manufacturers, not only apple, but ALL of them make the same stupid mistake to put the usb connectors so close to each other without taking extra width factors into consideration
      It is an everyday known fact that usb sticks are wider than the insertion plug/connector
      so why they put the usb plugs on the laptop so close together, is just a case of 'it would be expensive to have them built in as separate modules to space them apart enough.. so lets just take no notice of the big disadvantage and be lazy and not figure the solution out'
      It just doesnt occur to them, which is strange as the developers must also use USb sticks too and so i am baffled how the designers dont think to space them at least a centimeter further apart . Only reason i can think of for this phenomenon is the stupidity of humans.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 26, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      Sam - you've just summarised my article :)

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