Technology Explained

What Is a USB Hub? 3 Reasons Why You Need One

Simon Batt Updated 13-03-2020

Many gadgets in our daily lives need a USB connection in some way or another, and a USB hub is useful for keeping everything organized. But what is a USB hub, and should you get one?

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Let’s explore the uses of a USB hub and why you might—or might not—want one.

What Is a USB Hub?

Full USB hub plugged into a laptop
Image Credit: Mirage3/Depositphotos

A USB hub is a handy way of adding additional USB ports to a setup. They’re the USB version of a regular plug extension lead, converting a single USB socket into a hub of them. You plug it into your computer, then use the additional ports to use mice, keyboards, and other USB devices all from a single port.

Much like extension leads, USB hubs also have limitations. You can’t load too many power-hungry devices onto it, else difficulties arise. However, if you want to use a keyboard, mouse, and a phone charger on one USB port, a hub can achieve this.

Reasons Why You Might Need a USB Hub

Now that we’ve explored what a USB hub is used for, let’s explore some use-cases where you might want to grab one.

1. You Want to Increase the Number of USB Ports on a Laptop

While there are some laptops out there that come with a bunch of USB ports, many only have two. This restrictive number of ports really isn’t great in our current USB-saturated landscape. If you use a USB keyboard and mouse, you don’t have any spare ports to charge devices, hook up an external hard drive, or connect a printer.

Of course, this may be fine depending on what you do with your laptop. If you’re always on the move and you don’t need a mouse or a keyboard, you won’t have this problem. Maybe you’ll just need to charge your iPad and use an external hard drive or a two-factor authentication key.

However, if you use a laptop as your primary computer, or regularly do more than just sending emails and writing while you travel, a small USB hub might be a really useful tool.

2. You Want to Charge a Multitude of Devices on One Port

A USB hub is great for charging a number of different devices at once. While unpowered USB hubs need to be plugged into your computer to do that, powered hubs instead use the mains. This lets you charge as many devices as you like, regardless of if your computer is on or not.

USB hubs are the perfect companion for someone with lots of power-hungry USB devices. From phones to tablets to desk gadgets, a USB hub can meet the needs of any gadget that needs USB power. It’s also convenient that you don’t need to hunt for a spare mains plug; just plug everything into the same hub.

3. You Want to Move a Lot of Data Between USB Devices

This is one of the rarer kinds of USB hub uses, but it’s still very valid. If you find yourself in the situation of needing to move a lot of data between a bunch of different devices, a USB hub can be very useful.

If you want to back up photos from your computer, tether your mobile phone to use cellular data on your PC Tethering: How to Connect Mobile Internet to Your PC or Laptop With data tethering, you can use your mobile internet on your PC, laptop, or tablet anywhere. All you need is an Android phone. Read More , download images from your camera, print some documents, and upload music to your iPad, a high-quality USB hub can help you do all of that at the same time.

Again, this admittedly isn’t a common situation for most people, and it would only warrant a USB hub if it happens on a regular basis. However, if you do find yourself moving data like this a lot, investing in a USB hub is going to make your life easier.

Reasons Why You Might Not Need a USB Hub

USB hubs are useful, but they’re not for everyone. There are instances where you’re better off saving your money or taking a different approach to solving the problem.

1. Don’t Get a Hub If You’re All Wireless

A lot of devices have made the move to wireless connections. You can now find Bluetooth-enabled keyboards and mice, while printers, scanners, and external hard drives can live on your Wi-Fi network. While there are some good arguments against using Bluetooth devices 6 Reasons Why You Should NOT Buy a Bluetooth Keyboard Before you commit to buying a Bluetooth keyboard, consider these drawbacks and issues that may cause you to change your mind. Read More , wireless connections are very convenient.

As such, if you hate wires and plugs and want everything to connect wirelessly, you may not need a USB hub. If you’re only using your USB ports for two-factor authentication keys or memory sticks, a hub may be overkill for your use case.

2. Don’t Get a Hub If You Have Extra Ports Hiding on Your Hardware

Many monitors now come with USB ports for connecting and powering devices. If you can use an HDMI port to connect it to your computer, you’ll be getting a port or two (or more) without taking up any of the USB space that’s provided by your computer.

Routers often have a number of USB ports as well, and these can be used to connect some devices. This works best when you’re connecting something you don’t need to access very often or if your router is close to your computer, so it might not work for everyone. Despite this, it’s another good option.

3. Don’t Get a Hub If Something Else Can Do a Better Job

Imagine you have two plug sockets next to your bed. Your USB charging plug uses one socket, and a bedside lamp uses the other. You want your phone and your fitness tracker by your bed, so you can quickly grab them in the morning. However, you want to charge both devices overnight on one socket without swapping the cable.

While a USB hub can help, a USB mains adapter is even more useful. These adapters are like a USB hub, except they also have a standard plug socket on them. In the above example, you can purchase a USB adapter with two USB ports on it. That way, a single plug socket can accommodate the lamp, phone, and fitness tracker at the same time. Some even have surge protection built-in to protect your devices from electrical spikes.

A power strip with additional USB plugs
Image Credit: denisds/Depositphotos

If you want to dream bigger, you can even get plug extenders with USB plugs installed on them. This makes for a great balance between your USB devices and your household appliances; just be sure not to overload it!

You can also get plug socket wall fittings with USB ports built-in. If you want to do some home renovating and need more USB ports, this is a great way to expand your charging options.

Getting the Most Out Of Your USB Ports

Technology enthusiasts and gadget fans need as many USB sockets as they can muster, but some computers and laptops have a fairly low number of them. If you’re always unplugging devices to make room for others, the USB hub is a fantastic companion. Still, they’re not perfect; in some situations, there are solutions that work better for you.

If you want to make the best use out of your USB ports, why not check out these uses for a USB stick you didn’t know about 7 Uses for a USB Stick You Didn't Know About You've used USB sticks to transport files between computers and back up files, but there is much more you can do with a USB stick. Read More ?

Explore more about: Bluetooth, Buying Tips, Hardware Tips, USB.

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  1. Anonymous
    June 28, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    Looking for a 4-6 USB 3.0 hub with one USB port for charging a laptop. Anyone?

    • Anonymous
      June 28, 2016 at 10:52 pm

      Oops... never mind.

  2. me
    June 28, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Yes, I have 14 motherboard USB ports, but only 4-6 are USB 3 and unless I want data transfer at the speed of slight I can't use the USB 2 ports. About the only thing the 2.0 ports are good for is a mouse and keyboard, and maybe a scanner. So I have 2 powered USB 3 hubs already.

  3. jungman
    June 28, 2016 at 4:49 am

    I use external drives quite a bit for backing up data and having USB (powered) HUB's on my desktop with an extender cable to the rear of my desktop(s) is much safer than trying to balance the ext hard drives with their shorty cables on the top of my PC towers. Also it's a pain to try and reach behind the PC to connect/disconnect them. I find the front USB ports are often lacking sufficient power (voltage drop due to internal cable length) to properly spin up an external drive. Because my towers are right beside my it's dangerous to use the front USB ports with USB sticks as I may break them off as my chair rotates and moves about. So for me it's all about convenience and safety for the devices I am plugging in.

    • Dann Albright
      July 7, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      The physical location of the ports is also an important consideration; thanks for making that point!

  4. Susan
    June 28, 2016 at 2:41 am

    My all-in-one has usb ports that are hard to get at if I want to use a thumb drive or external drive or hook up my phone so I have a powered hub close by.

  5. ddd
    June 27, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    If you need more ports, get a hub. If you don't need more ports, don't get one. If you can't figure it out without this article, you don't need a computer -- you need a keeper.

    • Neoalfa
      June 28, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Took the words right out of my mouth. I'm lucky I don't pay to read Makeuseof, otherwise I'd have to ask for a refund.

    • Stanley Moore
      January 26, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      I needed a hub, I just didn't know if/why it needed to be powered. Plus, in today's world assuming darn near anything can be a path to trouble. I've been on many a forum having folks call my assertions unobtainable, only to later read replies saying what I'd proposed actually exists. So much for the dumb ?'s!

      • Dann Albright
        February 6, 2017 at 6:58 pm

        Yeah, the difference between a powered and unpowered one is a pretty important thing to know about. Hope the article was helpful!

  6. kxp
    June 27, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    Don't get a hub if you want a charging station, buy a charging station. USB hubs are really lousy at this. Non-powered USB ports provide 1A total for all ports, powered will provide a little bit more. However an actual multiport chargin station can easily provide you 10A or more, giving you the ability to quick-charge, charge multiple devices and all with fast speeds and no compromise (besides the missing data link).

    • me
      June 28, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      Actually the skiva octa-fire kickstarter had 8 ports at 2.4A for a total of 19A beating your quick charges 10A. Also a anker one has 9 @2.4

      • Dann Albright
        July 7, 2016 at 2:00 pm

        A charging station can be really useful, but as me ("I"?) pointed out, there are some hubs that have some great charging capabilities, too, making them slightly more versatile. It largely depends on what you need!