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USB hubs used to be really common desk accessories, but their popularity seems to have waned in recent years. Is there still a good case for using them, or have they become largely unnecessary? It depends on your situation, but there are definitely some circumstances in which they’re really useful.
Then again, as we come to rely on USB-enabled devices a little less, a hub might not be worth having around. Here are a few arguments for both sides. Check them out and share your opinions on whether USB hubs are still necessary in the comments below!
Get a Hub If You Use a Laptop
While there are some laptops out there that come with a bunch of USB ports, a lot of them still only pack two, which really isn’t very many in our current USB-saturated landscape. When I’m working at my desk, I use a USB keyboard and a USB mouse, so I don’t have any ports to charge devices, hook up my external hard drive, or connect my printer.
It’s not a huge deal, but it would be nice to be able to do all of those things at once. Sometimes the ports can be a bit too close together for use with multiple devices, too.
Of course, whether or not a USB hub will improve your laptop experience depends largely 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 the same problem I do. Maybe you’ll just need to charge your iPad and use an external hard drive or a two-factor authentication key.
But 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.
Get a Hub If You Want a Charging Station
One of the best uses for a USB hub is to charge a number of different devices at once. And while unpowered USB hubs need to be plugged into your computer to do that, powered hubs let you charge your devices whether your computer is on your desk or not.
I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of things that can be charged via USB. My iPad, iPhone, bicycle GPS, running GPS, and Kindle all need to be charged regularly, and it’s really convenient to be able to plug them into the same place without having to look for open outlets or computer USB ports.
Get a Hub If You Need to Move Data
This is probably a rare case, but 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, share mobile data via USB connection, 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.
Don’t Get a Hub If You’re All Wireless
A lot of devices are eschewing wired connections for wireless ones. Bluetooth-enabled keyboards, mice, printers, scanners, and other peripherals are becoming more common all the time, and with increased battery life and better connectivity, they’re giving USB devices a solid run for their money (though there are some good arguments against using Bluetooth devices).
There are a number of things you can hook up to your wireless router, too, including hard drives, printers, and media storage devices, meaning you need even fewer USB or Bluetooth-connected devices. If you take advantage of this as well, you could get by with very few — maybe even no — USB ports.
This is the biggest argument against USB hubs, and it’s why the new MacBooks only have a single port: for a significant portion of people, that’s all that’s needed.
There are plenty of USB power adapters that you can plug your devices into when they need to be charged — especially now that wall outlets and power strips are packing USB ports — and with increasing battery life, you don’t have to charge them as often.
Don’t Get a Hub If You Have Extra Ports
Even if you don’t have a lot of USB ports, you might still have other options.
Many monitors, for example, now come with USB ports that you can use to connect and power 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, but it’s another good option.
Do You Have a USB Hub?
In the days of increasingly wireless peripheral devices, a USB hub might not seem like a great investment, even though the highest-end options are pretty affordable. But there are some cases where it makes a lot of sense to get one — especially if you’re using a laptop.
On the other hand, there are a lot of technologies that obviate the need for one. As with most things, it depends on your situation.
What about you? Do you use a USB hub? Or have you transitioned away from them? Do you think they’ll disappear as more devices become Bluetooth-compatible? Share your thoughts below!