What is a USB Hub?

It seems that almost every electronic device made today uses the ever-useful USB port. Early USB computers typically only had one or two ports located on the back of the case. Newer computers often feature multiple on-board ports and many cases now place two or more of them at the front. Even so, additional ports are often needed and having them conveniently accessible makes all the difference. The USB hub does just that.

USB hubs are useful for connecting multiple devices to a computer.

A USB hub is a small, lightweight unit with multiple ports for connecting USB devices. It is commonly connected to a USB port located on the back of a desktop computer using an extension cable. Once the hub is connected, the user can configure it wherever it is convenient, avoiding the hassle of accessing the back of the system. A hub is also great for laptops with just one or two ports. When properly connected, some hubs can support up to 127 devices.

USB hubs are especially useful with a computer that doesn’t have many ports available internally.

A self-powered USB hub can be used to connect digital cameras, card readers, keyboards, mice, MP3 players, memory cards, and many other portable USB devices. For more robust components such as external drives, printers, scanners or fax machines, an AC powered device is the best choice. Some of the AC powered hubs come with an adapter, while others have this feature but require the adapter to be purchased separately. When purchasing a hub, consumers should be sure to get the one that will best suit their needs.

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A USB device.

Another feature to look for which generation of USB the hub can use. Each subsequent generation operates at a faster speed than the previous one. USB 1.1 is capable of data transfer speeds of up to 12 megabits per second (mbps), while USB 2.0 can transfer data at 480 mbps, 40x faster. Released in 2008, USB 3 has a maximum speed of 625 megabytes per second (MBps).

A variety of USB cables, which can be connected to a USB hub.

A USB hub that supports later generations is usually backwards compatible, also supporting earlier devices. The hub automatically detects and runs at the fastest rate the device supports. One that supports 3 cannot “push” a slower device to run faster than its design. On the other hand, a hub that only supports 1.1 may or may not support a 2.0 device, but if it does, it will slow down to 12 Mbps – the fastest speed the hub supports.

Memory card readers connect to a computer via USB.

Virtually all USB devices are plug ‘n’ play or hot-swappable, but it’s wise to be conservative with this feature when using an external hard drive with a USB port. Data can be lost due to software bugs or if the drive is unplugged while it is busy.

USB cables are used to connect devices – such as printers, keyboards and music players – to computers.

A USB hub is an inexpensive and practical addition to any system, especially useful with laptops that typically have few native USB ports and older systems that have rear ports. They can be purchased in a four-port model, a seven-port model or higher, and multiple hubs can be used for scalable growth.

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Most hubs are backward compatible, only a USB 2.0 device can be used in a USB 3.0 port.

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