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Like this article? We recommend Finding “Hidden” USB Ports

Finding “Hidden” USB Ports

If your latest USB device has forced you to play the USB Hokey-Pokey (“you take the old one out, you plug the new one in, you take the new one out, and detangle all the mess”), you’re ready to find more USB ports. Whether you use a desktop or a laptop computer, here are some suggestions.

Desktop Motherboard USB Headers

Although today’s desktop motherboards may have as many as six USB ports built into the port cluster, you might have headers for additional USB ports on the motherboard. If you have a “white-box” system built from standard parts, or if you built (or rebuilt) your system, the USB headers on the motherboard might not be in use.

To find out, check your motherboard’s documentation to determine the location of USB headers, then open the system to see if the headers are being used for front-mounted or additional rear-mounted ports (Figure 1).

Figure 4 This motherboard has one USB port header in use, and one that could be used for two additional ports.

If you have USB headers that are not in use, you can add more USB ports by adding a USB header cable, also known as a USB Internal AT Motherboard Adapter (Figure 2). Each USB header can support two USB ports.

Figure 5 This USB header cable connects to a two-row USB motherboard header.

If you didn’t receive a port header cable with your system, you can order one from many sources, such as StarTech USBPLATE, USBPLATELP; CablesToGo 13403, and many others. Unlike the USB header cable shown in Figure 2, which is made for a particular motherboard, third-party cables typically have two separate headers, so they can connect to either the two-row header shown in Figure 1 or a one-row header (not shown).

Port Extenders / Docks

Notebook computers that are designed to connect to a port extender or dock can add additional USB ports with these devices. Figure 3 shows a typical HP QuickDock, which adds up to six additional USB ports to compatible HP notebook computers. Unlike USB hubs, devices such as the QuickDock are using previously-unused USB root hubs built into the system.

Figure 6 This HP QuickDock provides up to six additional USB ports as well as component and VGA video out, Ethernet, and other I/O ports.

To use a port extender or docking station made by the notebook computer vendor, a notebook computer must have a proprietary connector on the side or bottom of the computer.

While a number of third-party vendors provide so-called “universal” docking stations for notebook and netbook computers, most of these connect to an existing USB port and provide additional USB ports through a built-in hub. Some leading vendors include Kensington, Targus, Toshiba, and HP. At prices ranging from around $60 to as much as $160, depending upon features, USB-based “universal” docking stations are suitable only if you need additional connectivity beyond more USB ports.

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