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Running Out of USB Ports? Best and Worst Solutions

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With a growing number of input, output, storage, video, and audio devices clambering for connections to your PC, no matter how many USB ports you have, sooner or later you might run out of ports. The "U" in USB stands for "Universal," and virtually every device that connects to a PC uses a USB port. From printers and multifunction devices to external hard disks, keyboards, and mice, your computer's USB ports are in high demand. What are the best solutions when you run out of USB ports — and which solutions are better off avoided? Hardware expert Mark Edward Soper helps you discover "hidden" USB ports, decipher different types of USB hubs, and helps you choose the best USB expansion solutions for any and every USB device you have in mind.
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USB Standards 101

Before you start looking for additional USB ports, keep in mind that there are now three different USB standards on the market. If you choose a solution that’s slower than your USB hardware, any hardware you plug into that solution will also slow down.

USB 1.1

The first true USB standard, USB 1.1 (USB 1.0 wasn’t widely supported) was released in 1998, but unlike other standards of the time, it’s still in widespread use. There’s no need for keyboards, mice, or game controllers to run faster than USB 1.1’s 1.5Mbps low-speed standard (12Mbps is the full-speed USB 1.1 standard), so these devices are equally happy regardless of the USB port speed.

USB 2.0

USB 2.0 reached the marketplace in late 2001, and provides a 40x boost in maximum speed over USB 1.1, running at a top speed of 480Mbps. USB 2.0 is also known as Hi-Speed USB, and uses the same connectors as USB 1.1. Some early systems with integrated USB 2.0 ports had the USB 2.0 feature disabled, making the ports run at USB 1.1 speeds.

USB 3.0

The newest standard for USB, USB 3.0 (also known as USB SuperSpeed), is very much in its infancy. Very few systems or devices currently support USB 3.0, although USB 3.0 supports 5Gbps maximum speed (about 10x the speed of USB 2.0). USB 3.0 uses use hub and device connectors, but the hub connectors are backwards-compatible with USB 1.1/2.0 devices, enabling USB 3.0 to support all flavors of USB.

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