Nowadays, there are many devices that you can plug into a computer USB port each having their own specific purpose.
There are many ways for you and a computer to interact with each other.
But, a computer is limited by how many USB ports it has, which can limit you to how many devices you can connect to it at any given time.
USB Hubs are devices that extend the number of USB ports of a computer.
But, can a USB Hub damage a computer?
No, a USB hub will not damage a computer. Power is only delivered from the computer USB port to the USB hub and not the other way round. There are no problems with the computer USB port being subjected to voltage or current from the USB Hub. You might however, have issues with the amount of power being delivered to multiple devices on a USB hub from a singular computer USB port.
A deeper look at whether a USB hub can damage a computer
Knowing a bit more about the USB Hub and how it is constructed will help shed some light on the question at hand.
So, let’s take a closer look at the USB Hub.
The USB Hub
A USB hub comes in a number of sizes that offer a range of ports from 2,4 and 7.
The most common being the 4 ports.
As well as coming in a range of ports, USB hubs can either be Powered or Unpowered.
An unpowered USB hub is a passive device.
This means that it does not have its own power source. It receives power from the host (in this instance a computer) through the USB standard.
It then uses power received from the computer to power other peripheral devices that get plugged into it.The power is divided up depending on the size of the USB hub and how many devices are connected.
Unpowered USB hubs are great from smaller devices like a mouse, keyboard, etc, that do not require a lot of power.
A powered USB hub on the other has its own power supply which it uses to power peripheral devices that get connected to it.
This type of USB hub is great for higher power devices like printers, and scanners which require more power to operate.
Main concern of connecting a USB Hub to a computer
The main concern when connecting a USB Hub to a computer is whether it will damage the USB ports of the computer or other internal parts of the computer like the motherboard.
This could be due to voltage or current being sent back from the USB Hub to the port.
When it comes to unpowered USB hubs, there are no issues with them damaging the computer as the hub is powered by the computer.
The power comes from the computer itself so there will be no issues of Backfeeding (voltage or current being fed back to the computer).
When it comes to powered USB hubs however, there might be a bit more of an issue.
This is due to the USB hub having its own power supply which gets connected to the mains.
Problems may arise if the power adapter of the USB hub fails (maybe due to a short circuit) which can cause power to bleed into the computer.
But, good quality USB hubs are designed with fail safes in the form of protection circuits which are created specifically for these scenarios.
The protection circuits will include things like a Fuse, which are designed to fail when Overvoltage or Overcurrents occur.
This helps protect the USB hub as well as the computer.
Issues with using cheap USB hubs with a computer
The scenario where you might run into a USB Hub damaging a computer is if it is a cheap quality one.
This is due to the way they are constructed.
They are manufactured with cheaper parts to help increase profit margins. But, with sacrificing the quality of parts comes a greater drawback being the efficiency and effectiveness of the end product.
One stand out drawback is the lack of a protection circuit.
Due to poor design, many cheaper hub’s +5v pins for upstream and downstream data transfer are connected together as well as being directly connected to the +5V of the wall adapter.
This is where a USB hub could potentially damage your computer.
Also, bad workmanship in the form of poor soldering can contribute to a higher chance of short circuits occurring which can again potentially harm your computer.
Other issues with cheap USB hubs are they don’t last very long, are usually never recognised by the computer and affect the overall transfer speeds.
The only way to combat this is to invest in reputable brands who produce good quality USB hubs such as, Plugable, Anker, Rosewill, D-Link to name a few.
Other factors to consider when using a USB hub with a computer
So, if you really want to protect your computer from potential damage against a USB hub, invest in a good quality hub.
But, there are some other factors to take into consideration when using a USB with a computer.
Peripheral devices come in all shapes and sizes each having their own power requirements.
For example, a printer will require more power compared to a mouse.
So before acquiring a USB hub, you will need to know what sort of peripheral devices you will be using as power is distributed evenly in a hub.
Also, as we saw earlier, an unpowered USB hub does not have its own power supply but is powered from the computer’s USB port which means it is limited to how much power it can deliver.
Connecting multiple power hungry devices on an unpowered USB hub is going to overload the computer.
A better option is to use a powered USB hub.
Also, using a powered USB hub with devices that do not require much power is overkill.
You will need to look at what devices you will be connecting and choose the appropriate type of USB Hub.
There are many different Transfer Speeds available for USB cables, connectors, ports and USB Hubs.
Transfer speed is how much data is able to be transfered.
Earlier versions (USB 1.0) had transfer speeds of 1.5 Mbps (Megabits per second). This version is the lowest of the transfer speeds available for USB devices.
Below are the other cable transfer speeds (with the last one being the latest);
- USB 1.1 / Full-speed (12 Mbps)
- USB 2.0 / Hi-Speed (480 Mbps)
- USB 3.0 / Super-speed (5 Gbps)
- USB 3.1 / Super-speed (10 Gbps)
When connecting a USB hub into a computer you will need to make sure that they are both the same versions otherwise you will be restricted to the speed of the lowest version.
For example, if you connect a USB hub which is version 1.1, to a computer which is version 3.1, the maximum transfer speed will be limited to version 1.1 (12Mbps).
Since you cannot really change the USB port of the computer, you will need to match the USB transfer of the hub to the computer port.
Plugging and unplugging
The last factor to take into consideration is plugging and unplugging the USB from the computer.
There are two parts to this.
The first being how you plug and unplug the hub into the USB port of the computer physically.
To ensure you do not damage the structural integrity of the computer’s USB port, make sure to plug and unplug the USB hub safely.
Do not jam it in, or wiggle the USB cable once inserted which can physically damage the computer USB port.
Place it in and remove it gently. (I know this might sound silly, but you can cause physical damage if not done right).
Also, you might have experienced the frustration of not plugging the USB cable the right way around into a USB port.
So, before doing so, check to see if the USB cable of the hub is orientated the right way.
The second part is removing the USB hub using the ‘safely remove hardware’ function on a computer.
What this function does is instruct the operating to wait for all processes accessing a file to finish first before dismounting a USB device.
Say if you have a Hard Drive connected to the USB hub, and you unplug it without using the ‘safely remove hardware’ function, you run the risk of causing writing errors and data loss in the hard drive.
So, before unplugging a USB hub (or and other USB devices), use the ‘safely remove hardware’ first before doing so.
Will using more than one USB hub damage a computer?
No, using multiple USB hubs will not damage a computer.
The same principles discussed above for one USB hub apply to using multiple hubs.
As before, you are more likely to run into issues with cheap quality powered hubs that do not have the necessary protection circuits to protect your computer from back feeding (of voltage and current).
Also, using more than one hub means you will be using more devices which will place more strain on the computer’s USB port if the hub is not powered.
Can a USB hub damage a laptop?
No, a USB hub will not damage a laptop.
The USB ports on a laptop are the same as that on a computer. It uses the same USB protocol from connection and communication.
USB hubs are not designed for a specific host, so they can be used with many other host devices such as a laptop.
Again, if you want to avoid damage to your laptop, stay away from cheaper powered USB hubs.