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As laptops get smaller and thinner, their port selection gets more and more paltry — this can get quite frustrating for anyone working from home and wrestling toward the best setup. Many ultraportable laptops have done away with Ethernet and HDMI ports, while others have gone even further, eschewing old-school USB ports for newer, smaller USB-C slots. So what do you do when you don't have enough connections for your old peripherals, external monitors, or SD cards? Well, you could grab a dongle for that one device — USB-C to HDMI and USB-C to USB-A adapters are a dime a dozen — or you could get one docking station to rule them all.
Simply put, a USB hub, or docking station, expands the number of ports on your laptop through one adapter. So you can connect multiple USB devices, SD cards, HDMI displays, Ethernet connections or other devices to your laptop after plugging that hub into just one USB port on your laptop. Some may even allow you to charge your laptop through them, your actual laptop charger plugging into the hub itself.
Best USB hub overall: Anker
For the laptops that just don't have enough USB ports, grab this simple 4-port USB hub from Anker. It's slim, inexpensive and supports USB 3.0 speeds to ensure your flash drives transfer data quickly. It also boasts a 4.7-star average rating from more than 50,000 reviewers on Amazon. Anker also has a more desktop-friendly model if you want something a bit easier to access at your workspace.
Best 8-in-1 USB-C hub: AUKEY
If you've built yourself a nice little telecommuting workstation, you may need more than just extra USB ports. This 8-in-1 AUKEY hub combines extra USB ports, an Ethernet jack for faster internet, an HDMI port for your extra monitor, an SD card slot, and a USB-C port for charging into one hub. (The USB-C port does not support data transfer, just charging). And it connects to your laptop over USB-C, too, so it should work with even the latest models that have ditched old-school USB-A.
Best USB hub for MacBooks: Anker
USB hubs are useful but can be a little clunky thanks to the extra hardware flopping around on your desk. That's why Anker built these all-in-one expansion adapters for the latest MacBooks, allowing you to plug in USB devices, SD cards, and an HDMI monitor into one slim hub that docks right to the side of your laptop. You can see compatibility on its Amazon page to ensure it'll fit properly on your machine.
Not all hubs are created equal with varying ports their only difference.
Simple USB hubs, for example, draw power from the laptop itself and may not be able to provide enough juice to power-hungry peripherals like external DVD drives. In those cases, you'd either need a USB hub that plugs into the wall — enabling it to draw more power for those devices — or you'd need the device itself to plug into the wall (like a DVD drive that comes with its own power cable).
In addition, some may allow you to plug your laptop's power adapter into the hub but it may not charge as quickly or efficiently as it would if it were plugged directly into the laptop. So your mileage may vary depending on the laptop you use.
Things get even more complicated when you add displays to the mix. Most USB hubs will connect to an external display just fine, giving you more screen to fit your work. But if you want to connect multiple displays to your laptop — especially high-resolution 4K displays — you'll need a hub capable of pushing those pixels. And not all USB hubs are.
Best USB hub and laptop riser with multiple USB ports: LENTION
This multi-port hub from LENTION is extremely versatile, with extra USB ports, an Ethernet port, SD card slots and multiple display hookups for you to connect an external monitor or two — all on a stand that holds your laptop (or phone) in place. Note that while you can hook up multiple monitors to this docking station, not all configurations will necessarily work so check its product page for more information on what kinds of setups it supports.
Best USB hub for the most Thunderbolt power: CalDigit
If you're a power user with lots of devices to connect, you may want to consider a Thunderbolt dock. Thunderbolt is a more powerful protocol that uses the same connector as USB-C. While they look the same and plug into the same ports, Thunderbolt allows for faster data transfer and more high-resolution displays. You'll need Thunderbolt capability on the hub and on your laptop for these features to work, so check your laptop's spec page or manual to see if its ports are Thunderbolt or just USB-C.
At the end of the day, the vast majority of users are going to be fine with a simple, affordable USB-C hub like any of the options above. If you have more specialized needs, you'll want to search through user reviews for the user cases you plan to encounter — like running dual 4K displays at 60Hz (something the CalDigit dock can do, but many other hubs can not).
But if you just need the occasional flash drive and SD card, find an affordable model that fits nicely in your bag (and on your desk) and you'll be good to go.