Powered or unpowered—which USB hub should you buy?

The difference between powered and non-powered USB hubs

As the name suggests, the fundamental difference lies in how they draw power.

  • Powered hubs come with their own AC adapter and plug into the mains
  • Unpowered hubs plug into a computer’s USB port and draw power from its battery

This difference is all important when it comes to establishing which hub would be most suitable for your devices.

What is a USB hub?

A USB hub is like an extension lead for USB devices. It plugs into your computer and lets you connect more devices than your existing USB ports allow.

Some USB hubs are powered, others are unpowered. This short guide explains the difference, to help you understand which one you need.

When you would use a powered USB hub

You’d use a powered USB hub if you needed to run:

  • several devices at once
  • devices that operate on higher voltages, such as:
    • external hard drives
    • printers
    • scanners

As this guide explains, electrical devices vary in the amount of power they need to run or charge.

Because a powered hub uses mains power, it can give every device connected to it the maximum voltage that USB allows. So, not only can it run more devices than an unpowered hub, it can do so at full power, without any drops in performance.

When you would use an unpowered USB hub

Unpowered hubs draw power from the USB port they’re plugged into. As computer USB ports produce small amounts of current, they are best used to power devices that need only low voltages, such as:

  • keyboards and mice
  • smartphone chargers
  • flash drives
  • game controllers

Using an unpowered hub with a high-voltage device means you’re drawing power away from the computer itself, which can cause it to underperform.

If the devices you’re plugging into your computer have their own AC adapters, using an unpowered USB hub should be fine.

Powered vs. unpowered USB hubs—pros and cons




Powered USB hubs

  • Generate their own power
  • Can power high-voltage devices
  • Can power several devices at once
  • Usually more expensive than unpowered USB hubs
  • Need access to a mains socket

Unpowered USB hubs

  • Compact and portable
  • Cheaper than powered USB hubs
  • No need to find a power outlet
  • Can’t power high-voltage devices without performance issues
  • Struggle to power several devices at once

Deciding which USB hub to buy

Connecting keyboards, mice or flash drives?

Need portability?

Very limited budget?

Connecting printers or scanners?

Powering several devices?

Willing to spend a little more?


Unpowered USB hub


Powered USB hub

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