There comes a time when, if you’re like me, you run out of USB ports on your main computer. Like it or not, almost everything connects via USB – for example, I have a webcam, keyboard, mouse, printer (or two), a number of external SSDs, card readers, SDR radios, multimeters, power analyzers, electronic loads, power supplies and more. A lot of the time, some of these peripherals don’t even need a fast connection nor draw much power. Finding enough ports is hard, but at least, my new AMD Ryzen based machine does offer a decent amount of ports. The problem was that I was still about three ports short.
The obvious solution was to go with a USB hub. I’ve used these cheap generic hubs in the past for self-powered devices with no ill effects. The downside of those hubs is the fact that they do result in a little more wiring mess. If you need to run bus-powered devices, you’ll also need a power supply, adding to the complication.
As we’re in a bit of a transitional phase, there was a USB Type-C connection on the back of my machine that was left entirely unused. What a shame! So instead, I decided to look for a neat, cheap USB Type-C hub that would hook straight in and provide the necessary ports for self-powered devices. This would also mean that I wouldn’t be using one of my already-occupied USB Type-A ports as well.
When it comes to Type-C hubs, they’re still somewhat rarer to find. But thanks to Apple’s “courageous” one-port Macbook, more manufacturers seem to be producing products which are USB Type-C compatible. However, many of them come with extra frills that I didn’t need. A local seller was selling a 4-port hub with a USB Type-C to Type-A adapter for AU$24, but I thought I could do better.
As a result, I went to eBay again, and settled on an unbranded 4-port USB 3.0 Type-C hub for just AU$13.35 including postage.
The unit came packaged in a hanging box for retail display. It had a plastic hang tag and some silver foil lettering for that “premium” look, emulating what some other branded cable companies would use to package their cables. According to the packaging, thus unit would be Model T-511C, despite not being marked as such.
One interesting thing is that it seems to claim “support 2Tb” when a hub has absolutely nothing to do with the support for external hard drives/media and its size. That is down to the operating system and the bridge chip inside the drive itself. A hub is (mostly) transparent to the data flowing through it, with the exception of split transactions (where a transaction translator is used to talk to USB 1.1 devices through a USB 2.0 link).
Inside, it is packed in a two-part plastic bubble container.
The hub itself is quite compact, and the cable provided is very short. This is advantageous for reducing cable clutter and cable-induced voltage drop, while also providing some strain relief for the connector.
On one side, the four USB 3.0 Type-A ports are provided. The spacing is pretty standard, so larger USB sticks may cause interference with adjacent ports.
The end has a DC input jack, but no adapter is provided and the specifications are not provided either. At a guess, 5V, centre positive with at least 2A (preferably 3.6A) seems to be a good bet. The unit does have two rounded edges for a “teardrop” cross-section.
As promised, the other end is terminated in a USB Type-C connector.
The unit has a screwless design and the halves pop off. From the inside, it’s clear that all ports are USB 3.0 as promised. The port numbering is rather haphazard on the silkscreening. As a part of cost reduction, the input lead is soldered to the board and glued for additional mechanical support. If the cable is damaged, replacing it would be a bit more work as a result.
From the underside, we see that the PCB has the markings K-UH301. Across the board, a number of MLCC capacitors are used to provide local power bypassing. It seems that one transistor is used – this may be for isolating the power in case of overloading or to manage the external power input. However, each port does not have its own transistor/polyfuse protection and there is no clear reverse-flow diode to prevent any externally connected power from feeding back. As a result, I would probably suggest only plugging in self-powered USB loads and not using an external power supply.
The hub itself has been made into a module with its own EEPROM and power regulator. The hub is based around the Genesys Logic GL3520, as with a majority of lower cost units. It’s the first time I’ve seen it done this way.
I guess there’s not much to say here aside from the fact that it works. I’ve tried it on USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 devices with no problems, although depending on your host USB controller, your mileage may vary.
If you are like me and have way too many USB devices (some self-powered) and an idle USB Type-C port that you want to use, then grabbing a USB Type-C hub might be a good idea. It’s not as cheap as a generic Type-A hub, but it’s at least somewhat neater. It works for me.