How to Extend your USB Port

USB cables usually aren't that long, find out how to get a little more reach

 | Jul 3, 2013


 

USB cables were designed to provide fast, secure data transfer between all sorts of different devices, and they do it very well. We use USB cables for all sorts of things, from keyboards, to cameras, to hard drives. The only problem is most USB cables are fairly short. That’s because standard USB connections tend to lose their effectiveness the longer the distance between each device. But there are a few different things you can do to get more length out of your USB cables.


Passive USB Extension

Passive USB Extension Cables

The cheapest solution would be to run out and buy a standard extension cable. These work pretty much how you would expect it to. An extension cable has a female and a male end and you simply plug it onto the end of the cable you want to extend and, bam, you’re done.

You need to be careful with this option though, USB standards dictate that a passive USB cable can only reliably transfer data up to around 16 feet. Beyond that you are going to need something more.

Active USB Extension Cables

Active USB Extension

Active USB Extension Cables basically act as a 1-port USB hub. They are able to buffer the signals going through the USB cable to assure signal quality. That means that you can go much farther with an active USB cable than with a passive one. Active USB extension cables can get expensive, however, especially if you need to daisy chain multiple cables, or have multiple devices that require an extension. This is usually a good option for extending one device up to around 30-50 feet. While active extension cables can reach up to around 100 feet, that can get expensive.

USB over Cat5

Another option would be to get a USB over Cat5 extender. These devices use Cat5e or Cat6 cable to extend your USB devices to distances of around 50 to 60 meters (around 150 to 200 feet). What makes these devices especially nice is that most modern homes already have Cat5e or Cat6 cable running to almost every room.


Siamese Cable Diagram


What USB over Cat5 should I get?

There are a lot of different USB over Cat5 extenders out there, with a large range of different price tags. Basically there are two types of USB over Cat5 extenders, those that are compatible with USB 1.1, and those that are compatible with USB 2.0. USB 1.1 extenders are much cheaper, but USB 1.1 is also much slower, meaning that unless you are only extending a keyboard and mouse, these probably wouldn’t be a good option. USB 2.0 is much faster. Extenders that are compatible with USB 2.0 will work with all of your USB 2.0 devices, such cameras, printers, scanners, and external hard drives.

Another thing to check is the power source of the extender. Most USB 1.1 extenders have no external power source, which is fine since you are probably only going to use them to extend a keyboard or mouse. However, a USB 2.0 extender will need an external power source. Otherwise you could experience a loss in voltage which would cause it not to work with your devices. Powered USB extenders are also usually able to handle multiple devices.

There are plenty of USB over Cat5 extenders that advertise faster speeds without really delivering. A good way to know what you are really getting is to compare prices. The old adage “you get what you pay for” rings true in this circumstance. Any extender that is less than $100 will probably only deliver USB 1.1 speeds.

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