Technology Best USB-C hubs of 2021

22:26  04 may  2021
22:26  04 may  2021 Source:   cnn.com

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CNN Underscored spent the past month putting some of the best-selling USB-C hubs through their paces in real world testing. From basic media file transfers to playing demanding games off of a portable hard drive, we watched each device function under various stress loads, while also comparing designs, connectivity and performance. Here are the three hubs that stood above the rest:

a close up of a computer: Aukey 8-in-1 USB Type C Adapter © Aukey Aukey 8-in-1 USB Type C Adapter

  • Best USB-C hub for 13-inch laptops: Satechi's Multi-Port Adapter V2
  • Best USB-C hub for 15-inch laptops: Totu 9-in-1 Triple Display USB C Hub
  • Best USB-C hub for desktops: Aukey 12-in-1 USB C Hub

Different computers demand different levels of power, which is why power delivery was a major factor when it came to settling on the best USB-C hubs. Most hubs we tested fell into one of two categories of power: 60 watts and 100 watts. Hubs with 60W of power delivery have enough juice to work well with smaller 13-inch laptops (such as a MacBook Air), while you'll need a 100W hub for reliable performance bigger 15- to 16-inch laptops that require more power (such as a gaming notebook or workstation). As such, we aimed to find the best hub for each type of laptop owner, as well as a desktop pick for those with more space to play with.

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The Satechi USB-C hub delivered some of the fastest data transfer speeds in our testing pool, while packing Ethernet and 60W power passthrough in a slim, pocketable form factor that we found to be an ideal go-anywhere companion to a 13-inch laptop.

The Totu 9-in-1 triple display USB-C hub offers more ports and 100W power delivery, while providing solid overall speeds on file transfer tests. It allowed us to use two external monitors with our laptop without any lag or stutters (and can handle up to three displays), making it a good fit for expanding the connectivity of more powerful 15-inch notebooks.

Finally, Aukey's 12-in-1 USB-C hub provides 12 ports for maximum connectivity, with triple monitor support, Ethernet, and additional USB-C connections. However, its port placement quickly got crowded for us, and its larger form factor and power supply requirements make it best for those looking for maximum flexibility on the move or to outfit a desktop setup.

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Best USB-C hub for 13-inch laptops: Satechi Multi-Port Adapter V2 ($79.99; amazon.com)

Key specs

  • Number of ports: 8
  • Video Output: Up to 4K @ 60Hz (single monitor)
  • Warranty: 12 months Limited Warranty

If you're looking to expand the functionality of a 13-inch laptop (such as a MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13), the Satechi Multi-Port Adapter V2 is the best hub of its kind we tested in terms of overall speed and reliability. Satechi's sleek space gray hub stands out against the rest of our testing pool, having one of the sleekest designs and some of the fastest data transfer speeds.

Port placement is both generous and versatile enough for any setup, and unlike most hubs we tested, the Satechi multiport adapter offers a Gigabit Ethernet jack, so you can stay connected regardless of where you may travel. Most importantly, the Satechi performed better with all ports in use than the similarly spec'd Aukey 8-in-1 hub, which exhibited choppy in-game performance and slower media transfers under similar conditions.

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It's 4K HDMI out display sports a 60 hertz (Hz) refresh rate, which is up to standard for this type of gadget and allows for smooth monitor performance., The USB-C connection will only pass 60W of power; this will keep a 13-inch laptop charged, but isn't enough to supply a larger power-hungry machine such as a 16-inch MacBook Pro; in that case you'll have to devote a separate USB-C or Thunderbolt port to your power adapter. Smaller machines that are 13 inches and below receive enough juice for stable charging.

The hub can get warm but is never unreasonably hot, even when loaded with high power-drawing accessories like hard drives and capture cards attached. For most people, the Satechi's mix of fast transfer speeds, assortment of ports, and smooth operation make it theis the best USB-C hub to greatly expand the functionality of less power-hungry devices such as 13-inch laptops.

Best USB-C hub for 15-inch laptops: Totu 9-in-1 Triple Display USB-C Hub ($39.99; amazon.com)

Key specs

  • Number of ports: 9
  • Video Output: Up to 4K @ 60Hz (single monitor), 4K @ 30Hz (dual monitor)
  • Warranty: 12 months Limited Warranty

The Totu 9-in-1 USB-C triple display docking station adds connectivity for multiple displays and display types, swapping out the Ethernet port of the Satechi for a VGA port and adding an additional HDMI port. With 100W of passthrough charging, the Totu USB-C hub lets you add a whole lot of useful connectivity and power a y 15- to 16-inch laptop via a single USB-C port.

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While the hub can support three displays (your laptop's capabilities permitting), and like our top pick can drive a single 4K display at 60 Hz. It only supports 30 Hz for dual 4K HDMI displays, and attaching a VGA display lowers all monitor resolutions to 1080p.

With read speeds of 60 MB per second on our USB 3.0 transfer tests, the Totu was faster than the Satechi, which only managed 40 MB second. It fell short on SD card transfers, however, clocking only 20 MB per second versus the Satechi's speedy 90 MB per second read speed. Nor did the Totu offer a satisfying click on inserting an SD card as did our top pick. But for those not needing the fastest card read speeds, the Totu's numerous display options, slim form factor and plethora of ports make this hub a great budget pick that's especially ideal for expanding the functionality of larger laptops.

Best USB-C hub for desktops: Aukey 12-in-1 USB-C Hub ($69.99; amazon.com)

Key specs

  • Number of ports: 12
  • Video Output: Up to 4K @ 30Hz
  • Warranty: 24 months Limited Warranty

The Aukey 12-in-1 USB-C hub may not be as portable as our other picks, but with a whopping 12 ports, it's more versatile. You're covered whether you just need to connect a keyboard and mouse for everyday work or need to drive three monitors for presentations, and 100W of power delivery lets you quickly charge larger power-hungry laptops in addition to external devices like a phone or portable monitor...

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Whether the hub is plugged into a Windows machine or a MacBook, all peripheral devices we tested with the Aukey were instantly recognized, though external display capabilities differ between the operating systems. While Windows is able to display a true extended triple-display output, with three monitors displaying different screens, MacOS users are limited to mirror mode, with the same picture displayed on each monitor.

Poor port placement mars these inputs with clutter when fully equipped. On the right side sits two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports and a USB-C port. Slide downward and you'll discover an Ethernet port (ideal for desktop users needing wired internet) in addition to a VGA port for legacy monitors. Rounding the corner to the left side of the device is a card reader, two HDMI ports and finally a power delivery USB-C charging port. This leaves all of your wires pulling in conflicting directions as if they're trying to draw and quarter the hub. While using a wired mouse, one quick tug jerked the hub right. Turning an external monitor reoriented the hub in the opposite direction, making it difficult to find the perfect placement. The rubber feet provide a solid grip, however, you'll want to ensure the wires of your peripherals are long enough.

The chunkier body of the Aukey 12-in-1 isn't as portable as our top choices above, which is why we recommend it for more stationary setups. The card storage slots also pale in comparison with read and write rates sitting at 25 and 20 MB per second to the Satechi's blazing 75 and 90 MB per second. Aside from those caveats, the Aukey 12-in-1 hub offers some of the most expansive connectivity of any hub we tested while delivering good overall performance at an attainable price.

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How we tested

We tested each of these USB-C hubs in a variety of real-world scenarios over the course of a month. To test the hubs' performance in both at-home and travel scenarios, we used each hub across three devices. Our test rigs included a powerful Cyberpower streaming desktop, a 15-inch MSI gaming laptop and a 13-inch MacBook Air productivity laptop. Hubs with 100W power delivery are suitable for more power-hungry 15-inch notebooks like the MSI, while those with 60W delivery work well with slimmer 13-inch laptops like our MacBook Air. Our testing pool consisted of newly released fully featured USB-C hubs, best-selling hubs with authentically positive user reviews (verified via Fakespot), and selections made by our editor's expertise.

To judge the design of each hub, all 12 choices were splayed out on a uniform white foam poster board for a visual comparison. Every USB-C hub was weighed, rotated and handled for heft, bulkiness and overall material quality. To test portability, we threw each hub in a backpack, pocketbook and a man's pants pocket.

Next, we took note of the types of ports on each hub in addition to how many there were to judge connectivity. Power delivery capability was determined by maximum wattage output. Wattage determines how fast devices charge and the performance of connected devices like drives.

Performance-wise we ran multiple tests for transfer speeds, video quality and heat dissipation. We transferred the same 1GB 1080p video file to each hub using a Kingston Canvas Go! Plus SD Card, Kingston Data Traveler USB 3.0 drive and a SanDisk Ultra MicroSD Card. This tested for maximum read and write speeds and was performed twice on each setup to calculate an average transfer rate for each hub. We also used AJA System Test, a synthetic benchmark that measures how fast a drive can transfer files.

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Lastly we used two different monitors to check video outputs. Desklab's 4K monitor helped us test video quality at a 4K resolution on a single display with a refresh rate of up to 60Hz. Its ultra-thin profile meant we could test it both at home and on the move. Lepow's Z1 Gamut monitor provided a reliable 1080p 60Hz picture with accurate color reproduction. To validate screen resolution and refresh rates, we used Windows Explorer and Mac system preferences.

Other USB-C Hubs we tested

Aukey 8-in-1 USB Type C Adapter ($39.99, originally $43.99; amazon.com)

Aukey's 8-in-1 USB-C hub offers optimal port placement, a Gigabit Ethernet adapter and a unique two-tone matte black and aluminum design. It has all the same ports as our top pick and even offers 100W of passthrough power, which lets it power professional and gaming laptops over 15-inches.

If rapid data transfers or multiple monitor outputs aren't essential to your workflow, Aukey's 8-in-1 hub is a strong contender. In our performance testing, the Aukey had slow USB 3.0 and MicroSD transfer speed compared to other hubs. USB 3.0 write speeds for this hub averaged at 25 MB/sec, a far cry from other hubs that averaged around 50MB/sec. Still, the assortment of ports offset this for the average user not transferring gigabytes of data on a daily basis. A 24-month warranty is icing on this value-focused cake.

Anker PowerExpand+ 7-in-1 ($27.99; amazon.com)

The PowerExpand+ gives you seven ports in a hefty aluminum case, accentuated by smooth rounded edges that let it fit in our pockets easily. This unassuming 3.5 ounce rectangle outputs 100W through power delivery. While this is enough to charge larger, more powerful laptops, the USB-A ports and one of the two USB-C connections are solely for data transfers. If you have a large arsenal of electronics that are hungry for juice, we'd recommend looking at our other picks.

FlePow USB-C Hub Multiport Adapter ($24.99, amazon.com)

The two-ounce Flepow USB-C hub is the smallest we tested, making it perfect for travel if you only need a single HDMI display output. All three USB ports are USB 3.0, and both USB and card storage transfers were among the best we tested despite lacking a USB-C port capable of passthrough charging. This adapter offers less connectivity than some of the other options on our list, and it does run a bit hot when firing on all cylinders.

Kingston Nucleum 7-in-1 USB-C Hub ($49.99; amazon.com)

Kingston's elegant Nucleum USB-C hub delivers 100W of power, enough to keep a large laptop or multiple devices charged, and it's slender, concave body fits smoothly and securely in a pocket. In our testing we found the device to deliver higher than average transfer speeds while maintaining cooler than average temperatures., and generous spacing between ports made it easy to reach our devices, Disappointingly, it is locked to a maximum display output of 4K at 30Hz..

VAVA 7-in-1 USB C Hub ($24.99; amazon.com)

It's hard to believe that Vava's USB-C hub falls under the budget category. The sturdily built dark aluminum casing is hard to scuff, and with 100W of fll power delivery, three USB 3.0 ports for fast transfer speeds, and SD and microSD card readers that sit side-by-side instead of on top of one another, , the hub punches far above its price category .

Placed on the end, a lone HDMI output displays a 4K signal, though it maxes out at 30Hz. And on multiple occasions during testing the hub ran hot, and we noticed sporadic mouse movement and lag from input peripherals under load.

XSPUS USB-C Hub ($19.99, originally $25.99; amazon.com)

The XSPUS USB-C hub manages to cram a whopping four USB 3.0 ports and 65W of power — enough for a 13 laptop — into its small, highly pocketable cylindrical body.

Despite an appealing design and intuitive card reader placement at the end of the body, the XSPUS USB-C hub had some of the slowest read and write speeds in the entire testing pool. Our SD card read and write speed measured a low 10 MB per second, even with no other devices connected to the hub at the time of testing. The microSD card test fared a bit better at 20 and 24 MB per second, but for comparison, that's 80MB per second slower than the budget FlePow hub's card reader scores.

Dell USB-C Mobile Adapter ($65, originally $74.99; amazon.com)

Dell's puck-shaped USB-C hub offers a one-of-a-kind ultra compact design. A quick counter-clockwise twist to the top of this hub unveils a USB-C connector that retracts when spun in the opposite direction, making for effortless cable management.

This hub offers a triple display output with two HDMI ports and a VGA port; it also includes a Gigabit Ethernet port, but otherwise has very limited connectivity — only a single USB 3.1 port and USB-C connection, and no card readers — and the second slowest transfer speeds among the hubs we tested.

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