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The Difference Between USB Splitter and USB Hub

GetUSB.info researches USB products every day from every corner of the internet. Although we don’t publish about those finds each day the research goes on with a filter geared towards bring value to our visitors.

Over the past six weeks we have seen an increased number of products listed as a USB splitter and it’s worth posting an explanation about what a USB splitter is, or might be.

A USB splitter does not split the USB signal. The most common use of the term “splitter” is a phone splitter for an analog signal. Meaning you can take a single phone line and use a splitter to get the same analog signal on two phones, at the same time. A USB splitter is not this – at all.

A USB splitter should truly be called a USB hub. A USB hub is comprised of an upstream port and multiple down-stream ports. The upstream port is the signal coming into the hub, the down-stream port(s) are the ports available to get that information. Key word here is “available to get” because not all ports are equally available to get the same upstream signal, simultaneously.

For example, if you have audio playing from your PC to a USB speaker, a hub will not automatically split that audio signal to multiple USB speakers connected to that hub. Same would go for video and data. You cannot split USB signals to multiple devices automatically.

To call a USB hub a USB splitter is a very poor choice of words. In fact, we would consider this a red flag for not buying product from a supplier who uses such a term to describe a USB hub.

There is a USB-Y cable which is the closest thing which could be considered a splitter. A USB-Y cable has two connectors from the upstream port to a single downstream port; however, both of those upstream ports do not transmit data. One connector transmits the data and power and the second connector transmits only power. For example, it is very common to get an external hard drive (a disk drive, not solid state) which comes with a USB-Y cable. This setup is designed to pull the maximum power from the host (your PC) using two connections and send as much power as possible to the device, the external hard drive.

Looking at the image above, the idea would be connecting two USB A cables to two USB ports on the host computer and the single USB-A connector to the device. This setup will provide additional power to the USB peripheral device.

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Matt LeBoff

Kicking around in technology since 2002. I like to write about technology products and ideas, but at the consumer level understanding. Some tech, but not too techie.

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