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What is a good USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 hub to use with the MacBook Air while traveling?
As many MacBook Air users certainly have noticed -- based on e-mail received -- there are definitely times when the single built-in USB 2.0 port on models released prior to the "Late 2010" line is inadequate. Even for subsequent MacBook Air models, which have two USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 ports, there still are times when additional ports are desirable.
For MacBook Air notebooks released prior to the "Late 2010" models, there always is the option of serious hacking, but the easiest way to add more USB ports to any MacBook Air is to use a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 hub.
As some MacBook Air models have USB 2.0 ports and others have USB 3.0 ports, it is important to identify your MacBook Air correctly before buying a USB hub. A USB 2.0 hub still will work with a USB 3.0-equipped MacBook Air, but it will be slower.
MacBook Air models released prior to the "Late 2010" series are easy to collectively identify by the single USB 2.0 port and no further identification information is needed.
However, for the "Late 2010" and "Mid-2011" MacBook Air -- which have USB 2.0 ports -- and the "Mid-2012" and "Mid-2013" MacBook Air -- which have faster USB 3.0 ports -- these models can be collectively identified externally by model number and uniquely by model identifier in software.
In software, the "Late 2010" and "Mid-2011" lines can be spotted by model identifiers MacBookAir3,1, MacBookAir3,2, MacBookAir4,1, and MacBookAir4,2, whereas the "Mid-2012" and "Mid-2013" lines are MacBookAir5,1, MacBookAir5,2, MacBookAir6,1, and MacBookAir6,2.
More information about specific identifiers is provided in EveryMac.com's extensive Mac Identification section.
"Good" is a subjective term, but it seems logical that one if views size and weight as enough of a priority to buy a MacBook Air, one also would want a USB hub that is as small and lightweight as possible.
It also is worth noting that the MacBook Air optical drive still must be plugged directly into the MacBook Air and is not to be used with USB hubs.
Nevertheless, for all the other USB devices you might like to plug into a MacBook Air -- an iPhone or iPod, a mouse, printers, scanners, cameras, and so on -- there are a variety of small USB 2.0 hubs designed for travel available, but four in particular include the Belkin Swivel Hub, Dr. Bott T3Hub, Griffin SmartShare USB, and IOGear MicroHub.
Photo Credit (clockwise from top left): Belkin, Dr. Bott, IOGear, Griffin.
Please note that the above images are not precisely to scale, but the USB connectors can be used for an idea of relative size.
The convenient Belkin Swivel Hub design provides four USB 2.0 ports and rotates 180-degrees -- up, down, left, and right -- to make accessing ports easier in tight spaces. In hands on use, EveryMac.com has become quite fond of this hub.
The IOGear MicroHub provides four USB 2.0 ports with a USB cable that "tucks away" under the device to protect the connector from damage in transit.
As USB 3.0 is a newer standard, the majority of USB 3.0 hubs are nondescript and fairly bulky. However, there are at least two smaller ones with four USB 3.0 ports -- the Unitek USB 3.0 Compact Hub and the Satechi Portable USB 3.0 Hub.
Photo Credit: Left: Unitek, Right: Satechi (Not to Scale)
You might also be interested in the Kanex DualRole, which helpfully combines three USB 3.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet adapter in the same compact design.
Photo Credit: Kanex (USB 3.0 Hub/Gigabit Ethernet Adapter)
Please note that both the Unitek and Satechi USB 3.0 hubs require OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion" and have been reported to be flaky running OS X 10.7 "Lion." The Kanex DualRole reportedly is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 "Leopard" and higher (at least in some capacity).
USB Hub Performance Tips & Summary
No matter which USB hub you buy, for maximum performance, be sure to plug the hub itself into your Mac before connecting any peripherals. Then, plug in the fastest USB device before connecting any slower ones.
In other words, if you are using one of the above USB 3.0 hubs, and you have an external hard drive that uses USB 3.0 and a printer that uses USB 2.0 -- (1) plug the hub into your Mac, (2) plug the external hard drive into the hub, and (3) plug the printer into the hub. The first peripheral you connect will determine whether the hub operates at its maximum speed or a slower one.
All these USB hubs can be used with other Macs as well, not just the MacBook Air, and it is hoped, add as little weight as possible to your already overburdened carry-on bag.
Have experience with any of these USB hubs and have positive or negative feedback? Found another compact USB 3.0 hub that you like better than the above? Please share.
Site sponsor Other World Computing sells the USB 2.0 IOGear MicroHub as well as the USB 3.0/Gigabit Ethernet Kanex DualRole in addition to other USB hubs. PowerMax sells the USB 2.0 Belkin Swivel Hub and a variety of other USB hubs, too.