Transform a USB hub into the ultimate DIY gadget charger

If you travel with a gaggle of 5-volt devices, a simple powered USB hub can charge as many as seven at a time.

John Falcone Senior Editorial Director, Shopping
John P. Falcone is the senior director of commerce content at CNET, where he coordinates coverage of the site's buying recommendations alongside the CNET Advice team (where he previously headed the consumer electronics reviews section). He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
Expertise Over 20 years experience in electronics and gadget reviews and analysis, and consumer shopping advice Credentials
  • Self-taught tinkerer, informal IT and gadget consultant to friends and family (with several self-built gaming PCs under his belt)
John Falcone
3 min read
Belkin USB hub charging six devices
A powered USB hub can replace bulky AC adapters for many of your portable devices. Sarah Tew, CNET Networks

And then I realized it was already sitting on my desk. And it's probably sitting on yours, too.

I'm talking about a standard USB hub--those little accessories that multiply one of your PC's USB ports by a factor of four, five, six, or even seven. I took a spare seven-porter--the Belkin F5U701 ($20)--plugged its included AC adapter into a nearby wall outlet, and started loading it up with devices. A few minutes later, I was charging six devices via USB with no apparent problems--and I still had a free port available for yet another device.

The photo above is certainly an unlikely scenario for the average person--in truth, most of those devices were scrounged from coworkers. But it's a perfect illustration of the potential of such a setup: pretty much anything that accepts USB charging (iPods, Blackberries, cellphones, headsets, Xbox 360 controllers, and the like) should be compatible. Even products that don't support USB charging per se may work--if they're rated at the same voltage standard as USB (5v). For instance, I had no problem charging the Nintendo DS Lite (which is technically 5.2v, still seemed to work fine) and old Sony PSP.

If you're looking to duplicate this setup, there are some caveats, of course. I was using some proprietary adapter cables (to charge the aforementioned PSP and DS Lite handhelds), which would have to be purchased at extra expense. Other cables that should work--such as some retractable USB cables--didn't. And some devices may default to "trickle charge" mode when using their USB input, which makes for a slower recharge. (That didn't bother me--this setup is primarily for overnight juice-ups, so a couple of extra hours didn't matter.) Another annoyance: using third-party chargers may possibly violate the warranty of certain devices, so you might want to check the manual before plugging in. But, basically, if you've already docked a given device with your PC, using a standalone charger is almost certainly a safe bet. Likewise, always use caution when handling any chargers that are plugged in to a wall outlet--it is live electricity, after all. Bottom line: the "hub as charger" workaround should work, but your mileage may vary--you'll want to double-check your devices and cables accordingly, or limit yourself to charging just three or four units simultaneously.

To be fair, this workaround may not be news to many of you; in fact, a little creative Googling after the fact shows that I'm hardly the first person to have this same idea. But until a commercial solution becomes available--say, a second-gen Belkin Dual USB Power Adapter (or a competing product from a rival manufacturer) with double or triple the capacity--I think I've found my new home and travel charging station. Even with all the cables involved, using a single AC adapter and a slimline hub for up to seven other devices is a winning solution to the bulky alternatives, both at home (no more powerstrip) and especially on the road (travel with one AC adapter, versus up to seven). For me, at least, it's a much better alternative to the CallPod ChargePod.