All regular USB cables have a maximum recommended length. If manufacturers go beyond that length, they risk impacting the cable’s overall performance. So what can you do when you need to extend a USB cable’s length?
Maintaining USB Cable Performance
The USB interface was initially created to offer uniform cables and connectors for computer peripherals. The peripherals were typically placed at a short distance from the computer, so the USB cables didn’t need to be very long. But the USB standard has grown far beyond its initial capabilities, and USB cables are now used to connect more than just computer peripherals.
This has led to the need for longer USB cables. However, depending on the USB generation supported by a cable, it can only be of a certain maximum length, or it risks offering degraded performance. For example, a USB 2.0 cable can be as long as five meters, whereas a USB 4 cable is limited to 0.8 meters.
Fortunately, there are multiple ways you can extend the length of a USB cable without losing signal strength.
USB Cable Extenders
USB cable extenders are one of the most common ways to increase the length of a USB cable. They feature a male and a female port, thus allowing you to connect your existing cable easily. Four types of USB extenders are on the market: passive, active, and optical.
Passive USB extenders have regular copper wires and no electronic circuits to boost the signal. Therefore, there aren’t very useful in extending the cable length over the recommended maximum limit. You can only use them to extend a short USB cable; take care that the total length of the cable and extension doesn’t cross the maximum limit for its USB generation.
On the other hand, active USB extenders have electronic circuits to enhance the data signal. As a result, they can significantly increase the overall length of a USB cable. But the length of an active extender depends on its USB generation. In addition, some active USB extenders can also be daisy-chained to extend their length further. Still, the daisy chain limit depends on particular extenders and the USB generation it supports.
Unlike passive and active USB extenders, optical extenders have fiber optic cables that use light to take the data signal from one device to another. Light is considerably faster than electricity at moving data and less prone to signal degradation, so the optical extenders are very handy when you need to extend the length of a USB cable by several meters. But unfortunately, optical extenders are relatively expensive.
USB Over Ethernet Extender
Ethernet cables are great for high-speed data transmission over long distances, so you can use them to extend your USB cable. You’ll need a USB over Ethernet extender, but it will allow you to extend the cable’s length by up to 100 meters. There are single port and multi-port USB over Ethernet extenders. While the single port extenders typically don’t need external power, you will need a power adapter to use a multi-port USB over Ethernet extender.
There are two parts to any USB over Ethernet extender—one with a male USB port and the other with a female port. One part converts the USB signal into Ethernet, and the other converts it back to the USB signal. You simply have to plug an Ethernet cable between the two parts, and you are done. The data transfer speed will depend on the extender and the Ethernet cable category.
Powered USB Hubs
You can also use powered USB hubs to extend the length of your USB connection. Like active USB extenders, powered hubs boost the data signal, allowing the signal to travel longer distances. Additionally, you can daisy chain USB hubs to achieve an even longer connection. That said, the cables connecting the hub from a computer or two hubs can’t be longer than the maximum practical length for that cable. On top of that, the USB specification only supports daisy-chaining five USB hubs.
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Active and Optical USB Cables
You have two options if you don’t want to extend your existing USB cable and would rather buy a new—but longer than standard length—cable. You can either opt for an active or optical USB cable.
Active USB cables, similar to active USB extenders, include one or more electronic circuits to boost their performance. As a result, they can be significantly longer than passive cables.
While active USB 2.0 cables can go up to 20 meters, the USB 3.2 Gen 1 cables are typically limited to 7.5 meters. USB 3.2 Gen 2 active cables are even shorter and top out at three meters. Additionally, some active cables can work on the power provided by the USB port, other may require an external power supply.
Cable Matters Active USB C Cable
The Cable Matters Active USB C Cable is available in two sizes of three and five meters. Additionally, it supports USB 3.2 Gen 1 speeds and is great for connecting a 4K monitor.
But, if you must go beyond the lengths of active USB 3.2 Gen 1 or USB 3.2 Gen 2 cables, your best bet is an optical cable. Unfortunately, optical cables are relatively expensive.
Optical USB cables use light to transfer data, like optical USB extenders. As a result, they can be significantly longer than copper cables. At the time of writing in June 2022, you’ll mostly find USB 3.2 Gen 1 and Gen 2 optical cables on the market. However, USB 4 optical cables are starting to appear. A Taiwanese company BKSTEC claimed to launch the first fiber optic USB 4 cables in March 2022.
RELATED: USB Type-C Explained: What is USB-C and Why You’ll Want it
Long Story Short, You Have Options
All in all, while standard copper USB cables may be limited in length depending on their generation, you still have several ways to increase the length of your USB cable. You can either opt for USB extenders or a powered USB hub. But if you want the simplicity of a single long cable, both active and optical USB cables are good options. Just ensure that you are buying cables or extenders from reputable brands.