USB ports too close together?

usbports

Two USB ports on the MacBook Pro

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Here’s my SanDisk SDHC USB card reader and as you can see it’s just wide enough to block the second port a bit.

One of the things I’ve had to adjust to on the New MacBook Pro is the fact that the two USB ports on the 15″ model are right next to each ohter. They are not only right next to each other, they are insanely close together. So close in fact that it makes it impossible to plug in some devices and still acess the second port. On the previous MacBook Pro the two ports were located one on each side of the computer. So even if you had a device that was wider than it should be, you still had access to the second port because it was all the way on the other side of the computer.

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As you can see, with the USBconnect in place the second USB port is blocked.

I use my AT&T 3G USBconnect card when I travel. I have one of the older models that has a USB plug that flips down. It’s designed so that when its inserted into your laptop the antenna/card sticks up. This is fine provided that you don’t need to use the port next to it because it almost completely blocks. While I have on occasion wedged another USB cable into the second port, this is not advised and causes the USB cables not to sit properly.

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Although the Synchrotech cable certainly solves the problem with my USBconnect 3G modem it’s a little long for this.

I decided that enough was enough and started looking for USB extenion cables that would solve this issue. I wanted the shortest cable I could get. The first one I tried (thanks to the guys at Sychrotech) was the AirQueue, which was initially designed for the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air’s USB port can also be cramped if you are plugging in a large accessory. The AirQueue is a simple Male on one end Female on the other end 19cm cable. It’s a short extension cable. Simple as that. While the AirQueue certainly solves the problem for most connections, I was looking for something even shorter and more rigid.

That leads me to the Cables-to-Go FlexUSB adapter

flexusb

The Cables-To-Go (great company for all kinds of cable/hub solutions) FlexUSB adapter is much shorter than the Synchrotech model and although not as riged as I would like, it’s good enough for what I want to do. This adapter is great because you can angle it and turn it in the direction you need depending on the accessory you’re plugging in. Again, there’s not much to say here. It’s a USB extension that helps overcome (what I consider to be) a design flaw in the new MacBook Pros.

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The Bottom Line

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Here’s the FlexUSB connector angled up holding a SanDisk SDHC card reader

If your USB ports are too close together, you certainly can’t go wrong with either one of these extension adapters. Either one does the trick. However, if you going to want the device (like a 3G card ) to stand up on its own when plugged in or if you want the device to be a little closer to your laptop then I would go with the Cables-T0-Go FlexUSB adapter.

Synchrotech AirQueue $6.00

Cables-To-Go FlexUSB $4.64. (look on the right side of the page for this price)


  • http://allthesethingsivedone.com Dave Johnson

    Hi Terry,

    Been reading your site for a while.

    This is a great find, as a MacBook user I’ve experienced exactly what you’re talking about. Thanks for finding a neat solution that won’t add too much weight when travelling.

    Dave

  • Gary Tate

    Great review/analysis especially since I am buying a 15″ power book after the updates (?).

    Thanks

  • arw

    I agree totally. Apple screwed the pooch on this one. I’ve bought 2 Unibody MBPs, and really like them. But the USB ports being so close together is a real drag, and a serious oversight by their engineers; so much in fact that I wonder how this could have happened. At the very least, Apple should include a short adapter cable with the MBP in order to use both USB ports at the same time.

  • arw

    I forgot to mention, here is another adapter I found a while back (but have not acutally seen one)…

    http://www.radtech.us/Products/ProCableUSBExtender.aspx

  • Ryan Davis

    I agree completely with the fact that the USB ports are too close together. The way I get around it is with a 7-port USB hub when I am at my desk and a 4-port portable adapter when I am not. Apple really needs to do something about this in the next update.

  • Brett

    Is there some official USB socket spacing standard that Apple is violating?

    One could make the claim that designers of oversized USB devices should consider making the plug end slimmer (and perhaps slightly longer as well, to account for recessed sockets)

  • Macadam

    This is the spacing Apple has used on iBooks and MacBooks since circa 2001 at least (first white iBook). It’s tight, but for many of us this is USB. I use a USB thumb drive that gives me this same problem but then again the casing on this drive is thick as well as wide and I cannot put it next to another USB device on the back of my Mac Pro either do to thickness in the other dimension. The only reason is styling of the drive. This thumb drive I speak of is 128MB and the guts of it are smaller than the USB connector it uses. There is NO reason it should be fat and wide. I literally have not found a Mac or PC configuration that this drive won’t block the adjacent port on.

    OTOH, I have had no less than 6 USB thumb drives that do not give me this trouble at all. Device makers need to be conscious of the fact that some of us want to use adjoining USB slots when they design their devices.

    having said all of that, I am a former Mac Genius and I can tell you that on the plastic MacBooks this spacing is pretty near mandatory. It’s part of the compromise to get the overall form factor to work. Could it be different? Sure. Could it be better? Maybe. Would it change the entire machine? Probably. Unfortunately when you are dealing with these small light form factors you make a lot of compromises. This is but one.

  • Cheryl

    Geesh, I wish you’d written this a month ago when I ended up buying a funky usb hub that looks like an octopus. I could not find a place in town that sold simple little extenders. I will definitely be ordering a couple of the flex USB’s. Not only will they work better – they are way cheaper.

  • Reggie

    Hi Terry,

    I agree about the USB port spacing. I bought a SDHC Express Card reader that fits in the Express Card slot. Eliminates the need for a USB card reader. I leave my Express Card reader in the slot all the time (seeing as how I don’t use the slot for anything else). No USB card reader blocking other USB ports and one less item to keep up with when I travel. Also, have you considered getting a WiFi Hotspot for your AT&T 3G USBconnect? http://www.cradlepoint.com/products/phs300-personal-wifi-hotspot.

  • Jeff

    This is indeed a problem. I frequently have to unplug my charging iPhone to plug in a USB stick that’s too wide to fit the adjacent socket.

    It’s also frustrating having both plugs on the same side. I frequently use a Microsoft Laptop mouse, which has a very short cord. I’m right handed and have to run the cord around the back of the laptop to plug it in, leaving very little length left on the right hand side.

  • Lynn Grillo

    Great post, Terry. My pet peeve about the USB ports is that I use a travel mouse that has a retractable cable. It’s not really long enough to go all the way around the back of the laptop to the left side. I really miss that right side USB port. Guess I’ve got to get a bluetooth mouse, but I want a really, really tiny one. I like the itty bitty ones.

  • James Katt

    Having 2 USB ports right next to each other has been in MacBooks and Powerbooks since the beginning – over 10 years ago.

    This is not a new problem.

    Even if there was a USB port on either side of the MacBook, there still is the problem of Oversized USB devices blocking the other ports – such as the firewire ports.

    It is the fault of the manufacturer of oversized USB devices. Not Apple’s.

    These manufacturers should include an extension USB cord with their devices.

    A good manufacturer such as El Gato realizes this is a problem and includes a USB extension cord with their oversized Turbo.264 device.

    It is not Apple’s fault. It is the USB device manufacturer’s fault.

    Or it is no body’s fault.

    If you want to use an oversized device, get an extension cord.

  • http://www.photoshopuser.com Issac

    Terry, you’re just the man…had to relay some props for the stellar finds and fixes you’ve got posted here. Thanks man~
    (:
    ~Issac

    • http://terrywhite.com terrywhite

      thanks Issac!

  • Marshall

    I use THE FLEX HUB from Logiix:
    http://www.logiix.net/itoolkit.asp?pg=products&specific=jnnnmsf0

    – I like that it has flexible cables so that devices connected to it won’t potentially break off at the USB port if jostled on my car seat (I use my laptop in the car a fair bit on shooting days).

  • Douglas Broad

    Thanks for the advice. I recently purchased a MacBook and have been frustrated in trying to put a Linksys wireless device in 1 USB port and a USB cable (necessary for syncing the wireless pen) for a Wacom Cintiq 21 in the other USB port. It simply does not work but this will solve the problem!