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How to add USB 3.0 to a mini PC

Use a Thunderbird docking station with built-in USB 3.0 ports

a Thunderbird docking station with built-in USB 3.0 ports

Our Helproom Editor advises how to add USB 3.0 to a mini PC.

QUESTION I'm thinking of buying one of Intel's new Next Unit of Computing (NUC) systems to use as a small, low-power media centre PC. I want to use a large external USB drive to store recorded TV shows etc. but I'm concerned at the lack of USB 3.0 ports on either of the available NUC models.

One of the NUC systems offers a Thunderbolt port, which I've heard can support both USB 3.0 via an adaptor, but I've not seen any available. Is this possible?

HELPROOM ANSWER Thunderbolt can technically provide you with USB 3.0 ports via an adaptor, but currently available solutions are rather more complex and expensive than you may be expecting. Simple Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 adaptors are not yet available, but you could buy a Thunderbird docking station with built-in USB 3.0 ports.

One example is the Matrox DS1/HDMI Thunderbolt docking station, which takes a single Thunderbolt input and provides a selection of outputs including HDMI and USB 3.0 as well as audio jacks, USB 3.0 ports and an Ethernet connector.

You could connect your mini PC, TV and external drive by hooking them all up to the docking station. Or you could connect the TV directly to the PCs HDMI port and use the docking station just for USB 3.0. Being a docking station, it's much larger than a simple adaptor, but also much more flexible, thanks to the additional ports. The Thunderbolt version of the NUC PC lacks a wired network connection, so this could be ideal if you also wanted to use Ethernet.

An alternative product which will be launched soon is Belkin's Thunderbolt Express Dock. This device has the advantage of three USB 3.0 ports rather than one and a FireWire 800 connector, but lacks the HDMI output so you would simply use the HDMI port on the PC itself.

See all How to articles. Get free tech support in the Helproom Forum.

Visit Windows 7 Advisor and Windows 8 Advisor for more Windows advice. Or email our Helproom Editor for bespoke advice.

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