A USB-C port integrated into the monitor opens up a world of new possibilities. […]
A USB-C hub monitor is an excellent upgrade for your home office. It reduces clutter on your desk and eliminates the need to remove or connect peripherals. Laptop owners can even do without an external power supply.
The result is a tidy, flexible working environment. However, not all USB–C monitors are the same. Some are hardly suitable as a USB hub, while others can replace a high-end USB-C dock. Here’s what you should know before buying.
Why should you buy a USB-C Hub monitor?
A USB-C hub monitor removes numerous cables from your desk. Instead of connecting peripherals to your PC, you can connect them to the monitor, which will then be connected to your PC via USB-C.
Laptops that have USB-C benefit the most from this. The USB-C hub monitor can act as a video cable and power cable in one. You can leave the laptop’s power supply in your backpack or luggage, as you do not need it at the desk.
Most people who own a USB-C compatible laptop need a USB-C hub or a USB-C dock anyway. Bundling with the monitor means you don’t have to find space on your desk for a separate hub or docking station.
The best USB-C Hub monitors have Ethernet, multiple USB-A ports, and support daisy-chain displays via DisplayPort. The Dell P3421W Ultrawide monitor is an example of a USB-C monitor that can operate numerous peripherals at once.
You want the ultimate clean interior? Buy a monitor arm with a laptop stand and use cable clamps to lay the cables behind the monitor arm. This allows you to remove almost all cables from the field of view. You will then only see the USB-C cable that connects the laptop to the monitor.
USB-C hub is not a technical term, so be careful with scammers
The term hub is often used to describe devices that extend USB connectivity. This is not a technical term and has nothing to do with a specific standard. The decision to put the term hub on any USB-C device, including a monitor, depends on the whims of the manufacturer’s marketing department.
For this reason, you need to pay attention to the specifications of a monitor. The ProArt PA278CV from Asus, for example, is advertised as a USB-C hub, but it only has two additional USB-A ports. So the benefits of using it as a USB-C hub are limited.
I recommend that you look for a monitor with a USB-C hub with at least four additional USB ports and a mixture of USB-A and USB-C. Also, I recommend that you buy a monitor with an Ethernet port if your laptop does not have a built-in Ethernet port.
Alternative DisplayPort mode: Make sure your laptop has this port!
No version of USB includes a video standard as part of the base specification. Instead, USB-C devices that process video use an optional addition called DisplayPort Alternate Mode. For USB-C monitors, the DisplayPort version supported by the USB-C port is listed in the specifications of the monitor.
You don’t have to worry about the DisplayPort version used by the monitor. A monitor that supports video via USB-C uses a DisplayPort version that is sufficient to operate the monitor at its native resolution and refresh rate.
It is important to check if there is a USB-C port with DisplayPort Alternate Mode on the PC that you want to connect to the monitor. This function is not mandatory, and not all PCs with a USB-C port support it.
The version of DisplayPort supported by your PC’s USB-C port is usually not important. USB-C devices with DisplayPort Alternate Mode support at least DisplayPort 1.2, which can output 4K at 60 Hz.
The DisplayPort version is important when connecting a screen with a high refresh rate. You need USB-C with support for DisplayPort 1.4, for example, to process a 4K screen with a high refresh rate at 144 Hz. But very few USB-C monitors have a refresh rate of more than 60 Hz, so this is rarely a problem.
Power Delivery: Check the wattage before buying
Most USB-C devices support a certain level of USB Power delivery, which is necessary for power supply via USB. However, the USB power delivery standard is very wide-ranging. The available wattage can vary from a few watts to 100 W or more. You need to check if the desired USB-C monitor can provide enough power for all the devices – in most cases a laptop – that it supplies with power.
This is quite easy to find out. Look at the technical specifications of the monitor to find out how much power it can send via USB-C. Compare this with the rated power of the power supply of your laptop. The monitor should support USB power delivery, which is at least equal to the wattage supplied by the laptop power supply.
The power delivery power of a monitor is currently limited to a maximum of 100 watts. This means that some powerful gaming and workstation laptops cannot be powered exclusively by USB-C, even if the laptop has a USB-C port with power delivery.
What about Thunderbolt hub monitors?
USB-C and Thunderbolt are similar, but Thunderbolt has some advantages.
Thunderbolt has a higher minimum data rate than USB. Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 must support a data rate of 40 Gbps, while USB 3.1 supports a minimum data rate of 10 Gbps and USB4 supports a minimum data rate of 20 Gbps. USB can achieve the same data rate of 40 Gbps as Thunderbolt, but it is optional, so many devices (including USB-C Hub monitors) do not offer it. Thunderbolt’s higher data rate could be important if you want to connect multiple high-speed storage devices or use external graphics.
DisplayPort is included by default in the Thunderbolt standard, so you do not need to check whether it is supported by both the monitor and the device you want to connect to it. Thunderbolt 3 supports DisplayPort 1.2, while Thunderbolt 4 supports DisplayPort 2.0.
The power supply is still variable, so you still need to check whether the power supplied by a Thunderbolt hub monitor is sufficient for the device to be connected.
At the moment, BenQ’s latest PD series workstation monitors are the only monitors I would recommend as a Thunderbolt hub monitor. LG offers several Thunderbolt monitors, but they do not have the necessary number of ports to significantly expand the connectivity of your PC.
What’s next? Sometimes … more power
USB4 is the latest USB standard. It increases the minimum data rate for USB to 20 Gbps and supports a maximum of 40 Gbps. I assume that most devices will offer the minimum rather than the maximum. Still, it’s a nice upgrade over previous USB versions. USB4 is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and newer versions, as well as Thunderbolt 3.
The latest version of USB Power Delivery supports a power of up to 240 watts, enough to serve all but the fastest laptops. That’s a big deal. It allows easy connections with just one cable with laptops that are currently too powerful to use it.
And now the bad news: compatible devices are rare. There are few USB-C hubs or docks, and none of the USB-C monitors shown at CES 2022 have announced support for USB4 or the 240-watt power delivery standard.
USB4 makes the inclusion of power delivery standard and has the option to support the latest up to 240 watts of power, but it does not increase the required minimum power. So you still need to pay close attention to how much power a USB-C monitor provides.
USB-C Hub monitors can be a little confusing, but deciphering the details is worth the effort. You have to do the same thinking work anyway if you buy the right USB-C hub or the right docking station. Choosing a USB-C Hub monitor instead of a standalone dock gives you the same benefits and saves space on your desk.