The Best PCIe USB-C Cards for Creatives
An often overlooked feature when upgrading a desktop or workstation is the ability to add or upgrade USB ports. The most up-to-date USB ports on the market are for USB 3.1, which means upgrading to a card that combines USB3.1 and USB-C.
Adding and upgrading these cards allows you to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and even maximize the number of peripherals on your desktop.
PCIe USB-C cards for all your devices, Image Source
Top USB-C Cards for Your Computer
Whether you are running a gaming rig or a workstation for all your creative work, it is likely you will one day say to yourself, “I wish I had just ONE more USB port!” We have created this guide so you never have to get to that point, and, if you do, you will know exactly what your next purchase should be.
First, let’s talk about what you need to know for your next USB-C card and then we will dive into reviewing some of our favorite options on the market right now.
What You Need to Know About Your PCIe USB-C Card
PCIe USB-C Card, Image Source
Before we go any further, let's give a quick explanation of PCIe for anyone who doesn't know this term. PCIe, or Peripheral Component Interconnect Express, is an interface standard for connecting high-speed components.
One thing you need to know about USB cards is that they may seem like a simple plug-and-play upgrade, but there is a lot more to take into consideration. Not all PCIe USB-C cards are the same and some may not be compatible with your desktop. Let’s talk about Card Size, Available Slots on your Motherboard, Power Requirements, Number of Ports you want, Appearance, and Thunderbolt Capability.
Whenever you are upgrading your desktop or building a brand new rig, one of the most important factors you have to constantly keep in mind is the size and shape of the case you are using.
Most modern cases should accommodate your needs just fine. However, if you are using a nostalgic build with an old case for the design or appearance, then you may run into some trouble. You may also run into size compatibility issues if you are trying to build a slim and compact workstation.
The good news is that there are PCIe cards that can fit in smaller spaces as well as some that are specifically designed for narrow, compact builds. Either way, you need to measure and make sure you will have enough space for any PCIe USB-C card you may want to purchase.
Available Motherboard Slots
Motherboard, Image Source
PCIe slots exist to house graphics cards, sound cards, and USB cards. Each Motherboard will only have the capacity for a certain number of PCIe slot expansions. When you opt for a USB card you are giving up space for either an additional graphics card or sound card, so keep this in mind.
Most modern Motherboards will have 2-3 PCIe slots. If your particular workstation build only has room for 2 PCIe slots, then you already know your options. On the other hand, if your Motherboard has room for 3 PCIe slots, then you have some wiggle room to figure things out.
Please make sure to remember this before buying a PCIe USB-C card, only to realize you don’t have enough slots for it!
Power Requirements might be one of the most critical factors when choosing a USB-C card. All desktop components are going to require a specific amount of electrical power.
If you know your rig is already close to the upper limits of the power requirement and availability, then you may have to reconsider if you have the capability of adding a USB-C card at all. USB-C cards can also include quick charge technology as well as Thunderbolt technology, which we will discuss later. This can drive your power requirements up to upwards of 100 watts!
Keep a close eye on the power requirements of your rig and the available power you have available with your power supply. It is rare that a PCIe USB-C card would push you over that limit, but it is not unheard of either.
It is also worth noting that the devices you intend to use with your USB-C card may also draw additional power, too. Think through all of your power needs and sources so you aren’t caught by surprise if something goes wrong electrically.
Number of Ports
Both your Motherboard and the individual PCIe slots are going to have a limited amount of bandwidth they are designed to handle. What this means for your USB upgrades is that you will only be able to add a maximum of 4 USB ports on a single USB-C card. It is more common, in fact, for USB cards to have a combination of USB 3.1 ports and USB-C ports than strictly USB-C ports.
However, you may not need 2 USB 3.1 ports and 2 USB-C ports and are willing to spring for fewer ports for other features. We will discuss some of these features next. These will have more to do with preference, style, and specific use cases of your USB-C ports.
No matter what, you need to weigh your options and choose the card that will give you what you need within the space and availability you have on your Motherboard and in your case.
Open air PC case, Image Source
As an example for preference, let’s talk about appearance.
This would really only come into play if you are building or using an open air or see-through case. When you have internal parts visible some people may factor in appearance far more than someone who has an enclosed case.
That being said, there are typically more important factors than appearance for internal parts that should be considered first.
Thunderbolt Technology Compatibility
Thunderbolt USB-C port, Image Source
Thunderbolt technology is a little bit of a niche consideration that will only come into play based on what you plan on using your USB-C adapter. For the most part, it is rarely something people consider when choosing a USB-C thunderbolt adapter. However, Thunderbolt can deliver tons of power, be used for high-pixel density images and videos, and drastically increase upload and download speeds.
If these are factors that might be important for you, then it is definitely worth taking into consideration as you choose your USB-C card. The important thing is that you get exactly what you need and want from your USB-C card.
Our Top 3 PCIe USB-C Cards
Desktop PC build, Image Source
Figuring out the best PCIe USB-C cards on the market right now can be a difficult task to take on. We have found three options that will suit the needs of just about every person in the creative industry. These will maximize the ability to have all the peripherals you need without losing any sort of quality.
These choices were made with those who do plenty of video, audio, and digital content creation and editing in mind. For the best options out there, you needn’t look any further, but feel free to ask us any questions about our choices.
Here is our list of the best PCIe USB-C cards to upgrade and maximize your desktop!
One of our top choices is the StarTech 4 Port PCIe USB-C card because it checks all the boxes and is one of the most used and best rated USB cards on the current market.
The way this card is designed with its 4 ports is that each set of 2 ports shares 10Gbps out of the 20Gbps of bandwidth provided by this USB card, which actually gives you some ways of being creative with spreading out your bandwidth appropriately. Peripherals like your mouse and keyboard will barely put a dent in that bandwidth, so spreading them with one on each set lets you maximize your bandwidth capabilities!
The StarTech 4 Port is also one of the best in terms of appearance, if that is something you are considering. It also boasts the ability to add on additional SATA power supplies, so you should definitely be able to work it into your rig. This USB card is going to do anything and everything you might need.
It’s worth mentioning that it is, obviously, the most expensive on our list.
Moving down our list, we have the SIIG 3 Port PCIe USB-C card for a more affordable and compact option that still checks off lots of boxes.
Dropping down to a 3 port card significantly reduces the price and the size of the USB card, which can be a major decision making factor for some. For this reason, we had to put this option on our list. It still packs a punch with 10Gbps across all three ports and the ability to connect to SATA for power supply to devices plugged into the ports.
One important note for those looking for an option for their open air or see through case, this USB-C card is one the best looking options available. It is compact, all black, and beautifully laid out. It’s actually a bit of a shame that this card will typically be entirely unseen!
When you simply need a single USB-C port that will get the job done every single time, there is simply no better option than the SYBA Single Port USB 3.2 Card.
This single port card may not seem like much, but it is one of the most powerful USB-C ports on the market. With just a single port you can have a single device plugged in that will benefit from the blazing 20Gbps speeds that is normally split between multiple devices or multiple buses. Are you doing a lot of uploading and downloading to an external hard drive for your creative work? Then this is absolutely the best option for you.
What you lose in the ability to connect multiple peripherals will be made up for by the sheer power and speeds available with the SYBA Single Port Card. In terms of other benefits, it has plenty of other bells and whistles that make it worth the investment. It is a little pricey for a single port, but still affordable if it fits everything you are looking for.
Other Great USB-C Cards
In addition to the cards mentioned above, here are some other great options to take a look at, especially if it's difficult finding inventory for more popular cards:
StarTech USB 3.0 2 Port PCI Express Card Adapter
StarTech USB-A 1x Internal 1x External- PCIe USB 3.1 Card
StarTech 4 Port PCIe USB 3.0 Controller Card Adapter with UASP SATA
StarTech 4 PCle USB3.0 w/ 2 Dedicated 5Gbps Channels - UASP
StarTech 4 Port PCIe USB 3.0 Card Adapter 4 Dedicated 5Gbps Channels
SYBA USB 3.0 2-port with PCI-e Header Card
SIIG Full Height PCIe 4-PORT USB 3.0 Host Adapter
Looking For More Information About PCIe Cards?
There are plenty of PCIe USB-C card options out on the current market. Sifting through them all can sometimes feel like a game of "Where’s Waldo" unless you know exactly what you are looking for; but, what do you think? Did we miss anything? Have any other questions? We think the StarTech 4 Port is the way to go, but we would love to talk through any questions you might have.
You can find other articles and comparisons elsewhere on the SabrePC blog. Keep a lookout for more helpful articles that will be on the way soon. If you have any questions or want to suggest some other topics for us to focus on, please feel free to contact us.