How To Add USB-C Ports To Your Windows PC

USB-C is becoming the standard for connection among laptops and mobile devices. But if your laptop or desktop PC is lacking in ports and you don’t want to replace it, you’ll need an alternative. Here are a few.

Adding USB-C ports to a desktop computer is pretty straightforward: you can use a standard PCI-E expansion port to add a new card with fresh new ports, or replace some bay drives or the PC case itself if you want those ports on the front of the machine. Laptops are a little more tricky—you’ll have to rely on adapters and converter cables to do the trick.

Options for Laptop Users

If your laptop lacks USB-C ports and you need to connect something to it, the easiest way to go about it is a humble cable. USB-C to USB-A cables (that’s the one with a standard rectangular connector) are available in male and female varieties. In fact, if your new gadget connects only via USB-C, like most newer Android phones, there’s a pretty good chance that a C-to-A cable was included in the box. You can buy more fairly cheaply at any electronics retailer.

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A standard USB-A-to-USB-C cable.

When using these cables for anything other than charging, be sure to plug them into a USB 3.0 port. 3.0 (and later) ports aren’t the same thing as A and C ports: the number refers to the Universal Serial Bus revision, while the letter refers specifically to the shape and digital contacts in the connection. 3.0 ports offer greatly enhanced speed versus the older 2.0 standard. 3.0 ports are sometimes marked with blue connectors or some other obvious color shift, and this symbol:

USB 3.0 port

All USB-C cables should support 3.0 speeds, though they may be backwards-compatible with 2.0 ports. Some cheap suppliers may provide cables that only use the C oval head connector, but with compatibility for only the older 2.0 standard—be sure to check when you’re buying them that they support high-speed data, if that’s what you need.

USB-A-to-C converter

Another option for expanding your access to USB-C ports is a converter, which is essentially the same as an A-to-C cable, but compact and designed to fit onto the end of your existing USB-C-to-C cables. Again, be sure to use your faster USB 3.0 or above ports with converters if at all possible.

Now, obviously, you could also use this solution for desktop PCs if you have a spare USB 3.0 port available. If you don’t, and if you don’t mind opening up your case, there are better options.

Options for Desktop Users

Desktops are much more flexible by design. In addition to access to the cables and adapters mentioned above, desktop users can expand their hardware with new cards or drive bay expansion gadgets. Let’s break down the options.

Use an Expansion Card to Add Rear Ports

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A PCI-E USB-C expansion card.

If your motherboard has any open PCI-Express slots, you can use an expansion card to add USB-C ports to the rear of the PC. This requires taking off the outer case, removing the corresponding expansion tab, and then installing the new card directly to the motherboard. The process is exactly the same as installing a Wi-Fi PCI-Express card, as described in this article. These cards may also support SATA cables for extra power, allowing phones and similar gadgets to charge more quickly.

Use an Adapter Panel to Add Front Ports

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A 3.5-inch bay adapter with USB-C connections.

If your case has an open 3.5-inch bay (the floppy disk size) or a 5.25-inch bay (the regular hard drive size), you can add USB-C ports to the front of your PC, too. You can buy 3.5-inch adapter panels or 5.25-inch adapter panels pretty cheaply. They connect to your motherboard’s 19/20-pin front panel port and use the motherboard’s SATA connections for power draw. The front USB connection panel on most new motherboards looks like this:

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One thing you want to watch for when shopping for adapter panels is whether they also feature standard USB ports, as well. That’s because the built-in front USB ports on your PC won’t work anymore after you plug this panel into the motherboard’s front panel port. Both the models we linked above feature a Type C port, a few regular USB ports, and even fast charging ports.

Swap Your Case If You’re Feeling Adventurous

If you want permanent USB-C ports available, you can go for a more drastic upgrade. Some PC cases are now coming with USB-C inputs right on the front panel. You can buy a new case, move all your parts over, connect the front input panel to your motherboard, and you’ll be good to go. It’s a time-consuming process, and one that can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Here’s our full guide.

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A new Corsair PC case with USB-A and USB-C ports on the front panel.

And of course, you can upgrade the motherboard itself, since many new models come with one or more USB-C ports on the primary I/O panel. But that would generally mean re-installing your operating system too, and possibly upgrading your CPU and RAM…and at that point you might as well just buy (or build) a new PC with USB-C ports from the get-go.

Image credit: Lenovo, Amazon

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.