How to add USB 3.0 to your desktop PC

If you've purchased an external hard drive recently, there's a good chance it came with a USB 3.0 interface.

That'll work with your old desktop, as most USB 3.0 devices are backward-compatible with USB 2.0 ports. The problem is you're not enjoying the significant speed benefits afforded by the newer technology.

So what's the solution? Buy a new machine? Nah: just upgrade your current one. Turns out it's pretty easy to add USB 3.0 ports to a desktop, provided you can meet two simple requirements.

First, your system will need an available PCI or PCI Express expansion slot. Second, you'll need $20-30 you can devote to the upgrade.

Yep, you guessed it, you're going to be buying and installing a USB 3.0 PCI card, which will add four of the blazingly fast ports to your PC. (Alas, they'll be at the back of your PC, but that's better than nothing.)

If you've never ventured inside your desktop before, this is one of the easier upgrades you can perform. Basically you just drop the card into an available slot, connect a power cord, then install some drivers. Easy-peasy.

However, you'll want to make sure to pick a USB 3.0 card that matches the kind of slot you have, and check its power requirements: some cards need you to connect a Molex plug (commonly found in older desktops), while others rely on SATA plugs. You may need to poke around inside your case to see your available slot and power options. Then buy a card that matches.

Newegg is a good place to start your search, though do check the often-middling user ratings for the various cards. Some users seem to encounter compatibility issues, others run into driver problems. Your mileage may vary, but as with any upgrade, you'll want to make sure you have a reliable full-system backup before you begin the process.

If you've already done this upgrade, hit the comments and let you fellow readers know how it went. If not, this is a great way to breathe some new life into an older PC, and for a pretty small investment of time and money.

And while we're on the subject, be sure to check out my recent how-to on upgrading a USB 2.0 hard drive to USB 3.0.

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at hasslefree@pcworld.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community ForumsSign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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