A Tiny USB Hub For All Your Hardware Modding Needs

Going all the way hack to the heady days of Eee PC modding, hardware hackers have been on the hunt for small USB hubs that can easily be liberated from their enclosures and integrated into whatever project they happen to be working on. From time to time you see recommendations out there for makes and models which lend themselves to this sort of repurposing, but it’s seemed more difficult than necessary to source such a basic component.

Which is why [RETROCUTION] has developed a USB hub that’s not only extremely small, but relatively easy to assemble with only six components. Plus best of all, they are dirt cheap.

When you add up the cost of getting the PCBs made and buying all the SMD components, the per-unit price of these hubs is only going to be a few dollars. If you’ve got what it takes to make the PCBs in-house, even better. Considering how much easier these things could make other projects, it seems more than worth the upfront cost.

The star of the show is the FE1.1s, a four port USB 2.0 controller in a SSOP-28 package. As of this writing, it goes for about 25 cents from the usual overseas sources (even less, for larger orders). Add to the mix a few 10 μF ceramic capacitors, a 2.7 kΩ resistor, and a 12 MHz crystal.

There’s no provision for actual USB ports in the design, but they would just take up space anyway; this hub is intended to be directly soldered to the other devices. Incidentally, to reduce the number of traces and pads on the PCB, there aren’t power lines for the downstream devices either. So you’ll need to power them separately.

The passives are 0603, but the crystal is a good old fashioned through-hole component. [RETROCUTION] assembles the boards with a solder paste stencil and a hot air station, but if you’ve got a little practice, it’s certainly something you could do with an iron. With such a straightforward design, you could build a lifetime supply of these itty-bitty hubs in an afternoon. That’s certainly our plan, anyway.

28 thoughts on “A Tiny USB Hub For All Your Hardware Modding Needs

  1. The FE1.1 has just a single transaction translator. When using multiple usb 1.1 devices in parallel this is not a good idea as it slows the transfers down unnecessarily.

    I suggest the GL852G instead, is has multiple transaction translators. It can be had at LCSC for $0.56@10 (that is, when China opens up again, looking like that may take some weeks).

    I successfully used it in some of my circuits to save usb connectors.

    1. I have a bunch of GL850 (USB 2.0 4 port HS/FS/LS hub). Never paid attention to it until I read your comment, sure enough it says “Single TT shares the same TT control logics for all downstream port devices. This is the most cost effective solution for TT. Multiple TT provides individual TT control logics for each downstream port.This is a performance better choice for USB 2.0 hub. Please refer to GL852 datasheet for more detailed information.”
      Ordered some QFN packaged from AE @0.64, just in case.

  2. (Normal level of RW sarcasm=OFF) Fantastic, could have used this a half dozen times at least. I’ve halfassed looked into it myself, pulled apart a few hubs, finding epoxy blobs, sanded chips or NDA-ed data. One application it would have rocked at, was when I was trying to add bluetooth to a favorite tablet. Another was a laptop with 2 root hubs, it had blown the external one, and direct replacement was iffy, everything was well spread over the motherboard, betwixt and between the expensiver and fiddlier bits. It also appeared to have been cooked by being right next to hot stuff, so wasn’t confident that replicating the design error would last long either. So I wanted to hook the internal one which ran the camera and touchpad.

    Current/future project, backburnered, is retrofitting one of those MIPS linux laptops (Little Linux Laptop type) with a more current ARM, trying to figure it with a BBB so I can drive the LDS screen. Anyway, need a tiny hub in there. Antoher use might be a couple of machines that annoy me by having less than 3 USB holes. Might also give android boxes internal keyboard or BT dongles, or big USB storage drives.

    Looking at how many external components that chip doesn’t need, I might be up for deadbugging it.

      1. It was an off brand, off brand one. Fidelity Electronics VPC 1.1 .. Very similar to those razorbook, and alpha 400 ones, but not quite close enough. It was getting stuck a couple of seconds into boot when I got it, and nothing could break it out, not even reset, had to pull the battery. Tried booting a 3MX image off the SDcard but didn’t even look like it gets to checking bootable devices. Anyway, after trying dozens of things I decided to rebuild it. Nobody online had anything to say about it apart from it being slow as molasses, or help it’s locked up on boot… oh and a slashgear preview…. https://www.slashgear.com/fidelity-electronics-vpc-netbook-super-basic-is-it-cheap-enough-2735941/

        You wonder why I’d bother with it, but the form factor is just small enough, and the screen goes back 180 degrees, such that I can hold it like a large gameboy and thumb type if necessary.

        1. Heh, yeah, I can understand the desire to gut that thing and put something more capable in there… 100MHz MIPS is hardly fast.

          Sheesh, even my SGI Indy hums along at 133MHz. The Yeeloong wasn’t a speed demon, but with 1GB RAM, a 2.5″ SATA slot for storage and a ~700MHz MIPS-III capable CPU it wasn’t a slouch either. I did my final 18 months of university studies on the thing.

          About the only thing that disappointed me with it was the video hardware: the previous generation Fuloong desktop packed an ATI Radeon 7000M PCI graphics card, which worked well. (Even had OpenGL working in Quake II for about 30 seconds until X crashed. It was playable with software 3D too.) The Yeeloong with its SiliconMotion LynxEM 712 was a big step backward.

          Replacing the brains with an ARM SBC has crossed my mind, but I can’t bring myself to do that to a machine that can still run contemporary versions of Gentoo Linux or OpenBSD and be semi-useful doing so.

      1. Google “octopus usb hub” or “man usb hub” “otg hub” or “micro usb hub” or “rotating usb hub” really any usb hub that is physically tiny. There is a few for under 1.93 on Ebay right now, shipped from china/HK slow boat.

        1. Those cheap hubs are really bad, I also ordered a few of them just for purposes like this. They are USB1.1 only, at best and sometimes fail to start up. If anyone can point me to a source where decent 2.0 hubs with small PCBs can be bought – for taking apart – I would be glad to order a couple.

  3. One fun aspect of the Fe1.1s is that the Rev.B chip can be configured as a charging hub, supporting the higher-current USB charging specifications. Makes it convenient to both charge a device at half-decent rate (I’ve seen up to 1500mAh on a hub using that chip) and accessing the device at the same time.

  4. I bought a 4:1 USB hub off eBay a few months back that was as “minimal” as you can get. When I plugged a second device into it and both it and the first stopped working, I took it apart and discovered that there was NO chip inside, or anything else, for that matter — just four USB-A sockets in parallel, with a plug on a pigtail. Nothing in the write-up about it being “for charging only”. When I complained, they happily(??) refunded my money, but still, why would anybody make and market such a thing?

    1. I bought a few of those cheapie ebay ones about 3 years ago
      I sent them pictures of the circuit board and complained, they tried to tell me to plug it in again.
      Ebay is complicit in that there is no way to report fraud, I’ve kept the sockets.
      See the defcon video on youtube about the coffee pod scam where they sent the lady free Kuerig machines.

  5. Hey there!

    I designed a PCB which has a FE1.1s USB Hub controller. This project must work as a micro-USB HUB. The problem is that when I connect my device to computer, my board’s LEDs turn on for a moment and everything goes off again. “device not recognized” error appears and says “A request for the USB device descriptor failed.”

    Before this I thought that because my usage is a simple BUS- Powered HUB I don’t need to program the chip (or config device descriptor parameters) but now I think I should.

    My question is that do I need to program it and how?! What should Product ID and vendor ID be? is there any kind of table for these? What kind of tools do I need for this process?? do I need to add an EEPROM to my design or the programming is just for the first time???

    It would be a great help if anyone guide me to solve this problem!!! pleaaaaase!!! I desperately need a guide to get through this project!

    best regards, HAMIDREZA

    1. You did something wrong electrically. Check connectors, check schematic, check which side you’re soldering components on, check that your microUSB connectors are the correct type – some are “upside down” compared to others and correspondingly their pins are reversed. Check ID pin usage of microUSB. Check required external components and wiring, counter-check with known good schematic or a commercial product. If you have doubts about your components such as the crystal, cross-check them by planting them into a commercial product.

      The chip has suitable VID/PID built-in. If you want to customize these for branding purposes, or reduce the number of ports logically presented, you can add an EEPROM permanently to a board. The FE chip contains no programmable memory inside. You don’t need this, it’s completely optional, and if you aren’t a member of USB Implementer Forum, you don’t have a VID anyway, so just leave it as-is. You cannot customize the whole device descriptor on this chip anyway.

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