Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A Hub of USB Activity!

You just purchased a new USB device and when you try use it, Windows warns that it may not work. What do you do now?

USB (Universal serial Bus) is a computer standard for connecting devices such as keyboards, mice, monitors, speakers, scanners, cameras and just about anything else you can think of - to your computer. What’s more is that USB devices can be daisy chained together, up to 127 devices could be connected to your computer. Chances are you have a USB device connected to your computer now.

With the popularity of USB and Firewire (similar to USB) and a competing standard, we have more and more devices coming to market. Sooner than later your computer’s USB ports become used up. Most new computers come with 4 or 6 USB ports, and sometimes even more. When they get full you end up swapping cables and unplugging and reinserting cables. It’s annoying and bothersome. Manufacturers have developed a handy solution to the problem. They are called USB hubs, and they allow you to connect several devices at the same time to the hub, using only 1 USB port on your computer.

Not all hubs are the same however and USB itself has some nuances that you should be aware of. Generally speaking, first generation USB technology is referred to as USB 1.1 and communicates at a speed of 12 megabits (mbit/s) per second. Present USB technology is called USB 2.0, and it can communicate at 180 megabits per second. Blazingly fast compared to USB 1.1, and they are compatible with all your USB 1.1 devices!

There is one other important fact and that is power. Many USB devices require power to operate. This is where problems can arise. Although your computer’s USB ports do supply power to the USB devices, when you connect all your devices to the computer’s usb ports, you run the risk of overloading your computer’s power supply. Although technically designed to handle this type of load, most average computer power supply’s realistically cannot. This leads to blown USB ports and possibly damaging your power supply. In other cases, computer USB ports cannot supply the proper amount of power, and your USB device installs fine, but cannot operate. Optical mice daisy chained to USB keyboards are a good example of this problem. Some USB keyboards offer USB ports, however – they are non powered ports.

The solution to these types of problems is either to lessen the load by decreasing the number of USB devices plugged into the computer. If this is not practical because of necessity, there is the option of purchasing a powered USB hub.

Powered USB hubs supply power to the connected devices without taxing the computer’s power supply. The powered hubs use an external AC adapter to accomplish the task.

These hubs come in many varieties and types ranging from the number of ports in the hub – 2,4,5,6 and 8 are common. To powered and non powered types.