Dynalink USB hubReview date: 27 March 1999. Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
USB (Universal Serial Bus) is finally starting to take off. This is a very good thing, especially for PC users; the USB controller uses one IRQ and one I/O address range, but you can plug dozens of devices into it that would otherwise all need their own resources too. With data rates of 1.5 or 12 megabits per second, USB is eminently suitable for various low to medium speed devices like mouses and modems and scanners. And it's all hot-swappable; there's no rebooting involved when you connect or disconnect devices.
If you want to connect more than two such devices, though, you'll need more than the twin USB ports provided on current PC motherboards.
The solution is a USB hub, which plugs into any USB port and splits it into several more. Some monitors have a USB hub built in, but most current PCs only have the two standard ports. Apart from restricting your connection options, the standard ports can also be hard to reach, whereas a hub can sit handily on top of your desk.
I checked out a Dynalink four port USB hub, which sells for $165 (Australian dollars). The Dynalink branding of this hub is possibly the most obvious rebadge job I've ever seen. It's nothing more than a see-through sticker on the front of the box. The box also carries an unknown brand, "Connectivity Expert", in the great tradition of yum cha Taiwanese computer equipment. From the FCC ID stamped on the underside, I determined that the hub is actually made by Aten International Co Ltd, on behalf of Sporton International Inc. In the case of a USB hub this isn't very important, because there are no driver upgrades or support issues to worry about - it either works or it doesn't. It's still fun to satisfy your curiosity, though, even if you don't really need to know who made something. See the sidebar here for how to do this trick yourself.
What you get
In the box, there's the hub, a connection cable with a regular USB plug on one end and a special hub-only connector on the other, a little fold-out manual and a big fat two amp six volt plugpack. The plugpack is for supplementing the motherboard's USB power capacity, if necessary; USB can deliver power to connected devices, and if that power exceeds 500mA for everything hanging off the hub, you have to plug in the adaptor. There will be no need to do this for separately powered devices, which covers most USB hardware. You also need to use the plugpack if you connect any more hubs to the first hub.
Hubs like this one, with separate power supplies, are referred to as "self powered" hubs. A hub with no power supply, including a self powered hub that doesn't have its supply connected, is a "bus powered" hub.
The hub has two LEDs for each of its four sockets; a green one indicates that all is well, and a red one turns on if the device connected to that socket is asking for more power than the hub can supply. The red lights should never turn on if the plugpack's connected.
Since I wasn't connecting anything demanding to the hub or cascading more hubs from it, I left the power pack in the box. USB is meant to be completely plug and play, and setting up this hub lived up to the hype. Plug the cable into the computer and the hub, Windows 98 detects the new hub automatically, and you're ready to plug the devices of your choice into the hub ports, whereupon Windows will detect them too. Nothing to it.
There's not a lot to say about a USB hub. You plug it in and it works. But this is a perfectly good one, despite its funny branding, and it performs as advertised. At $165 (Australian dollars) it might take a bit of the shine off the purchase of your third USB device, but this is the going rate for USB hubs and you'll have to try hard to find one cheaper.