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Any port in a storm

Keyspan’s five-port USB 2 PCI card should untangle that rat’s nest. Hardware review hed: Any port in a storm dek: Keyspan’s five-port USB 2 PCI card should untangle that rat’s nest.

The times they are a-changing. The old familiar serial, parallel, and SCSI ports are rapidly disappearing from computers and are being replaced by USB and IEEE 1394, a.k.a. FireWire or iLink, connections. Because it provides a reasonably quick transfer rate at low cost, USB has become the de facto standard for many peripherals, but is far from being a panacea.

Most computers provide only two USB ports, and while devices can be daisy-chained, I haven’t found many devices (other than keyboards) that permit this. After you’ve plugged in the keyboard and a printer, there are no ports left. Hubs are one answer to a lack of ports, but hub users quickly discover they are not a perfect solution. Some devices, such as removable media drives, won’t work through a hub and unpowered hubs often can’t handle devices that draw power from the USB line. Keyspan www.Keyspan.com has the answer for Mac OS (including beige Rev B G3 models) and Windows computer users who find they lack enough USB ports-and it tosses in a bonus.

The five-port USB 2 PCI card for Windows and Mac OS provides four additional external USB ports as well as one internal one for adding a device in the drive bay. Installing it in my Power Macintosh G3 computer was a snap: I opened the side door, unscrewed the slot panel, plugged in the card, and turned the computer on. That’s it. Since I already had USB ports in the G3, software was already installed, but users of older Macintosh computers can get the required software from their OS discs or by downloading from the Apple Web site asu.info.apple.com.

Now fully equipped with six external USB ports, I tossed out my hub, and plugged in an Agfa scanner, Imation SuperDrive, Epson Printer, Apple keyboard, and VST card reader, leaving me one spare for testing devices. Each of the new ports supplies 500mA of power to the peripherals plugged in, which is especially important if you have one of more devices pulling power directly from the USB chain. Operation of the five-port USB 2 PCI Card has been completely transparent, just like a good PCI card should.

The Keyspan card will also support USB 2 when it comes to market. USB devices operate at 12Mbps, while USB 2 peripherals perform at a speedy 480Mbps, which could put a dent in FireWire drive sales. Installing this inexpensive card not only means you’ll have more ports now, but also that you are ready when someone introduces USB 2 printers and CD-RW drives. In the meantime, all of your USB 1.1 devices are happily powered and working with a few less cables in that rat’s nest of wires behind your computer.

The Keyspan five-port USB PCI card is the most trouble-free expansion card I have ever installed in any computer. I can’t think of a better $59 investment.

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