Belkin Network USB Hub

Belkin Network USB Hub

USB hubs are not exactly life changing technology. Their sole aim, generally, is to create more USB ports, and that's about it. However, Belkin has managed to take an otherwise plain and simple product and make it more interesting and useful. Surely when you gaze up at the bland, piano black image you balk at the idea that this product can be useful, but pay attention.

The Belkin Network USB hub is essentially the boring old USB hub, but on a network. It's a five port hub that, like any other hub, allows you to plug in a greater number of USB devices. Although there are faster options, such as e-SATA, USB currently dominates as the connection of choice for a great many devices.

The beauty of this product is that it does very little itself, which is a good thing. It doesn't have any onboard software and it doesn't store drivers for your devices. All that's needed to get your USB device running over the network is to connect the Belkin Network USB hub to your router, install the Belkin Control Center software on your PC, or PCs, and attach your USB device to the hub.

Compatible devices range from printers and scanners to media card readers, digital cameras, MP3 players and external hard drives. As long as the device's software and drivers are installed on your PC (assuming they have any at all) the device will function as if it's physically plugged into your machine. You can even "daisy-chain" other USB hubs, such as Belkin's own Hub-to-go 7-in-1. The driver supports up to 15 ports in this fashion.

Theoretically, all USB devices should work on this hub. The only devices that won't are those that require the full 480Mbps bandwidth of a USB 2.0 port, such as some Web cameras. That's because the Belkin Network USB Hub operates on a 10/100 network speed, not a gigabit Ethernet connection and can't support such bandwidth. This issue is number one of just two flaws in this device.

As you connect a device, the Belkin software detects it and tries to connect to it. If the device needs drivers Windows will prompt you to install them, just as if you'd plugged the device directly into your PC. We connected four devices to the hub; a flash memory USB drive, an external hard drive case with a SATA hard drive, a laser printer and a Microsoft Live Vision Webcam. All of the devices were displayed in the Belkin Control Center software, both the flash drive and external hard drive popped up in Windows Auto-play and the printer was detected by Windows as a local printer and then it tried to install drivers. We allowed the drivers to be installed and were printing over the network within minutes. The only device that would not connect was the Live Vision camera, which detected and installed, but would not function over the 100Mbps connection.

The software is straightforward. Devices show up as they connect. You can connect to them and disconnect from them. This is important because no two computers can access the one device at the same time. This is the second flaw of this product. In order to combat this problem, the Control Center has a messaging service. When you want to use a device you need to send a request to the user who is connected to it, requesting access. They must disconnect and then you can connect. It's a pain, but a small price to pay for networked access to your USB devices.

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