The ubiquity of USB devices is astounding, with everything from MP3 players to printers and mug warmers vying for your PC’s meagre handful of ports. A USB hub is the answer to your expansion needs, but with so many out there it’s difficult to choose the right one. If LaCie is to be believed, a USB hub should be a design statement. But, if you’re still of the “cheap and cheerful is best” persuasion, Dynamode believes you shouldn’t have to pay more than £9 for a powered seven-port USB hub.
The D-Link DUB-H7 isn’t going to win any Miss USB Hub beauty contests, but it’s a functional, compact unit that’s ideal for placing in the middle of a cluster of peripherals. The power cable and USB cable supplied are both longer than average at 2m and 1.7m respectively, so there’s scope to place it almost anywhere you want. There’s a light for power and for each port, so should something fail you can quickly problem spot. And, at only £18, it’s a solid choice.
It’s certainly a more professional choice than the brazen Dynamode USB-H70-1A and all its irritating LEDs. Each of the seven powered ports has a different coloured light behind it, while the centre has a single LED that flashes and fades in four colours. In all, it gives the impression of a tasteless carnival, and it wasn’t long before we were so sick of it that we unplugged it. It isn’t great value at £9, and the short 1.1m power lead and even shorter 0.5m USB make placement inflexible; the hub always being in our peripheral vision when working. The thin, flimsy transparent plastic of the body reinforces the cheap-and-nasty, rather than cheap-and-cheerful, feel.
On the other end of the style spectrum is the LaCie Hub, sometimes referred to as “Hubby”. Looking eerily like Medusa’s head, it’s an undeniably radical design that will get you noticed. The expansion ports are at the end of the snaking arms, and you can choose which of the supplied arms to connect. You get five USB, three FireWire, a dim LED light and a noisy foam-finned fan. However, the design is compromised by the fact that the inputs are also arms, so they’ll have to reach down and backwards into your PC. The base isn’t convincingly stable either, relying on the snakes leaning forward to counteract its natural tendency to fall backwards. Wired peripherals lead to a mess, as you’ll either end up with wires dangling from the arms or have to pull them down to desk level while trying to maintain the Hub’s balance. At £40, you really shouldn’t have to make such compromises.
The Sweex External 4 Port Micro USB 2 Hub on the other hand has to make some sacrifices to be useful. You get only four ports with this tiny 36 x 30 x 48mm (WDH) hub, but that’s plenty for the notebook users it’s aimed at. The connector folds out of the rear, and it can swivel, so plugging it into an oddly placed port on your notebook is simple. Then the USB inputs swing out individually, allowing easy connection to all four. Despite the lack of external power, there was enough juice from a powered USB port (as with all hubs) to charge an iPod while we accessed files on another USB flash drive. At £10, it’s hardly an extravagance, and for some it will be an essential inclusion in their notebook bag.
The Belkin Hi-Speed USB 2.0 7-Port Hub has an air of sophistication about it, the matte-black finish feeling velvety to the touch. It’s better for general use with a PC than the D-Link is, as it has two readily accessible ports on top and five neatly arranged across the rear. The design even lets you stack a couple on top of each other. With a generous 1.5m power cable and 2m USB cable, it goes some way to justifying the £21 price tag. If you’re desperate for a huge number of USB ports, this is the hub for you.