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Ultra USB Hubs Ultra USB Hubs: Short on USB ports? We take a look at a couple USB hubs that add more ports to your existing setup.
Date: August 1, 2005
Written By:

Hands up all of you who have a Digital Camera with a USB interface. What about those of you who have a USB Flash Drive? External USB CD Rewriter? Ok, bit more simple, how about those of you using USB Keyboards and Mice? Is your printer USB? Scanner? Headphones? If you have a collection of USB items like these all connected to your PC, it can be a bit of a juggling act to find enough ports to be able to use them all, and as your collection of USB devices grows, so does the problem of connecting everything at once. If you are a USB Flash Drive user then it can also be an issue if you want plug the drive in but don't have any front ports on your case. All of these issues can be solved through the use of a USB Hub, which allows you to daisy chain from one port into many (USB supports a total of 127 devices from one). Many different hubs can be found on the market and we have a here in the labs.

Ultra 4-Port USB Mini Hub (Black)

Our first hub is a designed to work with 1.1 compliant devices and ports. The packaging for it is very mainstream and designed to be hung from a hook in a shop. Information on the device packaging is quite basic but then so is the device; all the information that you could need is on the packaging. The contents are nothing more than the hub itself and a registration card. I'm happy to see that Ultra have also provided overvolt protection on the hub itself, as whilst this is a feature of the ports on your motherboard, having the ports on the hub shut down is more desirable than having to power cycle the PC to bring back the host port.

The hub is made up of two main parts; the USB plug lead which connects the hub to the host port on your PC, and the 4 ports in a black casing. The lead part is sheathed in silver cabling which looks quite attractive, and then encased in a transparent rubber like tube to protect the innards. Both ends are booted with protective lugs that hold the wire into the device correctly and prevent you from overly bending the wire at the joints.

The top of the Hub features 2 transparent windows which give you a look inside at the circuitry, although this is limited by lines that have been run along the windows. There's not much to see anyway but they do serve to break up the black casing a little.

The 4 ports themselves are arranged in a 2x2 fashion with the Ultra logo printed above them. Being a mini hub the overall area for the 4 ports is quite tight, so if you happen to have bulky devices to plug in such as perhaps a couple of fat flash drives, you may find that the ports being so close together could be a problem. However if it's simply standard USB boots, perhaps from the leads of a keyboard and mouse, you won't have issues plugging in more than one. You would likely have this same issue from the back of a motherboard, so not a problem I'm overly concerned with considering the mini nature of the hub.

Ultra 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub with AC Adapter

The other hub we are looking at is . The box for this arrived a bit beaten up but the contents were perfectly fine. Unlike the mini hub, this packaging is bigger to accommodate the extra size of the hub itself, as well as the leads and power adapter.

The power adapter for this hub is quite a versatile device with an input power range from 100 to 230v, allowing you to use this hub in virtually any country in the world with a simple plug adapter (that's how I'm running it, we use a 3 prong plug here in the UK, and the adapter has a standard 2 flat prongs arrangement). Like the USB 1.1 Mini hub, the USB cable to connect the hub to the PC is a silver shielded cable with a transparent outer casing. Unlike the USB 1.1 Mini Hub, the lead for this USB 2.0 hub is a separate item and about a meter in length.

The hub is constructed from molded transparent smoked Plexiglas and looks quite attractive without drawing too much attention. The transparent nature allows you to easily see inside from any angle except the bottom. At the rear and offset to the left hand side/corner is the USB Uplink port that connects the hub to your PC. On the right is the input for the power adapter. The face edge has the 4 USB 2.0 compatible ports which are nicely spaced out so you should have no trouble plugging in devices to all 4 ports at once.

Powering up the hub, you will see the first of 5 LEDs, a red LED near to the power adapter in socket which indicates that the device is receiving power. When you plug in a device, one of four green LEDs will light to indicate that the port is being used.

I would have liked to have seen some sort of mounting system for this hub, perhaps some Velcro sticky pads, as the extra length of the USB cable and its powered nature make this more of a permanent solution than a mobile one. The hubs flat style does make it easy to stick the hub on any flat surface you might wish, and with the transparent casing it's easy to see the LEDs (not a necessity anyway) from pretty much any angle. I've personally decided to mount it under my monitor by a couple of Velcro pads on the bottom of the hub, and would imagine that sticking the hub to a surface via the bottom would be a common occurrence.


To test the hubs, I'll be timing the transfer of a group of small files totaling near 120MB as well one singular file of 117MB in size (the original small files compressed to one file). I'm going to compare with the original ports on my ABIT AN7 motherboard and use two flash drives as the transfer medium. One is the DiskOnKey USB 1.1 device (128MB) and the other is a USB 2.0 Mushkin device (256MB). The transfer was performed 3 times in each case with an average derived from the results.

Small Files

Motherboard 2.0
Motherboard 1.1
Ultra Hub USB 2.0
Ultra Hub USB 1.1

Time in Minutes and Seconds, Lower is Better

Large File

Motherboard 2.0
Motherboard 1.1
Ultra Hub USB 2.0
Ultra Hub USB 1.1

Time in Minutes and Seconds, Lower is Better

Both hubs in both situations add virtually nothing to the transfer times, although the USB 1.1 Hub does seem to have a bigger gap between itself and the motherboard. However do keep in mind this is USB 1.1 which is slow anyway, and the fact that the times are well within the margin for error of someone using a stopwatch. The results are good in both cases, and both hubs should do you well.

Final Words

If you're looking for a USB hub of either the 1.1 or 2.0 flavour, then will serve you well. Both are easy on the eyes, both perform well and both are very well constructed. does have the ports fairly close together but no more so than you would find on your motherboard. Being a standalone unit that is powered from the originating port means it would be perfect for a Laptop or your Home PC, and the overvolt protection within the Hub should allow you to keep working with USB devices in your system even if the Hub is shutdown.

The has the advantage of nicely spaced out ports, LED indicators for power and usage, and of course the bonus of USB 2.0 speeds. Being a powered hub you shouldn't have to worry about power hungry USB devices drawing to much power and shutting down your ports, and the power adapter itself is quite universal with an input rating of 100-240v; a simple plug adapter and the hub can be powered up anywhere with a socket. I would have liked to have seen some mounting provision, perhaps some Velcro tape or something, but not an absolute necessity.

Pros: Good looks, Good performance, LED Indicators on the USB 2.0 Hub, Universal power adapter for the USB 2.0 Hub, Nicely spaced out ports on the USB 2.0 Hub

Cons: Ports close together on USB 1.1 Hub could be seen as a downside, no mounting facilities on USB 2.0 Hub

Bottom Line: If you're looking for a USB hub of either the 1.1 or 2.0 flavour, then these Hubs from Ultra will serve you well.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up in the forums.


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