computer/belkinusbcard.jpgUSB is an exciting technology. It gives computer users a way to connect many devices to their computer (one USB port can be used to connect up to 127 peripheral devices). It also allows devices to be added or removed from the computer without rebooting.

This hot-swapping, as it is called, makes it easier to share equipment and to use USB devices like digital cameras. Millions of computers were built with USB 1.1.1 ports. But now USB 2 is the current standard.

The difference between USB 1.1 and USB 2 is dramatic. Although USB 1.1 seemed speedy to most of us, USB 2 has transfer rates of 480 Mbps, and is 40 times faster. So, it is not surprising that many new printers, scanners, portable hard drives, and other devices are USB 2 enabled. You may feel that you can’t take advantage of these new devices because your computer has USB 1.1 ports. But it is easy to give your computer a boost to USB 2.

I just added a two USB 2.0 ports to my computer with a Belkin USB2 dual-port PCI card. Even if you are slightly afraid of opening that computer case, this install is quite easy. Most computers have one open PCI slot, and that’s all you need. If you look at the back of the computer and see a slot that has a blank silver cover, it is probably a PCI slot. You can check the documentation that came with your computer or call your computer manufacturer to confirm this.

The rest is easy. Just open the case, remove the silver cover, and press the board into the slot. Close the case and you are ready to go. As long you are using Windows Me or XP, the new USB ports will be found and installed automatically. (Windows 98, second edition users will need to install the included drivers.)

You can keep all of your existing USB devices.  Your old USB ports will still work. The new USB 2.0 ports can also be used for older USB 1.1 devices, although they will only function at USB 1.1 speeds. The beauty of the new Hi-Speed USB will be immediately noticeable when you hook up a USB 2.0 device. I found that my USB 2.0 hard drive when attached to the new port, transferred files in seconds instead of minutes.

The only caveat is that this card gives you USB ports that are only accessible from the back of the computer. This works perfectly if you are hooking up a printer, scanner, or other equipment that will be left in position most of the time. Even a digital camera hook up will work well if you are able to keep the cable hooked up to the computer and simply attach and detach the camera itself. If, however, you are using a USB hard drive or another device that you add and remove often, you will probably want to add a USB hub that can be hooked up to the new USB port and set on top of the computer or on the desktop for easier access.

This card is compatible with Windows 98, second edition, Windows Me, Windows XP, Apple G5’s running OS 10.3 and Powermac’s running OS 10.2.7 or above. You can also purchase USB 2 cards with additional ports. All Belkin’s USB 2 cards come with a Lifetime Warranty so go ahead; add a little speed to your computer.

Manufacturer:  Belkin

Price:  $39.99, $15.99 refurbished