Click here to print this article.

Re-Printed From SLCentral

TCWO 4-Port USB Bay Mount Hub
Author: JonnyGURU
Date Posted: October 17th, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/reviews/hardware/periph/tcwo/4porthub

Introduction

Why Review Another Bay Mount USB Port?

Chris Oh's review of the Antec Easy-USB inspired me.

A USB port in the front of the case can be essential for some of us. The front access port can be a quick place to plug in a digital camera, a portable MP3 player or a joystick without having to pull the case out from under the desk and fumble around looking for the USB port.

I read Chris's article and was quite tempted to order one of the Easy-USBs except that I had a few issues with it. One issue was that it took up a 5.25" bay. Not a big deal, but why an entire 5.25" bay? Of course, the Easy USB can adapt that 5.25" bay to a 3.5" bay, and for some, having an extra 3.5" bay can be helpful. But if the Antec was made to fit in a 3.5" bay to begin with, then the user could have the choice to install the Easy USB in either a 5.25" bay or a 3.5" bay.

Another issue I took with the Antec unit was that the port was not powered. If you're going to move a USB port to the front of the case, you might as well tap off of a 5V lead off of the power supply so you're not pulling 5V through the motherboard for bus powered devices. If I wanted additional power for bus-powered devices, then I might as well buy a powered USB hub and put it on my desk, thus completely eliminating the need for the Easy-USB altogether!

I put off buying the Easy-USB for the time being.

One day, I was trying to help out a fellow computer user that was having problems with supplying enough power through the board for a bus-powered USB device. He wanted to use the front USB port on his Antec case, but the motherboard apparently wasn't supplying enough power. He had a power USB hub on his desk, but didn't like the additional clutter. It was then pointed out to us that he could have powered USB in the front of his case with the aid of a $29 device AND have the ability to plug in four different devices without having to use a hub. WHOA! Cool!

The USB Bay Mount 4 Port Hub

The device was simple, yet dead on exactly what many of us need. The non-branded "USB Bay Mount 4 Port Hub" that came in a plain white box from TCWO was essentially a 4 port USB hub removed from it's case (you can even see the silk screening on the PCB where the LEDs for the top of the hub would be) and placed into a 3.5" box with an open top.

Power to the hub is supplied through a power connector from the power supply instead of an AC adapter. The USB signal is supplied via a connector that is meant to go out of the back of the case and into the USB port in the back of your motherboard.

This is the one thing I didn't like about this device. But it was easy to remedy.

Customizing The Hub's USB Connection

My motherboard, like 99% of the ones available today, has what is referred to as the "front USB port". So why the hell would I want to put a front USB hub in my PC and run a cable out of an expansion slot and into a USB port in the back of the PC?

Unfortunately, unlike the Antec unit, there is no provision given for connecting the four-port hub to your motherboard. But if you are like many computer geeks that I know, you have a bunch of computer cables in a shoebox stashed away in a closet. At first I thought a CD Audio cable would do the trick, but today's audio cables use a common ground. Dig a little deeper in the shoebox and we find two SPDIF cables. Ooooooh yeah! There we go!

Knowing that hooking up a USB wire incorrectly can screw up that USB port on the board as well as fizzle your wires, I made extra certain that I lined up the 5V lead with the 5V lead and the ground with the ground.

It seemed to me that this 4-port hub used the same color-coding on its wires that all of the motherboard manufacturers used to denote the wires on their USB header cards.

On your typical USB pin out, red is 5V bus power, white is the negative data signal, green is the positive data signal and black is ground.

Using the first of the two SPDIF cables, I hooked the red up to what I assumed was the 5V pin on the hub. The black wire went onto the pin right next to this one, which I was counting on being the negative USB signal. This cable then went to the motherboard and plugged into the first two pins on the motherboard's front USB header.

I then hooked my second SPDIF cable's red wire to what I hoped was the USB positive signal, and the black wire to what I hoped was the ground for bus power. I hooked this second SPDIF cable to the motherboard and fired her up.

No smoke. No glow. I must have gotten it right!

I shut the PC down and hooked the power connector up to the hub. I boot the PC all of the way into Windows and plugged in my Ratoc Smart Media card reader. The green light on the card reader came on and Windows immediately plug and played the card reader!

I now have, what I consider to be, the perfect front access USB port for my purposes. And, due to my own wiring ingenuity, it has a personal touch.

Conclusion And Overview

Over all, I think it's obvious that I liked this bay mount 4 port hub. The unit doesn't come without its pros and cons, however.

The pros are:

  • The USB ports are powered by the power supply offering much more juice for bus-powered devices without putting a load on the motherboard's front USB header.
  • The hub mounts in a 3.5" bay, so one can choose to mount it in a 3.5" or 5.25" bay with an adapter. User's choice.

The cons are:

  • The hub has a goofy cable that plugs into the back of the motherboard instead of into the motherboard's front USB header. Easy to remedy, but still pretty lame.
  • At $29, the price of the hub is more than other USB 1.1 compliant 4 port external hubs (typically priced between $20 and $30), and the external hubs have more to them (fully enclosed shell, LEDs that show ports in use, etc). Go figure.

Despite the cons, this hub still deserves a high rating. As I have shown you, the wiring issue was resolved with some simple cable that I had laying around and the $29 price tag is not going to break the bank, I just feel it's slightly inflated given how cheap external USB hubs cost. This is why I gave this hub a rating of 9 out of 10 on the SystemLogicistical scale.

With a lower price and a cable that plugged into the motherboard, I would have easily given this unit an Editor's Choice Award.

Rating: 9/10 SystemLogistics

Re-Printed From SLCentral