USB … beware

Call me old fashioned, but I have never bee a big fan of USB. Part of it is because I have always had trouble finding a USB hub that just works. I have tried hubs from Belkin and the Staples store brand and while they might seem to work for a while, eventually I am loading data to or from some device and it just randomly goes offline (usually due, I suspect, to high throughput, but nowhere near the limits of USB 2.0).

I have found one hub that, with one small exception, has never caused me a problem. It is a Tripp-Lite model U222-007-R and there are a bunch that look just like it. When I bought it I got the Tripp-Lite instead of the generic brand, even though it cost about one and a half times as much. It was worth is as I have never had a device go offline due to throughput using this hub.

Now for the bad news. I did have a device go offline the other night, but it was entirely my fault. It is a 7-port hub and I have the following all connected when my laptop is on my desk:

  • Roland DuoCapture audio interface
  • JBL MSC-1 monitor controller
  • Epson R-1400 printer
  • Belkin USB 2.0 multi-card reader
  • OWC USB 2.0 drive enclosure with 500GB SATA drive that was originally in my MacBook Pro (MBP) … it went here when I replaced it with an SSD

So the five ports on the back are filled. I have never been able to have all of these devices on one hub before without issues. I am thrilled.

But I wanted to sync my iPhone (5) and upgrade iOS to 7.1.2, so I plugged the iPhone into one of the front ports. My MBP got stupid. I occasionally see this on servers when an I/O device is there but not servicing requests in a timely fashion. It looked like the 500GB drive had gone wonky (that’s a technical term for not working but not failed either). To make a long story short, I discovered that the USB hub could not provide enough power to run both the iPhone (Apple i-devices are known to be huge USB power draws) and the 500GB drive, and the drive lost. So I moved the drive to the second on-board USB port on the MBP and went about my business.

The lesson here is to understand the power budget of any USB hub and make sure you manage it well.

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