Product Type: Signalex Hub
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Signalex Computer Gear 4 Port USB Hub
Member Name: davidbuttery
Signalex Computer Gear 4 Port USB Hub
Date: 11/04/11, updated on 11/04/11 (140 review reads)
Advantages: It does work
Disadvantages: Very slow (USB 1.1 speed), cheaply made, very short connection cable
== Background ==
The rise of USB in the latter part of the 1990s revolutionised computer connectivity. It's easy to forget now, but one of the things holding back the development of consumer-level digital cameras was the almost unbearable slowness of image transfer: *one photo* could easily take close on a minute to transfer via a serial cable, and though some manufacturers (notably Sony) experimented with cameras that used floppy disks or even CDs for storage, nothing was really satisfactory until the extra speed and ease of USB came along.
Although there are other connectors around - notably the rather unfairly neglected IEEE 1394 (otherwise known as FireWire) standard - it's USB that has become the connection everyone expects to see on a modern PC. Indeed, a machine with fewer than half a dozen or so of the things can feel a little under-equipped once you've plugged in keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner and so on. Fortunately there's an easy way to give yourself a few more plugs: using a hub to split one connection into several - in this case, four.
== The Signalex hub ==
Signalex is a brand most familiar from their prominent position in Poundland shops. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen their products anywhere else! The back of the pack gives only a PO Box rather than a full postal address, but the B2 postcode translates to central Birmingham. Whether this is actually a full works premises or (I suspect much more likely) just a forwarding office for goods brought in from China I don't know. At any rate, they clearly don't want the likes of you and me wandering down there to find out!
The packaging is very simple and unadorned, but I'm by no means unhappy about that, and you'd hardly expect any different for a pound in any case. And glory be, it's actually possible to extract the hub from its plastic packaging without having to spend ten minutes wrestling with a pair of scissors first! When I looked, you could choose to have the hub in black or clear grey plastic, the latter of which gave you a (not very interesting) view inside the unit: a couple of flimsy-looking wires and some cheapo connectors, as you'd expect.
== In use ==
Although the box claims connectivity with both PCs and Macs, I don't have an Apple to test with, but I did manage to try it out under both Windows (XP) and Linux (Ubuntu 10.04 LTS) on my PC. Plugging the hub in was simple enough, though as its lead is *extremely* short (literally a couple of centimetres) it may be awkward if your USB ports are cramped. A little green light came on to show it was working - high-tech stuff there! I plugged in a couple of memory sticks (one Verbatim, one SanDisk), and both were recognised properly.
So far so good, but then it all fell apart so fast that a troupe of clowns might have envied it for their trick car. Transferring files does work, that I will happily acknowledge. The trouble is that the hub's packaging clearly states "USB 2.0", which you might think would mean USB 2.0 *speeds*. It doesn't. It's pretty clear from the treacle-like responses I had when copying stuff that the statement on the pack is, though strictly truthful, not quite what you'd expect: it just means that this thing is USB 2.0 *compatible*.
This is, as far as I can see, really a USB 1.1 device in (not very good) disguise. The official transfer speed for USB 1.1 is 12 Mbit per second, which seemed blazingly fast in 1998 but which in these days of 16 GB pen drives really is entirely inadequate. For example, it took me something like 30 seconds to transfer a 40 MB folder of photos from my hard drive onto a stick via this hub connection. For comparison, USB 2.0 devices max out at 480 Mbit per second, *40 times* faster. Don't try transferring really large amounts of data with the Signalex unless you have several hours to spare before you need it!
== Buying and verdict ==
Just about every branch of Poundland I've looked in has had plenty of these hubs available, and so if you do want one you shouldn't have a problem finding one. You probably don't, though: yes, it is astoundingly cheap at £1, but in this case you get what you pay for. You *will* be in for plenty of boredom and frustration if you try relying on this to transfer your data. It gets two stars rather than one because within its very limited parameters it does work without fuss (though it gets a little warm in use) and for very basic devices such as keyboards it could perhaps do a job -- but for the most part it's a false economy, and not a product I could recommend.
Summary: Spend a few pounds more and get a real USB 2.0 hub
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