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Sep 262017
 

This Qicent powered USB hub solved all my puzzling USB problems.

For the longest time, I’ve been plagued by mysterious problems with various USB devices I have connected to my computer – particularly hard drives.  I’ve even trashed some hard drives and replaced them, thinking them to be faulty or incompatible with the latest version of Windows or something.  I’ve tried many things, but the problems have persisted.

Some problems I’ve attributed to bad cables – sometimes I’ll connect devices that are recognized by the computer, and sometimes not.  But I’ve never been able to clearly determine which were the good and bad cables.

I have got as far as determining that some devices seem to work better if plugged directly into my computer, rather than via the tiny Anker USB 3.0 hub I had been using.  But I sort of gave up at that point, and deemed it all to be an example of perhaps unavoidable imperfections of USB type connections.

However, in a recent beer-fuelled general moaning session about computers with a friend, I started denouncing the strange problems I struggle with when connecting USB devices, and he asked me if I had a powered or unpowered hub.  In the ‘olden days’ of USB 1.1 and 2.0, I used to have bulky expensive powered USB hubs, but my $10 ‘travel’ USB 3.0 hub was unpowered – indeed, it didn’t even have any ability to add an external power source or not.  I assumed that the modern 3.0 USB spec and modern devices had become so good that an external power source was no longer needed with a USB hub.  The friend suggested all my problems were due to insufficient power in the hub.

So, at my friend’s urging, I went out and bought a Qicent seven port powered hub, to see if the external power supply made any difference.

To my surprise, and to my delight, yes indeed it did.  All the disk drives that used to work unreliably now seem to be working perfectly, and other devices, ranging from camera to phone to tablet, which formerly would sometimes not be detected when plugged in, are now all quickly being recognized by the computer.

I’ve had three external drives – two USB 3.0 drives and a USB 2.0 drive – connected simultaneously, and I’ve added assorted other devices, too, and the Qicent hub takes it all in its stride.

Using the Hub as a Charging Station

There’s another benefit of a powered hub, too.  I can use some of its power to charge my devices.

The Qicent hub gets 30W of power from its plug-in power adapter, and I’m not sure how much of that is available for charging, but it has shown itself capable of charging an iPad (2A = 10W) and an iPhone (1.5A 7.5W) and a Fire HD tablet (1.1A 6W) all at the same time, and with a couple of hard drives plugged in to it too.  You probably shouldn’t plan to be charging through all seven ports simultaneously, but clearly there’s enough power there to allow a number of high current charging devices to be serviced simultaneously.

I no longer need two separate boxes on my desk – a USB connectivity hub and a USB charging hub, and now enjoy having both functions in a single box.

Speed Improvements

It seems that data transfers happen faster, also with the powered Qicent hub.  A USB 2.0 external hard drive transfers data at 35 MB/sec, a USB 3.0 external hard drive with compressed directories would transfer data at speeds generally above 60 MB/sec, and a USB 3.0 external hard drive with non-compressed directories would transfer data at anywhere from 70 MB/sec up to sometimes brief peaks above 100 MB/sec.

In theory, USB 2.0 has a maximum transfer speed of about 50 MB/sec, whereas 3.0 can run about ten times faster.  While I’ve never been able to experience the quite astronomical transfer speeds which it seems USB 3.0 might theoretically be capable of (other constraints such as hard drive transfer speeds also acting to limit the throughput), it is also obvious, in reality, the 3.0 spec does allow for truly faster transfer speed than 2.0.  More subtly, it also means there is less ‘bus contention’ – if you have multiple devices all sharing the same USB port/hub, then the faster speed can better accept the data from all devices without becoming congested and slowing down.

USB 3.0 is also essential if you’re working with HD video.

The unit comes complete with a power supply (which delivers 2.5A at 12V) and a USB 3.0 connecting cable – the hub has a less common B connector on it, so the provision of the connecting cable was much appreciated.

The power supply had a somewhat short connecting cable on it – another foot or two would have been nice, but that is the only quibble I have.  Back to the positive, the unit came complete with somewhat Chinglish style instructions (not that any are really needed) and a generous one year warranty.

Summary

If you occasionally experience issues with USB connected devices, you might find that an adequately powered USB hub will solve your problems.

At a price of $29 on Amazon, the Qicent seven port powered USB 3.0 hub seems fairly priced, and – so far, after a week of experimentation and testing, has solved all my various anomalous USB problems.  If you have a USB 2.0 hub supporting multiple devices, or if you already have a USB 3.0 hub but which is unpowered, you might wish to consider getting one.

The three common types of USB 3.0 connector and the almost identical but not blue USB 2.0 connector on the left.

Oh – an important point.  Be sure to connect your USB hub to a USB 3.0 port on your computer (they have blue pieces inside to distinguish them from 2.0 ports).  If your computer is older with only 2.0 type ports, you’ll not get the same benefit, but by choosing a 3.0 hub, you’re ‘future-proofing’ your hub (at least until USB-C becomes more widespread…..).

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  3 Responses to “Solving USB Connection Problems”

  1. Thank you David, this is very helpful indeed. Margaret

    • Thanks, Margaret

      Glad the article was helpful to you. It was a surprise to me to discover that what I’d thought to be an unavoidable weakness of USB connections actually was nothing other than the lack of a powered USB hub.

      The remaining surprise is, of course – if a powered hub is so important, why do companies sell unpowered hubs!

  2. […] wondered if perhaps the battery had failed.  I connected the tablet to a charging outlet on my Qicent hub, but that didn’t solve the problem, and actually hinted at a new (?) problem – a […]

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