The introduction of USB 3.0 on the Mac has given us access to a wide range of fast and affordable storage. USB 3.0 drives are appearing everywhere and 1TB portable drives can be found for as little as £50 / $80. However, the small number of USB ports on the portable Mac range means a USB 3.0 certified hub is required in order to connect more than one device whilst still maintaining the speed benefits of USB 3.0.
Weirdly, USB 3.0 hubs are few and far between. Although companies such as D-Link and Belkin have a wide range of USB hubs, they each only have one USB 3.0 hub in their product line. A relatively unknown company called Uspeed (now since merged with Anker to form iAnker, so expect branding to shift accordingly) have stepped in to the ring and have been offering a 4-port ($29.99) and 7-port (49.99) USB 3.0 hub for the past few months.
In the Box
The hub is well packaged and includes a 12V power supply and USB 3.0 hub cable. USB 3.0 has a slightly different connector shape on the device side so a traditional USB A-B cable won’t work. There’s also a small user guide included and although a USB hub is pretty self explanatory, it’s still useful to have.
The design of the 4-port USB is relatively compact and although made of plastic, feels quite solid. Each of the ports seem very sturdy and you’re unlikely to have a cable fall out. Each port has an accompanying LED which are extremely bright – so much so I’ve hidden the hub behind my display and taped over the LEDs just to avoid losing what little eyesight I have left.
I tested the hub with a 1TB USB3.0 Western Digital Elements portable drive. To see if there’s any performance hit when using the hub, I tested the drive using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test (free on the Mac App Store) – both when it was directly connected to my Mac and via the hub. The drive obtained the same read and write speeds of 108Mb/sec and 81Mb/sec respectively. Even with a USB 2.0 drive attached to the same hub, it manages to keep the same speed as if the drive was connected directly. If you’re planning to use even one USB 3.0 device then this hub doesn’t compromise on the speed each device can operate on.
The hub will work with any USB device but the manufacturer recommends that the total current draw of all attached devices not exceed 3.4A, so watch out if you have a number of USB devices that don’t have their own power supply. Don’t forget, you can also daisy-chain USB hub so if you do have a number of bus-powered devices then additional hubs would be a good suggestion.
So the hub is reasonably priced, looks good and performs brilliantly. What’s not to like?
For some reason, whenever I reconnected the hub back to the Mac, the USB 3.0 drive wouldn’t connect. Disconnecting the drive from the hub and reconnecting it did nothing. If I connected the drive to the Mac, it worked fine. I finally figured out that the only way to resolve it was to reset the hub by removing the power and then reconnecting it.. After contacting the manufacturer, they reported that it was an issue between the VIA chipset the hub uses and OS X, but it was an issue that they were aware of and even had a fix in the form of a firmware update. However, there’s one caveat – the firmware can only be updated via Windows. What’s more, it has to be Windows running on a PC or Boot Camp – VMWare or Parallels won’t suffice.
This meant I had to install Boot Camp and Windows 7 just to update the hub, since I had no PC with USB 3.0 ports. Thankfully, the update did work (which was easy to do, despite the lack of instructions) and the hub has been trouble free. If you do decide to purchase this hub, either make sure you find one that has had the firmware updated since October 2012 (such as this one) or that you have Boot Camp (and a copy of Windows) or a PC with USB 3.0 ports.
Apart from the firmware update issue which could potentially be a real hassle for many users, I’m impressed with the hub. It doesn’t compromise speed, it’s solidly built and compared to some of the (few) brand names – it’s cheap. If you can’t decide between the 4-port of 7-port hub, go for the 7-port. I already regret not spending the extra cash and if you buy the 4-port hub now and then buy another one in the future, you still end up with 7-ports.
Where to Buy the Uspeed 4-port and 7-port Hub
Both hubs are available from Amazon.