Bring On the Ports

Hello, my name is Michael, and I am a USB junkie.

I admit it: I think the Universal Serial Port -- designed to let you add as many as 127 external devices to a PC without incurring conflicts -- is the best technological advance in years. But the true convenience of USB struck me only after I installed Xircom's PortStation Port Expansion System.

My PC has 2 USB ports: By connecting Xircom's US$254 PortStation Connection Starter Kit to one of those ports, I got an extra parallel port, keyboard and mouse ports, and four extra USB ports. And all worked beautifully with Windows 98, without hassle. A bundled CD-ROM includes necessary drivers -- but Windows 95 installation is more trouble than it's worth.

The modular casing of the PortStation has an End Cap at each end; these parts connect to your PC's USB port and to a power outlet. Between these you add separate modules that snap on like Lego toys.

The modules available now include four- and seven-port USB hubs, 10M-bps ethernet and a 56K-bps modem. Xircom says that it is planning to add more modules -- for cable modem, ADSL, and ISDN, plus home networking -- in the near future. The End Cap Kit costs $99; the modules range from $54 for the parallel ports to $129 for the modem. Xircom's starter kits, like the one I tested, bundle a set of modules. One downside: I wish the modules stacked vertically instead of horizontally; as is, they crowd my already tight desktop real estate.

High-power USB devices, such as printers, digital cameras or scanners connected to these new ports can strain your PC's power supply. Check with your PC vendor about possible power supply limitations before buying a swarm of new devices.

The PortStation makes adding external peripherals as easy as plugging in a home appliance. Try it and you might get hooked like I did.

PortStation Connection Starter Kit

PRO: Modular USB port expansion overcomes PC hardware add-on limitations.

CON: Modules sit side by side, which increases desktop clutter.

VALUE: Realizes USB's promise to let you easily add virtually unlimited external devices.

List price: $254




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