SAN FRANCISCO (03/06/2000) - The universal Serial Bus isn't just for adding USB peripherals to your PC anymore. New USB docking stations also let you add a host of legacy ports--including serial and 10-mbps ethernet--to a single USB Connection on your PC. Belkin Components' $99 BusStation has the latest modular approach, allowing you to mix and match as many components as you need. These versatile devices reduce cable clutter and eliminate the Problem of having too few ports or IRQs--especially good news for notebook users.
The BusStation starts out as a seven-port hub--with four fixed USB ports on the base and three additional single USB ports that you can swap out for legacy port modules. The rounded, purple units are slightly cheaper than those in Xircom's competing PortStation (reviewed in February's New Products; see www.pcworld.com/feb00/xircom). And the unit stands vertically, so its desktop footprint is smaller than that of the horizontally expanding Xircom.
However, Belkin's unit has only three removable modules, compared to the maximum of six on a PortStation (you can daisy-chain extra stations on both Products). And the current selection of additional modules is less extensive, Consisting at press time of a $70 four-port USB hub, a $90 DB-9 serial/mini DIN-8 (Mac) serial module, and a 10-mbps ethernet module for $80. In the works are modules for SCSI, ADB (the Connector used on older Apple mice and keyboards), PS/2 ports, and 56-kbps modems.
The BusStation has no parallel port module (Belkin's only USB-to-parallel Connection is a $60 unidirectional cable), and some serial devices won't work with USB-based serial ports. Since the USB's 12-mbps bandwidth is slower than SCSI's, Belkin's upcoming SCSI module won't perform as well as an add-in card.
But if you need only the Connections it offers, the BusStation's space-saving design and slightly lower cost make it the best choice currently available.
--Jon L. Jacobi
Belkin's Stacked USB Station
Pro: USB expansion modules stack vertically to save space; good price.
Con: Limited port selection.
Value: Good solution to some--but not all--legacy Connection Problems.
Street price: $99 plus $70-$90 per moduleBelkin Components800/223-5546www.belkin.comProduct info no. 645.