Review Price £46.99
Belkin Network USB Hub
Belkin's sleek little Network USB Hub is rather special in that it enables you to share virtually any type of USB device over the network with multiple PCs. No more unplugging them and swapping them to another system as they can be kept in a central hub and access handed out as required. The hub adheres to Belkin's design philosophy so its polished black casing will fit in neatly with its latest wireless routers. The casing is less than 2cms thick but it's built well enough and packs in five USB 2.0 ports and a Fast Ethernet port whilst power is provided by a small external supply.
Each PC requires a Control Center utility installed, which only takes few seconds. It'll automatically add an exception to the Windows Firewall and also offers a choice of manually or automatically connecting to USB devices as they're plugged in. It runs permanently in the background and loads a quick access icon in the System Tray.
The Control Center opens with a view of all devices currently plugged in to the hub. For each one you get a device name and basic description and it'll tell you, where applicable, which system they are connected to. If you went for the manual option you just pick the device you want to access and select the Connect option from the drop-down menu. Obviously, you can't share USB devices so if one is in use you can send a request for access to the system currently using it. This action pops up a requester window on their system where they can either disconnect from it or deny access and continue using it.
The Settings menu provides plenty of user options as you can have the Control Center load when Windows starts and have the interface displayed automatically. The utility regularly polls the hub to update itself and you can set a refresh rate in seconds. It can also notify you if a connection with a device is lost and remind you that devices should not be in use when disconnected.
You can have multiple hubs placed around the network and they can all be accessed from the same Control Center. The hub runs a basic Linux kernel offering a simple password protected web interface that opens with a status display of connected devices. Network settings are accessed from here and you can go for DHCP or a fixed IP address and fiddle with the network interface settings. The properties of each USB device can be viewed and you can see which hub it's connected to plus the device's name and its rated speed. Connections can be managed individually as you can opt to automatically connect and ask the Control Center to attempt to re-establish contact if a link is lost.