For testing we linked the hub to a Belkin N1 Vision wireless broadband router and used Boston Supermicro PCs loaded with Windows XP SP2 and Vista Ultimate. The wireless connection was tested with a Fujitsu-Siemens notebook running XP SP2 and equipped with a TRENDnet 802.11n PC Card. In practice we found the hub very simple to manage and use. To check standard storage devices we used a Buffalo FireStix, an unbranded 1GB memory stick and a Maxtor OneTouch desktop drive. As soon as they were plugged in the Control Center on each system immediately recognised them and made them ready for use. We also tested using a Hewlett Packard DAT 160 external USB tape drive and Epson Stylus 950 ink-jet printer and had no problems with these either. We liked the fact that as the PC continued to believe it had a local USB connection to the printer, the Epson ink monitoring utilities continued to work normally.
That’s the good news but there is bad news which centres purely on performance. To get some comparative data we plugged each storage device directly into a 3.2GHz Pentium D PC and ran a range of file copies and backups. The best speeds came from the FireStix and Maxtor storage devices where we saw respective read speeds of 28MB/sec and 24.6MB/sec. We used EMC’s Retrospect for the tape drive and a backup of 12GB of test data reported 5.8MB/sec write speeds. We then connected each device to the hub and reran the same tests. The FireStix and Maxtor devices now returned speeds of only 3.1MB/sec and 2.9MB/sec whilst tape drive performance dropped to 3.9MB/sec.
The bottleneck is not the network but the hub itself as its USB 2.0 ports only seemed to be capable of delivering USB 1.1 speeds. Basically, no matter what you have connected the maximum available bandwidth for all users is less than 4MB/sec. We demonstrated this by running the freely available Iometer on one system connected to the FireStix where it returned a 3.2MB/sec raw read rate. We then fired up Iometer on a second PC accessing the Maxtor drive and throughput settled down to a cumulative 3.7MB/sec for both systems.
Belkin delivers a simple solution for sharing your USB devices over the network. It’s extremely easy to use with good management and monitoring tools but overall performance for USB storage devices is a disappointment.
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