Wireless USB Hubs: A Fool's Dream?

Michael Brown

I slammed Belkin’s CableFree USB Hub earlier this year, so I was hoping Gefen’s new 4-port Wireless USB Hub would change my mind about wireless USB hubs.

Gefen has a reputation for producing well-built products with lofty price tags, and their Wireless USB Hub is no exception. The sender and receiver units are fabricated not from mere plastic, but from machined aluminum; and the system sports a price tag double that of Belkin’s useless device: $400. Yes, you read that right: four hundred clams for a USB hub. I’ve always been of a mind that if a product is exceptionally good at fulfilling its promises, and those promises soar above what the competition is capable of delivering, price is of secondary consideration. Does Gefen’s product rise to that standard?

Well, it does and it doesn’t. I first set up the send unit to an HP TouchSmart PC in my kitchen and the receive unit in my home office. This put 20 feet of space, one insulated wall, and a set of cabinets between the two. The product linked up in a matter of moments, providing me access from the kitchen to the inkjet printer in my office. But Gefen’s marketing materials promise 100 feet of range, so I moved the TouchSmart and USB send unit to my media room, which put about 40 feet of space between the two units; and this time, they failed to link.

Diving into Gefen’s user manual, I found the answer on page one: “To prevent interference, keep sender and receiver in plain sight of each other.” That certainly explains why the send unit in my media room couldn’t find the receiver in my home office: Although there’s only 40 feet of distance, the signal had to travel through four walls (five plus, actually, when you take the double-walled, double-insulated media room into account.

But even in a work environment, you won’t encounter many rooms with 100 linear feet of unobstructed space. To its credit, Gefen’s original press release acknowledges that “distances up to 10 meters [32 feet] are guaranteed through one wall,” and that’s what this device delivered in my first testing scenario, but the packaging mentions only the 100-foot claim. The same goes for Gefen’s website (although you can read the entire manual in PDF form there).

So, what kind of performance did I get in the scenarios in which the device worked? A not-very-impressive 4.75Mb/sec in the first scenario (while transferring 35.6MB of digital photos from a USB 2.0 memory key to the TouchSmart’s hard drive). I can’t make a direct comparison to Belkin’s CableFree USB Hub, because I tested that product in a different environment, but when I moved the Gefen units within six feet and direct line of sight of one another, transfer speed doubled to 8.14Mb/sec—about 3Mb/sec faster Belkin’s product at the same distance, but leagues short of the “up to 54Mb/sec” claim that Gefen makes.

Yep, those cheap, wired USB hubs are looking better and better.

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