USB cables, officially known as USB 2.0 cables, have eliminated the confusion of serial, parallel, SCSI and MiniDin cables that made early computing such a headache. USB cables and connectors are now the only cables you need to connect a PC computer to devices and peripherals, such as printers, scanners, digital cameras, PDAs, keyboards and mice.
When buying USB cables, consider the following:
1. How USB 2.0 cables work.
2. The various types of USB cables and connectors available.
3. How to use USB extension cables to connect devices in large or separate rooms.
4. How to use of USB hubs to connect additional devices.
5. Using USB cables versus FireWire cables.
Get the 411 on how USB cables workToday, all new computers come equipped with several USB slots or ports that accommodate the A end of the USB cable, while peripherals have a slot that takes the smaller B end of USB 2.0 cables. The computer is the host and data flows upstream through the A connector toward the computer and downstream through the B connector toward the device. When you connect a USB device to the computer for the first time, the operating system recognizes it and asks for drivers (plug and play).
Types of USB cables and connectorsUSB printer cables are the same size as USB cables for scanners. However, smaller devices like cell phones and cameras need smaller connectors, specifically the mini B connector. The A to mini B cable, as it is called, usually comes packaged with the device.
Use USB extension cables for distant devicesUSB cables were designed to connect computers with devices in the same room. The USB cable transfers signals to a distance of 5 meters (about 16 feet, 5 inches) between high-speed devices and 3 meters (just under 9 feet) between low-speed devices. By using USB extension cables you can increase the distance between the computer and the device.
USB hubsWhile the USB port can support up to 127 devices, computers come with a limited number of USB ports, usually two to four. If you need to use more ports simultaneously, USB hubs are the answer. You simply plug USB hubs into the computer and plug additional devices into the hub. USB hubs, which can be chained together for additional connectivity, are either AC powered for use with high-power, high-bandwidth devices like external DVD burners, or unpowered for use with low-power devices like cell phones.
USB cables versus FireWire cablesSimilar to USB cables, FireWire cables are peer-to-peer rather than host-based, meaning that two devices can talk directly to each other without a host computer. FireWire and USB cables and ports have different configurations and are not interchangeable. USB is the dominant standard, especially in the PC world, although FireWire is favored for streaming digital video applications thanks to its ability to send uncompressed video with guaranteed bandwidth.
- USB 2.0 cables are standardized, making one manufacturer's product very similar to another's. Compare prices and warranties for the best deal.
- Avoid AA or BB USB cables. Some manufactures make these anomalies as a means of connecting two computers or two devices to each other, which is not supported by the USB standard. Use a USB bridge to connect two computers together.
- Keep extra USB cables on hand for additional devices you might want to connect.
- Keep USB hubs on hand so you won't have to disconnect one device in order to connect another.
- If you have older USB devices, make sure the USB cable supports the old USB 1.1 standard.