Optronix – USB Network Cable review

connect PCs together via USB
Photo of Optronix – USB Network Cable
£26 + VAT

At first glance, this seems like rather a difficult product to review. It is, after all, just a cable. When you examine the whole package, though, you realise that this humble lead can considerably improve the functionality of two or more stand-alone PCs. It’s the bulge in its middle that makes the difference.

There are many advantages in networking two or more PCs together. You can share files more quickly and easily than by carrying disks between them, share common resources like printers and removable storage drives and have a common Internet connection for several computers. Setting up a network, though, usually means fiddling around inside each PC, installing network adapters; it’s not something for the faint-hearted.

This USB Network cable, from UK-based Optronix, gets round most of the tricky work by simply connecting the USB ports of two PCs. Drivers, provided on CD, add the necessary software support to create a USB Network under Windows 98, Me, 2000 or XP. One installed, you simply plug the cable between any available USB sockets on the computers.

The maximum data transfer rate of USB 1.1 is 12Mbps, so the network you create runs at around the same speed as a 10BaseT link. As a test, we transferred a 100MB basket of mixed files between two PCs, using the Optronix cable. It took 3 minutes 42 seconds, which isn’t fast by networking standards, but it still a lot quicker than copying the files via a Zip disk or CD-R.

You may want to use the USB Network cable to connect an occasional extra PC, such as a notebook, to an existing conventional network. A software router is included on the driver CD, so you can make a connection between your main network and the USB ‘spur’.

The versatility of a USB network doesn’t end with connecting two PCs together. Because it uses the relatively simple USB connection, it can also work through a USB hub. Use Optronix cables between a hub and all the PCs you want to link and you can set up a simple, though low-speed, network without ever opening a PC case.

Company: Optronix

Contact: 01782 562839


Verdict
For simple networking or to add an occasional user to an existing network, USB is a viable alternative to conventional links. The Optronix device is simple to use and works well. A fast, USB 2 version would be even more impressive, so hopefully that will be along in the near future.