Upgrading to USB

Q I wonder if you can enlighten me regarding USB ports. I am interested because I have run out of expansion slots and don't want to keep hanging even more pass-through devices onto my parallel ports. I have been told, however, that there are two types of USB with different plugs.

My current computer has a Gigabyte motherboard which the manual states "supports Universal Serial Bus (optional)". I thought I would take advantage of the USB support and add a USB socket. I have been to the reseller (who assembled my machine) but am still unclear as to how to get a USB port onto the machine. Do I need a USB board or similar adapter and, if so, are they actually available? The reseller was very vague on those details.

- Grant Carr

A The Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard was developed by an industry group to meet the needs of connecting peripherals to a PC. There is only one type of port. You can connect up to 127 devices to that port by daisy-chaining. However, the device has to support daisy-chaining to do this. This is why a lot of motherboards support two USB ports. In addition, you can use a USB hub to daisy-chain devices.

The easiest way to add a USB port to an older computer is to add an expansion card with a USB port. You can get one of these for around $100. Any reseller should be able to order in a USB card for you.

Perhaps the best way to get a USB port is to upgrade your motherboard. If you have an older board, you will enjoy the additional benefits of increased speed, SDRAM support, and probably a Pentium II processor slot. While motherboard costs vary according to their quality and feature set, you should be able to get one with USB support for around $200. If you plan to do other upgrades to your computer, this would be the preferred option because it should prove to be more economical in the long term.

There is a cheaper alternative that allows more devices to be attached without adding a USB port, or more importantly, having to upgrade to devices that support USB. Most motherboards support two serial ports and one parallel port. With the number of parallel port devices around now this is inadequate for many people. You can buy a multi-I/O card for around $30. This will expand the number of parallel ports to three and the number of serial ports to four. However, this may only be a short-term solution, as USB is likely to prove a popular standard for the future. For further information on USB, check out http://www.usb.org

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