Add high-speed ports for turbocharged peripherals

The latest high-performance per­iph­erals — including scanners, external drives, and DV camcorders — are shipping with new interfaces. USB 2.0 and FireWire offer higher speeds than older USB 1.1 ports, and they’re hot-pluggable. Only the newest PCs ship with on-board USB 2.0 or FireWire ports, but you can easily add them to a system by inserting a PCI card.

FireWire ports, which mostly work with DV camcorders and external drives, transfer data at up to 400Mbps. USB 2.0 is the successor to USB 1.1, which has been a standard for years and has been popular for connecting keyboards, mice, and printers. USB 2.0 can transfer data at rates up to 480Mbps, compared with USB 1.1’s 12Mbps.

USB 2.0 peripherals are likely to become more common, but you’ll need FireWire for video editing. A combination FireWire/USB 2.0 add-in card, such as the Adaptec DuoConnect shown in Step 1 below, can add both to your PC. For about half the price, you can choose one or the other. One caveat: you’ll need Windows 98 SE or a later version; earlier versions do not support FireWire or USB 2.0.

1 Install the card. Turn off your PC, unplug it, and open the case. Use an antistatic wrist strap (follow manufacturer’s instructions) to avoid damaging components. Find a free PCI slot and remove the slot cover. Insert the card and fasten it down with the screw. If your card has a socket for powering USB or FireWire peripherals, find a power supply connector and con­nect it to the card. If no connectors are free, you’ll need to purchase a Y-connector. Replace the cover on the PC and plug it in.

2 Install the drivers. Turn on your PC. If you’re running Windows 98 SE or Me, the Add New Hardware Wizard will appear before Windows starts. Choose Search for the best driver for your device (98 SE) or Automatic search for a better driver (Me). In Windows XP, the Found New Hardware Wizard will appear after Windows starts. In the opening screen, choose Install the software automatically.

All three versions of Windows have built-in drivers for FireWire and basic USB components. Those drivers will be installed auto­matically; you’ll see a number of different messages flash across your screen. (You may be asked to insert your original Windows CD-ROM.) If you’re installing USB 2.0 ports, at some point you’ll see a message indicating that Win­dows was unable to find a driver. Insert the driver CD-ROM that came with the board into your drive, and click Next. When indicated, click Finish and restart your PC.

3 Install additional soft­ware (if any). Some cards come with additional software, such as video editing applications for FireWire cards. If your package includes any, install it now.

4 Plug in your peripherals. Attach your USB and/or FireWire components to the card. You’ll normally see a screen pop up as Windows recognises the drive, camcorder, and so on. Some peripherals require additional drivers. Follow the directions that appear on the screen, or check the manual.

5 If you have problems. Check the status of the new add-in board. In Windows 98 SE and Me, go to Start-Settings-Control Panel, double-click the System icon, and choose Device Manager. In XP, go to Start-Control Panel, open Performance and Maintenance if you’re using Category view, double-click the System icon, choose the Hardware tab, and click Device Manager. If you see entries with yellow exclamation points, run the hardware troubleshooter.

6 What about your original USB ports? When you install USB 2.0 ports, the original USB 1.1 ports on the back of your PC will still work as before. You can use them for slower peripherals that don’t need USB 2.0.

The top down
Benefits: Hook up high-speed peripherals
Expertise level: Beginner to intermediate
Time required: 30 to 45 minutes
Cost: Single-interface cards, $40 to $80; single-interface cards with more than two ports, $55 to $85; dual-interface cards, $120 to $220; single-interface cards for notebooks, $80 to $160
Vendors: Belkin (, PCGear (, Kouwell (, Comsol (, Swann (, Maxtor (, Adaptec (

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