USB Server Shares Peripherals
At a Glance
Buy a network-ready printer, and you'll pay hundreds more than you would for a simple USB-connected one. But less-expensive USB printers and the vast variety of other USB peripherals function solely as single-computer devices.
Keyspan's USB Server is unique because it lets you share several such devices among multiple networked PCs--and without leaving any of your PCs turned on.
You connect the $130 USB Server to your network via its ethernet port. The USB Server has four USB 1.1 ports, and allows you to share multifunction devices, printers, scanners, and even input devices (mice and keyboards). External hard drives may work too, but the company says they'll perform more slowly than if attached directly to the PC.
When you connect a peripheral to the server, a small application on each networked PC will show that it's available. Click a button to connect to the server, and if the device isn't already installed, you'll receive a Windows prompt to set it up, just as if you had plugged it into the back of the PC.
I looked at a shipping USB Server and found using peripherals through it almost as easy as if they were connected to a USB port on my computer. I tried it with two PCs, a printer, and a scanner; I could print and scan at the same time, with no apparent slowdown. However, the server will not allow two systems to access the same peripheral simultaneously, so I could not queue print jobs. Keyspan says it's working on that, but most of these devices weren't meant to be shared.
If you have a stable of USB 1.1 peripherals, especially devices that aren't printers, using the USB Server can help avoid sharing conflicts.
Keyspan USB Server
Simple device is great for sharing USB peripherals in a multiple-PC home office.
Price when reviewed: $130
Current prices (if available).