First Look: IOGear Tops Gefen in Wireless USB
Mice, keyboards, printers, Webcams, thumb drives--the list of devices demanding a free USB port never ends. But the cable spaghetti surrounding my two wired USB hubs (which add the ports I need) looks really ugly, so I was delighted to test a couple of new wireless alternatives: IOGear's Wireless USB Hub & Adapter and Gefen's 4-port Wireless USB 2.0 Extender.
Both let you attach USB devices to a hub that communicates wirelessly with a receiver plugged into a USB port connected to your PC, but there the similarities end. IOGear's kit uses the freshly minted Certified Wireless USB standard, based on ultra-wideband wireless technology that offers excellent throughput (up to 250 megabits per second) but limited range (IOGear says up to 30 feet, but based on my experience, I'd recommend no more than 10 or 15 feet for best results). The hub is slightly larger than a deck of playing cards; the receiver is a dongle that looks like an oversize thumb drive.
Installing the IOGear product was tricky. I couldn't use my Vista PC at all (IOGear says it expects to make Vista drivers available by the end of October), and after installing the software on a Windows XP system, I had to wait through driver setup for the receiver and two rounds of driver setup for the hub (first hooked up with a USB cable, then without it). Even then nothing worked until I completely disconnected both receiver and hub and reattached them. Once the wireless connection came alive, however, the PC immediately recognized a Sony Reader and a thumb drive I'd plugged into the hub.
Wi-Fi Plus USB
Gefen's adapter and hub, in contrast, communicate using standard, 54-mbps 802.11g Wi-Fi, so you can place them much farther apart--perhaps 50 to 75 feet--but data transfers at much, much slower speeds. In my informal test, 59MB of files from a thumb drive took more than half an hour to get to my PC from the Gefen hub, versus only a minute or two over the IOGear setup (even though I had placed both hubs only a few feet from the receiving PC).
The Gefen package was easier to set up: The receiver and hub, each slightly larger and chunkier than the IOGear hub, form an ad hoc connection and don't need any existing Wi-Fi network support. However, the Gefen hub never recognized my Sony Reader. Also, because the kit uses Wi-Fi, it is subject to interference from other Wi-Fi networks, microwave ovens, and cordless phones that use the same 2.4-GHz band--a potential problem that does not affect the IOGear.
I'd consider the $399 Gefen only if I had a pressing need to install low-bandwidth USB devices at some distance from a host PC. The IOGear's $160 price is a lot more palatable, and its technology should prove particularly useful once Certified Wireless USB chips are built into notebooks and desktops (probably within a year), eliminating the need for the dongle and a lot of extra cabling to connect devices.
Gefen Wireless USB 2.0 Extender (4-Port)
A high price and slow transfers overshadow this device's ease of use.
Price when reviewed: $399
Current prices (if available)
IOGear Wireless USB Hub and Adapter
Makes use of new--and potentially very useful--technology.
Price when reviewed: $160
Current prices (if available)