Every modern PC has one or more USB connectors. We explain what they are, how to use them and how to overcome some of the problems you might encounter
It’s hard to imagine life without those handy little USB connectors found on most PCs. Standing for Universal Serial Bus, USB ports can be used to connect many different devices, including keyboards, printers, and hard disks. But even though USB is nothing new, it has plenty of pitfalls just waiting to catch out both new and experienced users.
In this article we will show how to use USB correctly and deal with some common problems, plus some practical tips on how to install and use USB devices correctly. We will also take a look at improvements promised by the latest version, USB3.
Almost every modern PC has at least one USB connector – a small rectangular socket identified by a trident-shaped symbol. However, though all USB connectors look alike, there are technical differences and potential compatibility problems.
The technical differences are mainly speed-related: USB2 (the current predominant standard), offers faster data-transfer speeds than the original USB standard, while the fledgling USB3 variety ups the ante still further. (See the heading 'Close connections of the third kind' at the end of the article.)
All you really need to know, though, is that older devices will work in newer ports – but the reverse won’t always be true. A USB2 hard disk might be recognised by an original USB socket, for instance, but that earlier standard transfers data too slowly for the drive to be used.
Extra USB ports can be added by plugging a device called a USB hub into any USB port. A typical powered hub costs around £15, like the seven-port Startech model from Ebuyer. Hubs can be connected together if needed and, in theory, you could string together a sufficient number of hubs to connect up to 127 USB gizmos.
Windows and USB
USB is intended to be a ‘plug and play’ technology, meaning that a device should just work when it is plugged in. Indeed, for many smaller devices, there is no need to install any software.
Windows 7 and Vista are quite good at finding USB drivers, but make sure there is a working internet connection before plugging it in for the first time. In Windows XP, click Start, Control Panel, then double-click System and select the Hardware tab. Click Windows Update then click the top radio button to allow Windows to search for drivers online.
However, if software is supplied with a device then it is usually best to install this before plugging the device in (but always read the instructions first). If the device has a power lead, always connect this and turn it on before plugging the device in.
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