The ABCs of USB

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In 1997, a new kind of port began to appear on PCs: USB interfaces (Universal Serial Bus). Since then, this interface has gradually been supplanting other types of connectivity due to its simpler, faster, more convenient—and more economical—way of connecting peripherals to computers. Anyone who has ever fumbled with serial ports and scuzzy (SCSI) devices will appreciate the truly "plug-and-play" nature of this interface. It works the same way as putting a plug in a light socket. No tools, adapter cards, or software are required, so it's simple and quick.

How it works
A standard developed by IBM, Compaq, Intel, Microsoft, and other technology giants, USB is standard equipment on Macintosh computers and an option for PC users operating with later versions of Windows 95 and higher. With a maximum bandwidth of 1.5 MBps (12 Mbps), the USB interface can accommodate a wide range of low-speed peripherals (up to 127 on a single USB port), from keyboards and mice to scanners, printers, and audio players—even MPEG digital video devices. With built-in power distribution, USB devices are powered through the cable rather than through a separate AC adapter. Also, since the port switching hubs isolate ports, if one device shorts or goes down, no other devices will be affected.

Because no serial port is involved, data transfer is quicker. Plus, with a simple USB connection, setup is much quicker. Also, users can daisy chain devices easily and computers don't need to be turned off while one is plugging or unplugging any peripheral devices.

Today virtually all computers and peripheral devices come equipped with USB, as its popularity and functionality grow, even more so after iMacs were introduced with the USB interface included. Below is an example of a product available from Hello Direct that employs a USB interface.

Olympus DS-330 Voice-to-Text Recorder
This 2.6-ounce, 4-1/4"-tall portable phone recorder allows users to record a meeting or brainstorming session, and compose memos and e-mails or capture thoughts on the run. Then, when they're back at their computer, they simply connect the DS-330 to their PC or Macintosh via its USB port and transcribe their recording to text. The recorder's 16 MB of internal memory allows for up to 330 minutes of recording in Long Play mode and 155 minutes in Standard mode. Plus, it stores up to 199 messages in 5 folders. It also offers faster playback than real time and features pushbutton editing and voice-activated recording. The Olympus DS-330 Recorder (Item #6777) costs $149.99.