SMSC announces first USB sharing hub

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SMSC announces first USB sharing hub

Hauppauge (NY) – Chip developer SMSC today announced a new USB hub, which enables users to network USB peripherals between two host computers – without the need of a traditional local area network. USB hubs with networking capability are in development now and should be available starting this summer, according to the manufacturer.

About ten years ago, USB promised a new sense of convenience for PC users by dropping the requirement of manual driver installation for every peripheral device connected to a computer. Today, USB devices are ubiquitous and delivered on the industry’s original promise – most driver installations for peripherals happen in the background, invisible for the user. But the sheer flood of USB devices forces us to move flash memory sticks, portable hard drives, scanners, printers, card readers or digital cameras from one computer to another, if we choose not to set up a network connection for every single one of these devices.

SMSC appears to have come up with one of these “why haven’t they done this earlier?” solutions that eliminates the problem of sharing USB devices between multiple host computers and USB peripherals. The firm’s MultiSwitch hub allows two (upstream) host devices – such as a desktop or notebook PCs or TVs – to share up to four (downstream) peripheral devices. The hub creates a mini network between two computers without asking for an actual network, which may simplify the shared use of many devices for mainstream users.

According to SMSC, the hub does not require specific driver software and will deliver an aggregate bandwidth of 960 Mb/s (2 x 480 Mb/s) between the two host computers and up to 12 Mb/s (USB 1.1 spec) to each of the four ports. Potential applications include a notebook that can share a portable hard drive, digital camera and a printer with a desktop PC, a game console that shares storage and printing devices with a PC and a digital TV that shares a flash card reader and hard drive with a media center PC. The switching process will happen automatically, and will not require the user to physically “switch” between two devices: Both upstream devices can simultaneously access downstream devices at any given time, we were told.

The first USB sharing hubs using SMSC’s chips are expected to surface in summer; PC OEMs apparently are planning products for fall of this year, consumer electronics products integrating the chip may become available in early 2007.