Essential USB


When Apple’s iMac was introduced last year, it represented a revolution not only in industrial design, but it set new technical standards for communication ports. No more SCSI, no more serial ports, not even a floppy drive. The non-Mac press latched on to the lack of floppy drive immediately, but the arrival of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard was not so immediately obvious. In fact, the Windows market had been trying to launch USB unsuccessfully for months (it was invented by Intel), but it was the iMac that really started the barrel rolling. Steve Jobs had successfully changed the way peripherals connect in one clean sweep. This instantly put new the Mac back on the cutting edge of communication technology. The iMac’s move to USB was soon backed up by the introduction of the Power Mac G3 range this January. Now, the professional market was switched on to USB and also Apple’s even faster FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection standard. Even SCSI was only an option. These changes in the Mac market didn’t go unnoticed by peripheral manufacturers. These companies had been waiting for the USB revolution to start. And when Apple adopted USB across the board, things started happening – usually in some shade of translucent blue. When the iMac was released, Imation was first out with the SuperDrive, in its own blue-&-white colour scheme. Unfortunately, when technologies are forced to the cutting edge, some things get cut. Professional users’ first problems arose from a need for high-end scanners and removable media. High-end scanners still haven’t moved beyond SCSI, but there are some options for removable media right now. One of the most popular formats – Iomega Jaz – is yet to be made available in a USB version, but Iomega promises an adaptor soon. If you can’t wait that long, there is a USB-to-SCSI adaptor available. This may help a lot of SCSI-starved Power Macs – though if you have more than one SCSI device, a PCI SCSI card is a far-better solution. One of the benefits of USB being a universal standard is that it is no big deal for traditional PC peripheral makers to make Mac software drivers for the products they sell. Consequently, peripherals like game controllers that were few and far between on Macs are now legion. Even Microsoft’s gamesticks work with Macs now. One thing to remember is that once you have more than two or three USB devices, you will run out of available USB ports. This is easily remedied by adding a USB hub. You need to power the hub to make sure that the devices get enough juice no matter how far down the USB chain they are. Another method is to use a monitor that has a built-in hub, such as Apple’s Studio Display 21. Hubs come in all shapes and sizes, but with the proliferation of USB devices you should plan ahead for extra capacity.
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