Up

 

 

 

USB2

I started thinking about additional USB ports when I realised that the smaller case might leave my high-speed serial port card without a space for it's trailing socket. This would have been rather a crisis, as I seem to need at least five serial ports for my motley crew of peripherals and in spite of my griping I didn't really want to retire the legacy hardware. The idea of using relatively cheap USB-to-serial converters certainly seemed a plausible alternative, though, especially after a favourable experience with the one re-badged by Palm to connect their serial PDA cradles.

At this stage of the game there was no point in investing significant money in USB V1 hardware and when, on a visit to Adaptec's site in search of RAID drivers, I noticed their DuoConnect combined USB2 and FireWire interface, I was seriously interested. I like to have the maximum potential connectivity on my PC, and the idea of gaining both next-generation high-speed external buses in one upgrade was rather appealing. My final decision was influenced by the thought of Adaptec's traditional build quality, stability and performance, of course, but the gimmick that really sold me on the idea was their proprietary USB management utility - an elegant little app that displays a graphical tree of the USB devices and hubs with complete techy details of each. However, this utility apparently works well only if all USB host and hub hardware is Adaptec's own, which lead me to an abrupt U-turn in my opinion of the recently launched photo-frame XHub - the eccentric ergonomics of which actually turn out to be considerably better than I had assumed...

Unfortunately, buried in the small-print of a README file accessible only after the drivers have been downloaded and unpacked, is a terse warning - "This driver does not currently support multiprocessor systems under Windows 2000." There is no mention at all of what nature this lack of support might be - do they mean that they won't help in the odd event that things go wrong, or that it will almost certainly fry one's PC beyond all practical repair? It could be either, and annoyingly there is little additional information available online. Adaptec themselves refuse to acknowledge the issue in their tech support database, but the only two references I found elsewhere both suggested frequent blue-screens... probably not something to be risked.

Now, call me a mad fool, but I went ahead and installed it anyway. I had a recent backup, I thought, and could revert to the "last known good" registry if things went awry... I thought... The exact sequence has become a touch unclear by now, perhaps fortunately, but something that had changed in that phase of the build mangled the SYSTEM hive of the registry beyond my ability to fix it... and shortly after that I discovered that something very peculiar had happened to my backup subsystem. The full story is documented elsewhere, but after the repairs I successfully installed Microsoft's own USB2 drivers (during one of their mysterious now you see 'em, now you don't appearances on Windows Update) and everything is working very nicely. I haven't dared experiment with the USB Control utility, of course, but as soon as that ominous warning disappears from the README file I'll be right there - it sounds really neat.

 

Peripherals

The arrangement of the drive bays, settled nicely in the initial design, suddenly became more fluid when I decided to replace the 3" Seagate Travan with a 5" Ecrix VXA-1. When it's finally installed, it will leave me with only a pair of 3" bays in which to mount the Matrix Orbital LCD, but I think I'll be able to work with that... Unusually, the Super-Flower case came with the full complement of drive bay covers, but even so converting the unused pair to mount the LCD wouldn't leave me with any spares for future rearrangements or projects. However, I gather that these snap-in bay covers are very similar between manufacturers, and as the black Lian Li equivalent seem readily available I'll probably buy a few to test and modify.

On the other hand, I'd certainly settle for an external housing or stand instead. I picked up a handful of little aluminium project boxes at Maplin, but more appealing is something along the lines of this converted mesh paper-holder project featured at the recently-resurrected ICE Hardware:

Also outside the case are a couple of new acquisitions in the form of a 3Com Home Connect webcam and an Axis 2100 network camera - the former will be of use next time Ros is travelling, and we have another one waiting in readiness for that, but I have to admit that the Axis was bought mostly because I've wanted one for a very long time!

The 3Com camera (shown here with its guard-frog) connects to my PC via USB, as usual, but the Axis is a self-contained network appliance with it's own embedded Linux operating system and a full suite of FTP and HTTP clients and servers. Although it can upload still images to a remote server in various ways, when I bring it on line I shall open a narrow port in the firewall and let visitors connect directly to the camera's own server - our ADSL should permit it's maximum streaming video speed of ten frames per second, allowing as rapid updates to the clients as their own bandwidth can provide.