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by JB Burke

Q: Can you please define what USB is? I have USB connections on my computer, and my printer is attached to one of them. What else can I do?

A: USB stands for Universal Serial Bus. In the old days of computers (before 1996 or so) there were specialized connections for various devices that you'd connect to your computer. There was a parallel port for your printer, a serial port for a modem, etc. Each had its own unique and frequently expensive and unwieldy cable. In 1994, a consortium of Compaq, DEC, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC and Nortel got together to simplify computer device attachment. The result was USB. The first popular version was 1.1, at 12 Mbit/s (million bits per second) called a full speed connection. Later came today’s USB 2.0, which runs 40 times faster at 480 Mbit/s – called high-speed. Now many devices, such as printers, scanners, external hard drives, CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives, mice and keyboards can all be attached via USB.

External hard drives, used for backup and storage, should be attached to a USB 2.0 port. Otherwise they’re too slow. There are USB hubs that allow one port on your computer to support many devices – be sure it says USB 2.0. And USB 3.0 (SuperSpeed) is now being delivered which runs at 4800 Mbit/s – 10 times faster than the current 2.0. Generally speaking, each version is backward compatible with older devices. There is an extensive USB history and technology article in Wikipedia if you want the full story.

Published: Courier 10/24/10 - Page 7C