USB allows even the most basic user to plug in new peripherals without taking a screwdriver to the computer case. As more developers have realized the potential and power of the USB, we’ve seen the number of Plug and Play devices expand. In 1999, there were more than 100 USB compatible products on the market. By now there are hundreds of USB compatible devices in each category ranging from keyboards and mice to digital cameras and scanners. And, of course, you can’t introduce a new source of connectivity and not expect some silliness to arise from it. Over the course of the past year or so, about a dozen USB peripheral novelties have popped into the market. Some have logical and reasonable uses where others are just for giggles.
We're living in a fast-paced society. New technology is being improved upon and released before we can find a way to properly recycle the old technology. Great strides are taken daily to find new options for existing technology and devices, some alter how we use our computers and some merely enhance the computing experience. Others still are just too silly for words.
For now, let's take a brief look at one section of the computer that currently holds the most potential for expansion and innovation-the USB.
A Crash Course on USB
Anyone who owns a computer has inevitably used a USB port at some point. Even my tech-illiterate mother was able to identify the outlet ("It's that small rectangle thing, right?") and plug in her new printer with minimal help from me. But not everyone knows what it does or why so many devices are switching over.
So, here's a quick run-down for those still left in the dark. USB (Universal Serial Bus) is the solution to the connectivity headache that has plagued developers and consumers for years. Prior to the USB, as some of you may remember, standard computer devices such as printers, scanners, and Zip drives connected to the one parallel printer port with which all computer models shipped. Other devices including modems, PDAs, and digital cameras often used the serial ports. Devices requiring faster connections came with their own cards, which would need to be installed inside the case. A frustration to avid users who quickly ran out of card slots and to casual users too afraid of their own human fallibility to risk cracking open the case.
The USB was developed to eliminate some, if not all, of the steps required to add-on new peripherals. Through its ability to transfer data and power, USB communicates with the CPU upon start up and provides an almost instant connection, allowing users to access their new devices immediately after plugging it in. The less time spent on installing cards or screwing in pins means more time playing with the new toys, hence 'plug and play.'
Inside the USB cable are four wires-red and brown for power (+5 volts and ground, respectively) and twisted blue and yellow wires for data. Low power devices like mice and keyboards can pull power from the USB directly. Larger devices, from digital cameras to printers, may use their own alternate power source but still transfer data via USB. And anyone who has used the old ports and switched over to USB can attest to the faster transmission between peripherals and CPUs. Even USB 2.0 is up to 40 times faster than USB 1.1.
With its power, speed, and expandability, USB has the potential to eventually replace parallel and serial ports from the backs of computers. Recent computer models have been released with 2-4 USB ports in addition to the usual serial, PS/2, and parallel ports. And more of the standard peripherals like keyboards and mice are switching to or including adapters for USB. But even if you run out of factory-installed USB ports, purchasing an inexpensive USB hub will double your ports, allowing for more peripherals to run simultaneously.
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