Review: Inateck delivers a superior 7-port USB 3.0 hub

With USB 3.0 users can attach more storage, more cheaply, than ever before. For many that means a USB 3.0 hub. After using several for the last two years, here's one that works well on a Mac.

USB 3.0 is now common on PCs and Macs. Its performance and backwards compatibility with earlier USB implementations makes it a winner. It isn't as stable or fast as Thunderbolt, but for casual connections to single hard drives or SSDs, it works well.

Yet it is the rare system that comes with enough USB ports, so USB hubs are popular. Ideally, a USB 3.0 hub is invisible, as if all the connected devices function as if directly attached to the system. Yet that doesn't always happen.

Testing in the real world

Automobile magazines sample cars all the time. They get them for a few hours in some scenic spot and then write about their impressions.

But they also do four season tests, where they take a car for a year to see how it feels with fifteen or twenty thousand miles on it, driven in all kinds of weather, by all kinds of drivers. Not the skidpad G-force or quarter mile numbers, but day to day use. I prefer those tests.

Mac USB issues

Even though the Mac uses Intel USB I/O support, USB isn't always a team player. Over the years I've had dozens of times when a system doesn't want to boot - stopping at a gray screen - due to USB issues.

The solution is simple: unplug all the USB connections and reboot. It is a standard part of Apple's troubleshooting advice.

Test setup

Three months ago a German company named Inateck sent me their aluminum unibody 7 Port USB 3.0 HUB for Macbook - model HB7002 - to review. I plugged it in and, sure enough, it worked just like every other USB hub I've ever used: no software hassles.

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Courtesy Inateck

I plugged in a Fujitsu SnapScan scanner, three disk drives, a USB 3.0 extender cable for thumb drives and iPhone charging, a USB 3.0 memory card reader and an Apogee One USB audio interface hooked to my Shure SM7B mic.

The desktop is a 2012 Mac Mini with a quad-core i7, a Samsung 500GB SSD, 16GB of RAM and over 20TB of storage, the latter a mix of USB disks and network and Thunderbolt arrays. Writing is the least intensive thing I do on the system.

The Inateck hub is a rectangular oblong of brushed aluminum, so it fits well with aluminum MacBooks or iMacs. A power supply and a good quality USB 3.0 cable are included.

It is well-packaged in the minimalist Apple style. Hardcore Mac aesthetes will approve.

Results

In three months of heavy use, the Inateck hub has not caused a single problem. Part way through testing I disconnected two other USB 3.0 hubs - a 4 and a 7 port - when I was having occasional boot problems. No more problems.

The hub also works well for recharging iPhones. Nor have any power hungry devices required use of the second USB plug that some recommend. The power supply seems to be up to the job.

The Storage Bits take

I'll keep running the Inateck hub to see if other problems surface, but I'm now confident that somehow the Inateck engineers have produced a superior USB hub. That's a surprise since I assumed that hub components are commodities.

Evidently there's room for better quality engineering, even in USB hubs. They cost a little more, but given that I'm connecting over $1,000 worth of peripherals, the slightly higher cost - $33 online - is insignificant.

The real benefit is that it just works, invisibly, every day. That's worth it to me.

Comments welcome, as always. Question: do Windows machines have problems with USB as well? I'm curious.

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