- ✓Stackable design
- ✓rugged construction
- ✓doubles as a desktop picture frame.
- ✕Not very compact
- ✕quite expensive.
Adaptec's XHub4+ is a four-port USB 2.0 (High-speed USB) hub with a difference: it doubles as a piece of desk furniture. Not only can you plug USB peripherals into it, but you can also use it to display one of your favourite pictures. This is because, when fitted in its cable management stand, it can act as a small picture frame.
The XHub4+ is one of three models available. The XHub7+ (£154.04 ex. VAT) has seven ports, while the XHub4 (£89.36 ex. VAT) is a simple packaging of the four-port unit without cable management.
The cable management stand holds the XHub4+ up with its sockets pointing downwards and slightly forwards. The idea is that it's easier to plug cables into it from the front this way, while still keeping the power and uplink cables out of the way. The stand has a loop at the back through which you feed rear-facing cables, keeping them tidily in place.
If you don't need the cable management system, then the XHub4 simply sits flat on the desktop. You can use the XHub4+ in this manner too as the stand is detachable, but there seems little point in paying the extra £10 or so for the cable stand if you're not going to use it. There's a silicone rubber foot on the case that prevents it sliding along the desk when it's weighed down with cables.
As a USB hub, the XHub4+ is a fine piece of equipment. It's on the large side for a four-port hub, but this is due to the same casing being used for the four- and seven-port versions. The case design allows you to snap hubs together to form a stacked column. The cable management stand is designed to hold several snapped-together XHubs, and the cable loop is large enough to take dozens of cables. Along the top of the unit (or the front if you're not using the stand) are LEDs for each port and for power.
Adaptec supplies a CD-ROM with its own drivers for USB 2.0 hubs which, at present, is the only way of adding such support to your PC. At the time of writing Microsoft hasn't released its own USB 2.0 driver set. Macintosh users don't have any USB 2.0 support as yet. You can use any USB 2.0 hub or peripheral with a USB 1.1 host controller -- you just won't get the higher 480Mbit/s speed. To check that you have everything plugged into the right place, you can download Adaptec's USBControl utility, which will identify any speed mismatches.
This isn't the most compact USB 2.0 hub you can buy, nor is it the cheapest. The stacking facility will help preserve desk space, while the built-in picture frame is a nice gimmick. However, the XHub4+'s key selling points are its solid construction and good software support.