Category Archives: Experience

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USB Stock Chargers, Dedicated Multi-Port Chargers, or Charge & Sync Hubs. What’s Best for Me?

In today’s world of mass portable devices with USB connectivity, charging should be as simple as plug and play. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Take me for example. On my desk I’ve got a Google Nexus 5, Dell Venue 8 Pro, Apple iPhone 4, and several generations of iPad. Each one came with a completely different power adapter for charging! My Nexus will charge off of almost anything, my Dell Venue 8 Pro is quite picky, but Apple might be the most confusing of them all.

The reason is USB charging has not been well standardized until recently. Apple has been charging devices via USB with special signaling since the first USB connected iPod. Devices determine whether and how fast to charge, and make that decision based on different non-standard methods to recognize “their charger.”

Take for example the following charging signals commonly seen today:

  • Apple 2.4A (12W)
    (iPad Air / iPad Mini, likely any subsequent iPad releases)
  • Apple 2.1A (10.5W)
    (original iPad through iPad Retina)
  • Apple 1A (5W)
    (first seen with the iPod all the way back in 2002, commonly found with all iPhones including the newly released iPhone 6/6 Plus)
  • Dedicated Charging Port, DCP (wattage varies per device)
    (often referred to as the Android charging signal, common for almost all non-Apple devices)
  • Samsung 2.4A (12W)
    (usually seen with Samsung tablets, potentially some phones)
  • USB-IF BC1.2 CDP 1.5A (7.5W)
    (the official USB charging standard, it’s not well adopted yet, but more devices are becoming compliant)

What exactly does all of this mean?

In short, taking my Dell Venue 8 Pro as an example, I can’t plug it into just any USB charger and expect it to charge, it works on Android and Apple 1A signals but won’t charge on any of the others. Or if we take my iPad Retina and plug it into my iPhone 4 charger, it’s going to charge at an overly slow rate.

Because of scenarios like these, most users have a preconceived notion that they must use the stock charger that came with their device. Sometimes with the fear that if they do not, their device won’t charge, or worse, could actually be harmed.

Fortunately this isn’t the case. In fact, most devices on the market can actually charge from the Apple 1A signal as it has unofficially been adopted as the universal USB charging standard; mainly because it’s been around for so long. Also a device will only pull as much power as it needs, so using a more powerful charger may actually help your device charge faster. The newly released iPhone 6 and 6 Plus ship with the standard Apple 1A charger, but will charge much faster on the Apple 2.1/2.4A chargers or another charger that the iPhone 6 recognizes.

Many consumers don’t realize they can downsize their growing pile of stock chargers for a more convenient multi-port charger that can charge almost every USB charging device in their home simultaneously from just one AC wall outlet. Take our flagship multi-port charger, the Plugable USB-C5T (temporarily out of stock 10/3/2014). It has 5 USB charging ports with enough power (7.2A, 36W) to charge two iPads and three iPhones concurrently (or three iPads and one iPhone, etc) at their maximum charging rates.

Click to enlarge.

The Plugable USB-C5T, bringing order to chaos.

Three of the C5T’s USB ports simulate the standard Apple 1A signal which will charge most devices, including my picky Dell Venue 8 Pro, but where the C5T really shines is with the two outer ports which are equipped with a smart charging chipset made by the folks at Genesys Logic. The GL888F chipset can simulate almost all of the aforementioned charging signals (sans Apple 2.4A) and will intelligently select the best one for your device. This is great because if your device happens to not be compatible with the standard Apple 1A signal, chances are it will charge off of the smart ports.

Great. Sign me up!

Not quite yet, but we’re almost done. Have you ever tried to charge your device from your computer only to be let down by slow charging or no charging at all? If so, you’re not alone, it happens to the best of us. When you connect a phone or tablet to a computer, the device wants to put itself into a mode where data can be synced. Often syncing while charging either isn’t possible or is extremely slow, only drawing around 0.5A from the host computer’s USB port. This behavior is also expected on all USB hubs unless they are BC1.2 compliant. The BC1.2 charging signal, CDP (charging downstream port), is compatible with all current Apple Lightning Cable devices like the iPad Retina / iPhone 5 (and newer) and many new Android and Windows Mobile devices are moving this direction as well.

Our flagship 7-port USB 2.0 hub, the Plugable USB2-HUB7BC, is BC1.2 compliant and devices can charge at up to 1.5A while syncing data. The HUB7BC can also act as stand alone dedicated charger when the computer is turned off or not connected. To many this is the proverbial “holy grail” of USB charging despite slightly slower charging rates (1.5A) compared to a dedicated smart charger like our GL888F (up to 2.4A) equipped USB-C5T due to the added convenience of charge and sync.

In a time where USB charge and sync functionality can be unnecessarily complicated, we work hard to deliver simplicity to the equation. With charge and sync being available on nearly any BC 1.2 compatible device, which is most mobile devices produced in the last few years, why would you want to haul around an individual charger for each device?

 

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Plugable Launches Small, Durable USB to Audio Adapter for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook Systems

The new Plugable USB Audio Adapter is a compact, effortless solution for adding an external audio interface to nearly any computer or tablet. The adapter has separate standard 3.5mm receptacles for stereo headphones and microphones. It lets you easily USB enable your favorite analog headset or headphones, so you don’t need to compromise to get USB connectivity back to your PC.

This can be used to bypass or replace a faulty sound card or audio port. It can be left connected to a USB hub or docking station to add convenient, easy-to-reach audio jacks — saving stress on the audio ports on your computer. The adapter body is lightweight and durable with its black anodized metal body.

The adapter is compatible with Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Chromebook systems with a free full-sized USB port. No drivers are necessary as the adapter’s C-Media CM108 chip exposes the standard and widely supported USB Audio class.

Just plug in the adapter, select it as your default output and input device for instant audio playback. Note that most operating systems support multiple audio outputs, but only allow a single one to be enabled at a time. So this manual step of selecting the right audio output from the operating system’s built-in audio control panel is essential.

This audio adapter really shines with custom Linux development boards like the Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone Black, and other unique scenarios such as a “Hackintosh” setup where the on-board audio devices don’t have Mac drivers.

Any questions? Feel free to comment below or email us at support@plugable.com. We’re happy to help.

Thanks for going out of your way for our broad line of Plugable products!

Plugable USB Audio Adapter with 3.5mm Speaker/Headphone and Microphone Jacks (Black Aluminum; C-Medi... Product Details
$7.95
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Plugable Launching Kickstarter for the Pro8 Docking Station with Charging for the Dell Venue 8 Pro on Wednesday, June 25th

Update: October 30th, 2014 – Take a look at our latest updates on Kickstarter!

Update: August 8th – Where Can I Get One?

There has been a flood of inquiries to where individuals who missed the Kickstarter can get the Pro8. Once production is finished and units ship out to our Kickstarter backers in November, we plan to begin selling units on Amazon. We do not yet have an exact date, but we hope to have the Pro8 available to the public in time for the holiday season. Visit http://plugable.com/kickstarter for more information and sign up for our email mailing list to get the latest updates on the Pro8 and availability.

Update: July 27th – Our project was successfully funded!
Thanks to all 367 of backers who helped us raise $29,831 of our $24,000 goal.

Update: June 25th – The Kickstarter is Live!


Our Dock Connected to a Dell Venue 8 Pro with a Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse, Ethernet Connection, & Headset Attached! All that with 2 USB ports to spare!

We released a demo video on YouTube last November showcasing the Dell Venue 8 Pro with our flagship UD-3900 USB 3.0 Dual Display Universal Docking station, essentially turning the tablet into a full desktop workstation. We received an extremely warm welcome from the Dell Venue 8 Pro user community and even caught the attention of Michael Dell (CEO, Dell) himself who retweeted our video. To this date we have over 150,000 views and almost 400 user comments.

Although this video showed the full capability of the tablet, it also highlighted a major flaw that could limit its uses: there is only one USB Micro B port that can only be used to either charge the tablet or to connect it with external USB devices. This seriously limits the Dell Venue 8 Pro’s capabilities as it cannot remain connected to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse during a full 8+ hour work day without running out of battery well before then. Consumers quickly realized this problem and the solution to this constraint quickly became an active topic of conversation on the comments on the YouTube video and in many tech forums. This Kickstarter is the culmination of our work to make that happen!

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Some of our early prototypes

After months of development and multiple prototypes, we have created a product that allows full desktop replacement functionality and to charge at the same time. Furthermore, this docking station also works with the Lenovo Miix 2 which faces the same critical limitation as the Venue. Currently we are in the final phase of prototyping and are working with our manufacturing partner to perfect the docking station so that it can be brought to the market in mass.

Do  you know someone with a Dell Venue 8 Pro or Lenovo Miix 2 8″ Windows Tablet? Let them know about our Kickstarter! Even if you don’t and just want to support Plugable, please pledge just $1 and we pledge to keep you up to date on our progress with exclusive updates along the way. This will give you special access once the device goes on the market and a huge thank you from us! Every single dollar will help us reach our goal!

We are launching our Kickstarter on Wednesday, June 25th 10AM PDT for this exciting new product and we need your help! If you are interested in supporting this project then you can sign up for email notifications here at http://plugable.com/kickstarter

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Custom PCB Prototype
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Also Compatible with Laptops

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Single 20W Power Adapter for Dock and Tablet

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Included Items (power adapter varies per geography)

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Plugable’s new USB “On The Go” MicroSD reader

A compact solution to access MicroSD cards from both standard and micro ports. Plugable’s new USB2-OTGTF is designed to make life easier for digital denizens by enabling access to a MicroSD card from as many devices as possible.

Just insert your microSD card as shown here, and connect to an available USB 2.0 “A” or “MicroB” port.
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Many, if not most, portable devices today support inserting a MicroSDHC (up to 32GB) card directly, via the OTGTF’s USB 2.0 A, or USB 2.0 “Micro B” connectors.

The USB-OTGTF’s compact design and flexible make it a great solution if you’ve ever:

  • Been frustrated waiting for a long sync to your device to complete
  • Wanted a way to take more of your media collection with you
  • Struggled with how to get a photo, long complex password, or some other data from one device to another.

3-plugged to phone
If you have an Android device without a MicroSD slot but need a way to increase your device’s storage capacity, check our post on OTG Host and USB mass storage support for Android. Regardless of OS, up to 32GB additional storage is available using this adapter — MicroSDXC cards above 32 GB are *not* supported.

We’ve even made the packaging easy to open — no blister pack or knife here — just pop open the corner of the plastic, like a tupperware, as shown below:
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“Many devices today…” So what doesn’t work?

Customers are often surprised when they find a USB port on their device won’t work with a certain device– especially so when the device is a simple flash drive or card reader. Apple’s popular iOS, and any iPads, iPhones, or iPods simply don’t support USB storage devices, and simply won’t work with this adapter.

Android device support will be hit-or-miss on devices running Android 4.x.x. Older Android 2.x and 3.x devices are unlikely to support USB mass storage, although a few devices may work. This is because not every Android device supports the two USB standard device classes needed:

  1. Support for USB “OTG” host mode
  2. Support for USB Mass Storage class devices

Each Android device maker gets to customize the exact version of Android they distribute, so some devices will have support for accessing data on USB storage devices, and others will not. Some manufacturers have chosen not to support USB storage. When that happens, there are a few options for adding this support via applications, or, for very advanced or adventurous users, to install a version of android that does support USB storage on their device.

The good news is that many popular Android devices do support USB storage devices. When a device fully supports USB mass storage, it will pop up a notification when a storage device is attached– typically noting the “mount point” where you can navigate using your file manager of choice. If your device doesn’t “just work” with a USB storage device, read our post on adding USB OTG and MicroSD support to Android devices.

“Just Works” with all Windows devices

And, of course, if you have a Windows Tablet with either a standard “A” or “Micro-B” OTG port (like the Dell Venue 8 Pro), you know it will always work as support for USB storage devices is built into all versions of Windows (since XP).

Where to Buy

Plugable USB MicroSD Card Reader for Phone, Laptop, and Tablet Computers (Built-in Type A USB and Mi... Product Details
$7.95

Have any questions at all? Please feel free to comment below. We’re happy to help!

Device Charging Rates

Plugable does extensive testing to determine which devices charge at what rates on our chargers and charging capable hubs. This turns out to be important, because USB charging is not (yet) well standardized, and results vary by device.

If you’re looking for a charger, our data on charging rates will tell you exactly how much current, in milli-amps, specific devices will pull from our chargers. The higher the number, the faster the device will charge. We’ve tested many popular Apple and Android devices, and add new results frequently.

The complete list of results is available here at:
plugable.com/platforms/device-charging-rates

Plugable Launches New 10-Port USB Hub Family

Plugable has had the top-selling 10-port USB 2.0 hub on Amazon for over 3 years — much of that time in the “top 100″ of all electronics. And over that period, we made many large and small improvements responding to customer feedback.

That’s made the Plugable USB2-HUB10S a proven, rock-solid solution for giving your USB-capable computer additional USB ports. It will work with any Windows, Mac, or Linux computer along with many game consoles, wireless routers, and other devices that have a USB port and support USB hubs.

Today, we’re building on this solid foundation by adding a higher-end USB 2.0 model with extra charging features. The Plugable USB2-HUB10C2 uses the same Terminus Technology FE 1.1s chip in our popular 4-port charging hub to support extra charging features on the two swivel ports. It upgrades the power supply to a high-quality 5V 4A model — the same used on our top-selling $109 USB 3.0 universal docking station. Charging rates are device dependent, so make sure to check our charging rates table for this model before purchase. This is a great solution for iOS and Android users with PCs or Macs who want both connectivity and charging of devices in a single hub, along with lots of extra USB ports for other devices.

Even more exciting is we’ve brought this same 10 port design to USB 3.0, for making the most of all your high-performance USB 3.0 devices. Over the past few years, with updates to chips, firmware, and the various operating systems, USB 3.0 has become mature. Our new Plugable USB3-HUB10C2 uses the same VIA VL812 Rev B2 chips and 9000 series firmware as our top-selling USB 3.0 7 port hub to deliver no-compromise compatibility with USB hosts and devices for all operating systems. It’s also fully backward compatible with USB 2.0 and 1.1. It includes a beefy 12V 4A power supply (with step-down in the hub to USB’s 5V).

For charging, there are some compromises with these USB 3.0 chips and firmware — devices will charge at maximum rate only when the PC is off or not connected. Our hub supports this feature on the two swivel charging ports. Again, see our charging rates table for this model for more details.

We’re very excited to have these 3 great options to cover the full range of USB hub needs with proven components. Today, these hubs are available on Amazon.com, and over the next few weeks will be available throughout Europe, UK, Canada, and Japan.

There is much more detail on each product pages and throughout the site. Any questions? Please feel free to comment below or email support@plugable.com. We’re happy to help!

Plugable USB 2.0 10-Port High Speed Hub with 12.5W Power Adapter and Two Flip-Up Ports (Terminus Tec... Product Details
$24.95

Plugable USB 2.0 10-Port Hub With Two Flip-Up Charging Ports (20W Power Adapter)... Product Details
$29.95

Plugable USB 3.0 SuperSpeed 10-Port Hub with Two Flip-Up Ports and 48W Power Adapter (VIA VL812 Rev ... Product Details
$49.95

Using the USB2-E100 on Windows RT

Officially, we don’t support our USB 2.0 10/100 Network Adapter on Windows RT. This is because Windows RT won’t recognize it automatically — Windows RT 8.1 lacks the plug and play IDs, and doesn’t provide a way to install INFs or 3rd party drivers to provide them after the fact. The full Intel/AMD version of Windows has none of these issues. So skip this post unless you’re on an ARM-based Windows tablet.

But for those with an ARM-based Surface or other Windows RT device running 8.1 — If you jump through a few hoops, you may find that the adapter does work just fine on RT, using binaries that are already on the system.

Windows RT puts devices it doesn’t recognize under the “Other devices” category in Device Manager. While the drivers exist on the machine to get ASIX 88772-based network adapters working, the operating system can’t figure that out on it’s own. What it needs is to be force-fed the correct ASIX driver. The following slideshow with screenshots details that process.


(Click the right arrow to navigate through the slideshow)

As a side note, this same process works with the USB2-MICRO-200X. The only differences are the following:

6mIn step 6 “Imaging devices” needs to be selected instead of “Network adapter”
7mIn step 7 the manufacturer is “Microsoft” and the model is “USB Video Device”.

Have any questions or tips for other users with RT devices? Feel free to comment below. Thanks!

Installing DevCon on Windows 8.1

DevCon is a Windows command line tool useful in Windows device testing and debugging that is not included in the general availability release of Windows 8.1.

Additional details on DevCon’s use are here.

Here are steps to install it, along with useful prerequisites.

1. Install Windows 8.1 WDK.

2. Install Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows Desktop (or a full version of Visual Studio, if available).

3. Install the Windows SDK for Windows 8.1.

Below is a screencapture showing correct command syntax- note that it is necessary to “quote out” the full path of the appropriate bittage .exe version as shown in the 2nd line.

DevCon command working under Windows 8.1

DevCon command working under Windows 8.1

C:\WINDOWS\system32>"C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\8.1\Tools\x64\devcon.exe"

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Supporting PXE over USB Deployment Scenarios for tablets and ultrabooks

Many enterprise IT admins are facing a new challenge: how to deploy and manage systems with only WiFi for networking and USB for IO ports.  As a result, we’re often asked whether our USB network adapters support PXE boot.  In short, this is the wrong question- Mu.

When designing a deployment environment where USB is your fastest or only I/O option, it is likely that using bootable USB storage devices to abstract away from the limitations of the motherboard UEFI/BIOS will be your best option for two reasons:

1. Support for booting USB mass storage class devices is class-based and ubiquitous.  Almost all modern motherboard BIOS/UEFI builds support USB mass storage class device boot. A number of minimal OS with support for accessing a network share and installing the OS via this pre-installation environment. One valid option would be to use an CD ISO to USB bootable converter program like LiLi to create a USB Bootable iPXE environment, and add the open-source 88179 driver here if you need wired and can’t boot from built-in wireless. Another would be to use Windows PE with Bootcamp drivers for Windows as discussed here on Technet forums. In either case, the key is to build support for the network driver into a USB bootable pre-installation environment.

2. Support for USB network devices is not class driver based- individual chips have notable functional differences, and as such there is no class driver for USB networking- thus, support is left to motherboard OEM’s to build support for individual networking devices into their devices- a challenging task.

For this to be possible, the BIOS/UEFI on the motherboard has to natively support the chip used in the USB network adapter- so this answer will always depend on the motherboard, and require research into both the chipset of the USB network device and then whether the UEFI/BIOS a given motherboard runs supports this chip.

The vast majority of “legacy” systems will NOT have the ability to PXE boot a USB attached adapter. On more modern systems, this functionality will vary from model to model and is NOT something we can answer with certainty, as it is effectively a question of whether the motherboard’s software has support for the chip used in the adapter.

This is much less likely to work on newer USB 3.0 networking devices than on  USB 2.0 devices, since those are based on chips that have been around longer, thus giving motherboard OEMs and the open source community time to integrate support for these USB devices into BIOS/UEFI and the alternate pre-installation environments. 

Our most widely compatible adapter, capable of 10/100 operation rather than gigabit speeds, is the AX88772 based Plugable USB 2.0 to 10/100 Fast Ethernet LAN Wired Network Adapter for Macbook, Chromebook, Windows 8 and Earlier, Surface Pro, Wii, Wii U, Linux, and Specific Android Tablets (ASIX AX88772 chipset)

For Gigabit connection speeds (although potentially lower performance than the USB3-E1000), check for support for the ASIX 88178 chip used in our, consider the Plugable USB 2.0 to 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN Wired Network Adapter for Windows, Mac, Chromebook, Linux, and Specific Android Tablets (ASIX AX88178 Chipset)

While it is theoretically possible to select only hardware that has native support for booting form USB network adapters, unless you need to PXE boot regularly or are trying to integrate ultra books with SCCM or some other enterprise management system, in most deployment only scenarios it should be easier to use USB media to deploy from since it is relatively easy to setup a USB bootable pre-installation environment, and build support for the driver into the PE instead of having to investigate BIOS/UEFI support for USB network device chips before making every device purchase. Information about what chips are supported this way is virtually impossible to find outside of hands on testing.

Plugable USB 2.0 to 10/100 Fast Ethernet LAN Wired Network Adapter for Macbook, Chromebook, Windows ... Product Details
$11.95

Plugable USB 2.0 to 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN Wired Network Adapter for Windows, Mac, Chromeb... Product Details
$25.00