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At a Glance
Product Belkin Cable-Free USB Hub (F5U301)
Summary Wireless USB extender using UltraWideband technology
Pros • Easy installation
Cons • Expensive
• Dog slow

Belkin Cable-Free USB Hub and dongle

When Belkin's Cable-Free USB Hub was announced at last year's (2006) Consumer Electronics show, I was pretty hot to get my hands on it. After all, it was the first consumer product to use UltraWideBand technology. But Freescale, whose chipset that the product was originally based on, thought better about going up against the Intel-backed Wireless USB juggernaut and quietly exited the market a few months later.

This left Belkin scrambling to find another UWB chipmaker, which it found in Wisair. So after a complete redesign, the product reappeared at this year's (2007) CES and was finally released for sale and review. My review copy actually arrived over a month ago, but my excitement had already been cooled by Craig Ellison's PC Mag review that found it to be yet another example of an "all hat (advertised throughput), no cattle" (actual throughput) product. But since it has been patiently waiting review, I might as well have at it.

Please note that Belkin has already announced this product's replacement, which is a version that will be compatible with other Wireless USB devices.

The product can be thought of as a wireless USB extender that uses UWB technology instead of something less exotic like 802.11b/g or Bluetooth. You get a USB adapter ("dongle") that plugs into a computer running WinXP SP2 (only) and a four-port hub (that is powered by a supplied wall-wart) that you plug your USB devices into.

Belkin says that the hub supports "USB printers, cameras, scanners, and other devices", but a note in the User Manual warns that "audio devices ("USB Audio" class) and some webcams ("USB Video" class), which have isochronous end points are not supported".

The photos of the hub board in Figures 1 and 2 show the Wisair 531 / 502 UWB chipset and Star STR9104 ARM922-compatible RISC CPU.

Hub board top

Figure 1: Hub board top

The bottom view of the board shows RAM, flash and what appears to be an AMCC programmable logic chip.

Hub board bottom

Figure 2: Hub board bottom

The companion USB dongle shown in Figure 3 also uses the Wisair 531 / 502 chipset and a USB controller that I can't determine the manufacturer of from the fuzzy photo.

Dongle top and bottom

Figure 3: Dongle top and bottom

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