One of my mantras in life is that profit is what you don’t spend. In other words it pays to be smart when spending money and only spend what you need and when you have to. However, when it comes to USB hubs I tried to do it on the cheap and it cost me dearly.
The hub was, to be frank, a cheap Amazon POS, I should have known better.
Indicators that I should have taken more notice of were;
Drives kept dropping off my Mac and then remounting.
Transfer speeds were super slow.
My Mac would hang on boot unless the hub was unplugged during startup.
As I said, I should have known better but didn’t really deal with it until a Lacie 2TB drive died on me, I’m guessing the constant dropping mid spin screwed the platters. Then a second drive from a different brand failed at which point I thought I couldn’t be that unlucky so I decided to investigate what could possibly be causing all these issues.
The Problem Was A Cheap USB Hub
I traced the problem to the USB hub, which as soon as it was removed from my system solved all the issues outlined above, however I also needed to investigate how to stop it happening again. After extensive research I discovered that most USB hubs and perhaps the one on your studio use a shared controller rather than a dedicated one for each port.
Theoretically, sharing a controller is possible, of course it is, most of the USB hubs sold do it. But when you start hooking a load of drives off one all of which are working hard pushing data around then you, like me, are likely to run into problems. It seems my hub when pushed to the limits would just let the spinning drives drop off the computer. I used to watch them disappear and reappear on the Mac desktop as I was working.
My solution is the Sonnet Allegro USB3-PRO-4PM-E USB3 card. Here are the key features from the Sonnet website. This product is no longer available and is replaced by a newer version.
Adds SuperSpeed USB Connectivity—Adds four USB 3.0 ports to your Mac Pro tower, or Windows or Linux computer with PCIe slots; or Thunderbolt-to-PCIe card expansion system
Four Ports, Four USB 3.0 Controllers—Supports aggregate transfer speeds of up to 1,800 MB/s (450 MB/s per port)
Powers Connected Devices—Supports USB 3.0 bus-powered hard drives, SSDs, DVDs & Blu-ray devices with up to 2.0A per port
Supports Charge & Sync—Supports USB 3.0 charging port handshake, and will simultaneously sync and charge iPads and other devices that support USB 3.0 charging at 1.5A per device
Broad USB 3.0 Device Support & Compatibility—Supports storage, hubs, and other USB-IF compliant USB 3.0 devices; compatible with USB 2.0 devices
Supports Hot-Swappable Device Connection—Plug in and disconnect peripherals without shutting off your computer
Optimized for Thunderbolt—Provides optimum performance over Thunderbolt
Easy Installation—Quick and easy user installation into any available PCIe slot
Since installing the card it’s been like night and day. No more issues with booting, drives dropping off and the most important one drives failing. Even better the transfer speeds are super fast and when you are working with large data like video content that can save you hours of time.
If you are experiencing issues with your USB devices as outlined above then I recommend you invest in a high quality USB hub - it’s funny how we spend hours deciding on mics, monitors, interfaces and other studio hardware and yet we often trust our data to the cheapest thing we can find. I found out the hard way.