This post was updated on 27 May 2014
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Although USB 3.0 is a few years old now, and was only recently adopted by the likes of Apple – there still seems to be a shortage of USB accessories that were seen in the era of USB 2.0. One reason could be that USB 3.0 technology is actually expensive. Manufacturing a controller that can handle speeds of 5Gbs can be quite expensive – but slowly and surely USB 3.0 accessories are rolling off the production lines and into our homes.
Today we have a look at the Unitek Y-3181 8-port USB 3.0 Hub. We’ll unbox it, critique it’s design and see how it performs in the real world.
When I first picked it out of the packaging it felt like I had a very premium well-built piece of equipment in my hands. It didn’t feel cheap, and the plastic housing was very sturdy. It measures approximately 14cm in length and 6cm in width which made it fit comfortably in my hands. It’s important to note that not everyone is looking for a big USB hub, but I wouldn’t want something small either. If I’m going to plugging and unplugging everyday I want something that will last, and something that I can easily grip with my hand and pull out a flash drive without any nonsense.
It has a power LED at the top, and both lengths are lined by high-speed USB ports. On one side there is a DC jack and a USB B-socket to connect to your desktop machine. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of a power button/switch to turn the whole hub or individual ports on and off.
Is It Any Good?
I put the hub through its paces for just under a week. My current laptop doesn’t have any USB 3.0 ports so during my use I was restricted to 480Mbs transfer speeds. I did however manage to test it on a friends Mac and compared the transfer time of a 40-minute video file. With the USB 3.0 enabled Mac the 1.7GB file was transferred at approx 107MB/sec which I assume was bottle-necked by the capabilities of my flash drive. So it is safe to say that the Unitek Y-3181 is beyond USB 2, and does contain the high-tec controllers needed for the faster USB 3.0 transfer rates.
I was hugely disappointed to find that the the DC-in only provided power to the charging charging ports, and that the charging ports did not support data transfer. This meant that I could plug my iPad into the hub to either charge my iPad or to sync it with iTunes but not both! I was hoping that the hub would allow me to plug in my iPad and charge it as well as sync it with my PC.
In terms of portability, the hub is in good size to easily pack with your laptop and take around with you. It functions just as well as a 6-port USB 3.0 hub without the DC adapter – or you can use it in a stationary setup and plug it into the mains to make use of the two charging ports.
As far as it goes with USB 3.0 hubs, this is one of the earliest models out. USB 3.0 is relatively expensive technology at the moment and prices are expected to fall over the next few years. Finding USB 3.0 peripherals that actually utilize the faster data speeds can be difficult, but the Unitek Y-3181 definitely includes newer controllers and chips that can handle faster speeds. Though it is a bit pricey, it has a solid build and nice ergonomics which make it a pleasure to use at home or on the move.
The biggest disappointment ofcourse is that fact that it cannot charge my iPad whilst transferring data. This does not seem to be a hardware limitation, but rather a choice of design by the manufacturer, which is sad really because it throws away a winning product. But for those curious, it is still possible to simply switch your iPad cable from a charging port to a data port as appropriate.
The hub’s data ports still provide enough current to charge other smaller peripherals including the Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhones – but larger devices such as the iPad which require a larger charging current cannot be charged via the data ports.
UPDATE: After contacting the manufacturer we learnt that larger peripherals cannot be charged using the data transfer ports due to a hardware limitation set by USB. SpringRain, an official reseller of the Unitek Y-3181 said: “The problem you mentioned is a hardware limitation since USB 3.0 ports can only maintain currents and voltages up to 900mA at 5V for a maximum power output of 4.5W. But iPad’s charger is roughly 10W and 5V which translates to 2A. So it is not possible for you to plug your iPad into any USB 3.0 data transfer port for charging.”
I would therefore like to make it very clear that the Unitek hub utilizes the full capabilities of USB 3.0 with the latest, and most advanced technology. I would highly recommend it as a setup and portable USB 3.0 Hub.
We leave you with a review video below: