Lyonsden Blog

Category - PC

Retro 3 Port USB Cassette Hub Review

I spotted this little USB Cassette hub on social media over Christmas and thought it looked cool so had a look around to pick one up for myself. After some searching I found one on Amazon and for the price I couldn’t resist taking a punt.

 

Packaging

The Packaging

 

It arrived in a plain black box with no indication of what was inside at all. Inside the box there’s what at first glance appears to be a standard looking cassette in a transparent library case along with a micro-USB cable.

 

USB Cassette Package Contents

Package Contents

 

Opening up the case reveals a ‘C90 Cassette’ styled very much like a tape from the 1970’s or 80’s.

 

USB Cassette Hub

USB Cassette Hub in library case

 

Look a little closer though and you start to see that things are not as they first seem. For example, the centre view window where you would normally see the tape spools is merely a sticker. However the two spools are real and can actually be freely rotated. Perfect for reliving your youth by inserting a Bic pen and twirling it around like madman!

 

USB Cassette Hub

Looks can be deceiving!

 

If you flip the cassette over you also notice that both sides are labelled as ‘Side 1’. Perhaps with a little more effort that could have been remedied but that’s a minor niggle.

 

USB Cassette Hub

Side by side comparison with a regular cassette tape.

 

The shell itself is the exact same shape and size as a regular cassette with the main difference being that where the tape transport holes usually lives there are now three USB sockets. There are also no holes for the capstan spindles.

 

USB Cassette Hub

USB Cassette Hub placed on top of a real cassette tape. I thought the way the 3 ports are perfectly aligned with the tape transport holes of the original was a nice touch.

 

Along the top where you might expect to find a write-protect tab there is a micro-USB socket for connecting the hub to your computer using the supplied cable.

 

USB Cassette Hub

No plastic tabs to snap off (or tape over) here. Just a micro USB port.

 

The J card is completely blank – I think they missed a trick here and could have had a nice cover image for the hub and printed the instructions inside in the form of an album listing. That’s a little project I will probably do myself on a rainy Sunday afternoon…

 

Case

The case is just a regular old transparent library case with a blank J card.

 

Instead of a printed J-card there is a small fold-out guide that gives brief specs and some warnings.

 

USB Cassette Hub Instructions

Minimalist instructions.

 

Specifications

In terms of specs it’s positively ancient, supporting only USB 1.1. However, given it’s a retro styled hub it kind of makes sense that the hardware it houses also dates back to the late 1990’s!

 

USB Cassette Hub

Another comparison with an old tape.

 

Manufacturer specs:

  • 3 Port USB 1.1 Hub
  • Supports OHCI and UCHI
  • 1.5Mbps – 12Mbps
  • Includes mini USB cable
  • Rated 5V DC

Thankfully USB 1.1 is perfectly fine for the likes of keyboards and mice which makes it a terrific accessory to use with TheC64 Mini and Maxi machines when you need a few extra USB ports.

 

Putting it to good use

 

Cassette Hub working with TheC64 Mini, 2 joysticks and a USB drive.

 

In addition to USB keyboards and mice I found it also worked perfectly with both my TheC64 Mini and Maxi joysticks and my mini USB drive. Great news if I want to play any 2 player games that aren’t on the built in carousel.

 

Cassette Hub working with TheC64 Mini

 

I also tested it with my TheC64 Maxi and it worked just as well. However with 4 built-in USB ports on the Maxi it’s not really necessary. Still, it’s nice to know it’s an option in the future.

 

Cassette Hub working with TheC64 Maxi

 

Just for kicks I tested the hub out on my PC by transferring a few files across to a USB flash drive. It worked but was very slow – maxing out at a pretty measly 2.77MB/s. Of course this wouldn’t be much of an issue if I was just transferring a few games across to play on TheC64 Mini.

 

PC file transfer speed graph

Testing out the transfer speed on my PC.

 

Verdict

This is a super little device to use with a TheC64 Mini and gives you an extra 2 ports overall. (One of the built-in ports is taken up by the hub). It looks really cool and very nostalgic and compliments TheC64 mini perfectly. The extra ports allow you to hook up a USB keyboard and use a flash drive for extra games along with a joystick or two. This simply isn’t possible without the use of a hub. Sure you could get a modern USB 3 hub but where’s the fun in that!

I can’t recommend it for everyday PC use… it’s just far too slow as you’d expect from a USB1.1 device. But for less than a fiver I think it’s a great little device for retro gaming and sure to put a smile on your face when you use it. An added bonus is that it stores neatly away in a cassette rack when not in use!

 

My PC Setup

My PC Setup

As much as I love my retro computer systems I still enjoying tinkering with PC’s as well. For the last few years I’ve made do with a pretty decent gaming laptop but finally decided it was time to build myself a new desktop PC. As well as being able to do the normal office-type stuff, photo and video editing I really wanted one that would be capable of playing the new games that support ray tracing. I also wanted it to sound great and have a variety of audio inputs so I could hook up various Hi-Fi components should I need to.

Here’s a rundown of my system: (last updated 22nd November 2020)

 

  • In-Win 101 Mid Tower High Air Flow Gaming Case
  • Asus Prime Z370-P II Motherboard
  • Cooler Master Masterwatt 750W Bronze Modular Power Supply
  • Intel i9 9900KF CPU
  • Cooler Master Liquid Lite 120 Liquid Cooling System
  • MSI Ventus 2080Ti GFX Card
  • Startech 4 Port USB 3.1 PCIe Card
  • Sound Blaster ZXR Card
  • 2x Samsung 970 EVO 2TB M.2 SSD’s
  • 2x Samsung 870 QVO 8TB SSD’s
  • 2x Seagate IronWolf 10TB HD’s (Striped)
  • 32GB (4x 8GB) G-Skill Trident-Z DDR4 4000Mhz RAM
  • 5x Antec Prizm ARGB 120mm Fans
  • 2x Antec Prizm ARGB LED lighting strips
  • UGREEN Nano USB Bluetooth 4.0 Adapter
  • Samsung CJG5 27″ 144Hz QHD Curved Monitor
  • Pioneer BDR-XD07TB Blu-Ray Writer
  • HP DS8A3L Lightscribe DVD Writer
  • Invision Gas Powered Monitor Arm
  • Atolla 7 Port USB 3.0 Powered Hub
  • Tobii Eye Tracker 5
  • Razer Huntsman Elite RGB Chroma Mechanical Keyboard
  • Razer Basilisk Ultimate RGB Chroma Mouse
  • Razer Goliathus Extended RGB Chroma Mouse Mat
  • Edifier R1280DB Active Bookshelf Studio Speakers
  • Razer Kraken Ultimate RGB Chroma Headphones
  • Razer Base Station RGB Chroma Headset Stand
  • Epson ET-2710 Printer
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner
  • Dymo LabelWriter Duo Printer
  • Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS Joystick and TWCS Throttle
  • Xbox Elite 2 Controller
  • Logitech G29 Driving Force Racing Wheel, Pedals & Gear Stick
  • Oculus Rift S VR Headset

 

I have to say I’m really happy with this system and hope it will give me a good few years of top-end gaming. It boots in seconds and most benchmarks put it in the top 1 or 2% of PC’s around at the moment. Despite this it is also very quiet, even though it sits on my desk right next to me.

As I would have hoped given the specs it certainly plays every game out there with all settings on ultra with stupidly high frame-rates. It’s early days with ray-tracing though as only a handful of games support this feature at the moment.

It sounds amazing too. The ZxR is a terrific sound card and incorporates a plethora of inputs and outputs including RCA line outs, optical in and out plus a desktop ACM for headphone and microphone support. Coupled with the Edifier speakers it’s certainly the best audio I’ve heard from any computer system I’ve used.

One of the things I find somewhat ironic (and slightly saddening if I’m honest) is how good my PC is at emulating other systems. Back in the day I used to emulate both the Apple Mac (using ShapeShifter) and PC (using PCTask) on my Amiga 4000. It was an amazing feat at the time which never failed to impress, even if Windows 3.1 was pretty sluggish. PC’s at the time simply could not compete with this.

However, the tables have truly turned now. Now my PC can not only emulate the Amiga, but can actually become a far more powerful Amiga than I could ever have dreamed of back in the day. It can also emulate the Apple Mac, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo and Sega consoles and much more. It can run Virtual Machines running older versions of Windows, or completely different operating systems like Linux all without breaking a sweat. The sad thing is that the Amiga was well ahead of the PC when it launched… who knows how powerful it might have become today if Commodore hadn’t made such a mess of things.

It’s not perfect though and I do have a few niggles with it. For one, I wish I’d picked a case with a couple of 5.25″ drive bays so I could mount optical drives inside it. It seems drive bays are becoming a thing of the past now though as very few cases still include them. So instead I’ve got a couple of USB 3 external drives sat on top of the case to allow me burn discs and play my original physical copies of Diablo and Starcraft.

My other niggle is closely related to this. Even though my PC has 8 USB ports (6 on the back, 2 on top) that’s nowhere near enough. Even with the extra 4 USB ports from the expansion card I still needed a 7 port powered USB 3 hub to get everything I had hooked up. What I’d hoped would be a sleek, minimalist desktop PC has been compromised slightly by the external devices attached to it and their accompanying cables.

As any PC enthusiast will know – your build is never complete. That ‘must-have’ upgrade is always just around the corner calling to you like a siren of the sea. But for now I am content… at least until I see how much better the 3000 series Nvidia cards turn out to be when they launch…