While USB has replaced the confusing array of keyboard, mouse, printer, and modem ports once found on older PCs, USB isn’t completely standard. Type B, 5-pin mini-B, 4-pin mini-B, and mini-A ports are just some of the variations that can frustrate you if you don’t have the right cable on hand, or if you’re suffering the woes of too short a USB cable. An interchangeable-tip USB cable and connector kit is a great way to help keep the USB cable woes away. Vendors such as Emerge Tech (http://www.emergeretail.com), Belkin (http://www.belkin.com), and GE licensee Jasco Products (http://www.jascoproducts.com) sell various types of USB cable kits, some of which also include RJ-11 and RJ-45 connectors so you can also use your cable as a replacement for a telephone modem or network cable (see Figure 1). To save space, some kits include retractable cables.
Figure 1 This GE-branded USB cable kit from Jasco Products features the most common sizes of USB connections.
USB 3.0 devices use different cables, and even though new USB 3.0 drives include USB 3.0 cables, watch out for problems if you try to run a USB 3.0 portable drive (they draw their power from the USB 3.0 port) on some laptops, especially those with ExpressCard adapters. If you can’t get the drive to spin up, you need to get a USB 3.0 Y cable that uses a second USB 2.0 or 3.0 port for additional power.
Vendors such as Calvary Storage (http://www.cavalrystorage.com/cbusb20002.aspx), Oyen Digital (http://oyendigital.com/hard-drives/store/USB-3-Y-CABLE.html) and others offer low-cost solutions to your power problem.
Some other low-cost connectivity solutions to consider include couplers for RJ-45 Ethernet cables (be sure to get CAT5e or 6 to enable reliable Gigabit Ethernet performance), USB Type B to 5-pin mini-B USB adapters (this is becoming the standard for cell phones and mobile electronics), and USB hubs.
As I have written elsewhere, I don’t recommend bus-powered USB hubs unless they will be used only for keyboards and mice. If you’re picking up a hub for use with USB hard disks or flash memory drives, be sure to get one that includes an AC adapter so there’s a full 500mA of power per port (bus-powered hubs only provide 100mA per port).
If you do a lot of presentations with a laptop, consider picking up an extender cable for the 1/8-inch (aka 3.5mm) mini-jack used for speakers and headsets. I almost dumped my laptop on the floor recently because the speaker cable coming out of the HDTV used for the presentation was too short. Radio Shack’s 42-2562 cable provides 20 feet of additional 1/8-inch (3.5mm) audio line, and other vendors offer different lengths to suit your requirements.