Port Access

One of the most common criticisms of Apple’s Power Mac “tower” computers over the years has been the lack of front-panel ports and jacks—you have to reach behind (or, if your Power Mac is on the floor, crawl behind) the computer in order to plug in or unplug external accessories such as hard drives, printers, scanners, speakers, and microphones. Sure, for things that are plugged in perpetually, having the ports in the back makes sense as it keeps messy cable clutter out of sight. But nowadays, “temporary” peripherals—those that you only connect while you’re actually using them, such as digital cameras, portable hard drives, headphones, and microphones—are much more common. Apple received high praise for (finally!) including FireWire 400, USB, and headphone ports (one of each) on the front of the Power Mac G5, but the truth is that Windows PCs have had such convenience features for years. (Not to mention that access to the other ports is still limited to the back panel and that owners of older Mac are still stuck with all their ports in the rear.)

For years I got around this limitation by buying extension cables that I plugged into the ports on the back of the computer and then snaked onto my desk so I could quickly plug/unplug devices. But I’ve finally found a more elegant solution in Marathon Computer’s $59 RePorter (   ). Put simply, the RePorter is an extension cord for your ports. At one end are five plugs—USB, FireWire 400, FireWire 800, headphone/audio-out, and audio-in—that you connect to the ports on the back of your Power Mac, iMac, or eMac. (In theory, you can also use the RePorter with PowerBooks and iBooks, but you won’t be able to simultaneously use all the ports on models that have these ports divided between the two sides of the laptop.) At the other end of the 5-foot (1.5-meter) cable is a 3” globe with a flat face that provides six ports: one each of FireWire 400, FireWire 800, headphone/audio-out, and audio-in as well as two USB (which support USB2.0 if the RePorter’s USB plug is connected to a USB2.0 port).

 

RePorter image

 

Once connected, you can place the RePorter’s port-equipped body on your desk, on top of your computer, or anywhere else you’d like to be able to quickly connect/disconnect accessories. You obviously “lose” one each of these ports on the back of your Mac, but if you don’t need easy access to a particular port or prefer to use the one in back, you can simply choose not to connect the RePorter to that port. A nice touch is the RePorter’s internal light, which casts a subtle blue glow around the ports on the body—making them easier to identify in the dark—when the RePorter is connected to a USB port on your computer.

My only significant complaint about the RePorter is that its body is round, so it has a tendency to roll around a bit when sitting on a desk or on top of a computer. I would have preferred a flat base or—even better—a hexagonal shape so that the user could decide which edge should be the “bottom.” I also found the USB ports to have a rather tight fit. But these are minor issues. I’ve been waiting for something like the RePorter for a long time. It’s one of those “Why didn’t anyone else do this before?” products that provides an important feature: convenience.

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