I love my Mac mini, except for one thing: its paucity of USB and FireWire ports. It’s got only a single FireWire port, which means if I want to connect more than one FireWire device, I’ve got to daisy-chain—assuming those devices offer multiple FireWire ports themselves. And with only two USB ports, once I’ve plugged in my keyboard, I’m down to a single port for peripherals (and USB devices generally don’t provide multiple ports for daisy-chaining).
So I’ve been on the lookout for good USB/FireWire hubs. Normally this wouldn’t be much of a challenge, as there are literally hundreds of decent hubs on the market. But I’ve got a Mac mini, and I don’t want to spoil its attractive design and small footprint. This narrows down the options quite a bit. In fact, so far I’ve found only a single hub that provides what I’ve been looking for: Belkin’s just released—and descriptively-named— Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and FireWire 6-Port Hub for Mac® mini ( ). The Belkin hub is Mac-mini-matching in every way: Its got the same footprint as the Mac mini, so it fits directly under it without taking up any additional desk space; at only 3/4” tall, it doesn’t add a lot of bulk; and it’s finished in white plastic, so it looks right at home.
The Hub connects to your Mac mini’s FireWire port and one of its USB ports via included cables. Belkin got the details right here, as the cables are only 6” in length—just long enough to connect your mini to the Hub without adding to your cable clutter. Once connected, the Hub provides four USB 2.0 ports (a net increase of three) and two FireWire 400 ports (a net increase of one)—you end up with five available USB ports instead of two and two available FireWire ports instead of one. Even better, one of each type of port is located on the front of the Hub, making it much more convenient to connect “temporary” devices such as digital cameras, DV camcorders, flash drives, iPod shuffles, and portable hard drives.
One drawback to Belkin’s Mac mini Hub is that, unlike some other USB or FireWire hubs, it doesn’t provide its own power—any devices plugged into the Hub get their power from your Mac mini’s USB and FireWire ports. In my experience, powered hubs help prevent problems with devices that draw too much power, so I generally prefer self-powered hubs to bus-powered models. That being said, in a month of using the Belkin Hub, I haven’t experienced a single issue.
At its MSRP of $59, Belkin’s Hub for Mac mini is a bit pricey compared to other USB hubs. But you also gain an extra FireWire port and a design that’s unmatched at matching your mini. And if you browse the various price search sites such as PriceGrabber and Shopper.com, you can find the Belkin Hub for as low as $30. At that price, it’s a bargain.
(If you don’t need an extra FireWire port, Belkin also makes a USB-only model, the $41 Hi-Speed USB 2.0 4-Port Hub for Mac mini, which plugs into one of your Mac mini’s USB ports and provides four additional ports, for a net gain of three.)