Gefen Wireless 2.0 USB Extender
Review

On October 31, 2007, in Network, Review, Wireless, by David Weeks

Gefen Wireless 2.0 USB Extender (4 port)
Gefen, Inc.

www.gefen.com
US $399.00

Would you like to have your USB peripherals, especially shared printers, located away from different users’ computers?

If so, you should check out this accessory from Gefen, Inc., that allows up to four printers and other USB devices to be located away from your computers.

The Weeks Division of MyMac.com Labs had a chance to evaluate the new Gefen Wireless 2.0 USB Extender (4 port). Here’s what we found after using a review unit for several days.

The Wireless USB 2.0 Extender (Extender for short, as I don’t want to type that long name again and again) is actually two devices; the first is a Wi-Fi transmitter that sends the USB signals. The second is an 802.11 receiver that receives the Wi-Fi signal, and send data via USB to up to four USB devices.

The transmitter and receiver were both small boxes, each with with a small antenna. Both are solidly constructed. No additional software was needed. That’s a plus!

Installation was mostly straightforward:

1) Connect the transmitter to the Macintosh with the supplied USB cable/ Plug the transmitter into a power outlet with the wallwart power supply.
2) Plug the remote receiver into a power outlet with the wallwart power supply.
3) Connect the USB accessory you wish to use to the receiver’s USB port.

Gefen’s manual was rather skimpy, given that this is a $400 device. One common pitfall of having multiple wireless transmitters on the same network is channel interference. Fortunately, we did not have to switch 802.11 channels, as the Extender’s default channel did not conflict with our Apple Airport Extreme’s, but if it had conflicted, the manual’s instructions would have been rather cryptic for a networking newbie to follow. Better instructions, please!

Initially, the Macintosh did not recognize the Extender’s transmitter. According to the manual, rebooting is not required after connecting the transmitter. However, we had to reboot to get the Mac to see the Extender transmitter, which should be recognized as a USB High-speed hub by the Apple System Profiler application.

Our first USB victim was an HP PhotoSmart 7280 All-In-One printer/scanner/copier. The receiver was located about 15 feet from the transmitter.

Fellow tester John Nemo and I thought the wireless gods were smiling on us when the first test page printed flawlessly, and in short order. But we were disappointed and confused when subsequent print jobs failed. Rebooting would get another print job accomplished, but each succeeding print attempt failed.

We suspected printer driver problems due to the slower data transmission rate via the Extender than direct USB. HP’s driver’s -are- notable touchy.

Scanning performance via the Extender was very slow, but functional.

After our disappointing experience with the HP, we went with our fallback printer, a Brother HL-2040 USB laser printer. I’ve used this cheapie printer for over a year, and it is bulletproof. Two words describe it: fast and cheap. Print quality is not bad, either.

The Extender and the HL-2040 cooperated perfectly. Printing was almost as fast as direct USB connection.

After this successful test, we moved the HL-2040 to another room about 35 feet away, with two thick masonry walls between the transmitter and the receiver. Performance was slower, with the print job taking almost twice as long to spool, but it did complete perfectly.

Don’t think the Extender is going to reduce your cable count. The transmitter and receiver each need a wallwart power supply, in addition to the USB cable at each end, so you end up with more total cable clutter, even though remote devices are out of the room. Whatever is connected to the receiver will need its own AC socket, so make sure you’ve plenty of power outlets handy.

So, how much do you want to spend to move USB peripherals (probably printers) to other rooms, to make it easier to share them? Do you want to spend $400?

Alternative (and cheaper) wireless solutions include printer sharing from an Apple Airport base station. However, the Airport Base station solution can only accommodate one printer. The Extender can handle up to four USB devices simultaneously.

Conclusion

The Gefen Wireless 2.0 USB Extender (4 port) worked as advertised, although we had trouble printing to an HP PhotoSmart 7280. The manual needs a a rewrite by a good tech writer, and should be printed on glossy stock with better graphics. As The Extender is costly, no doubt a about it. If you need more than what Apple’s printer sharing via Airport can provide, look into this unit. Don’t expect full performance for remote scanning, and be aware that we had issues printing to HP multi-function printers. Plain-vanilla USB printers worked very well.

MyMac rating 3.5 out of 5

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