Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hands-on: Raspberry Pi Zero 3-Port USB Hub with Ethernet




The Raspberry Pi Zero has been a wonder since it was first introduced. So much power (and so much fun!) in such a small package. Ah, but there was the problem, too -- such a small package, that it didn't have room for very many connectors, and the ones that it had were smaller than the standard-sized connectors on the full-sized Pi models.

The biggest of these problems was with USB connections. The Pi Zero has only one USB port (yeah, I know it looks like there are two, but the other one is the power connection and you can't hijack it), and it is not even a standard Type-A port, it is a microUSB (also known as OTG or 'on the go'). That means that Pi Zero owners who needed to connect USB devices and dongles (who doesn't?) had to buy some kind of micro-to-TypeA adapter cable.

The other connector that is missing from the Pi Zero is a wired network connection. This was a significant problem with the original Pi Zero, because it also didn't have a built-in wireless network adapter. That meant you had to add a USB wi-fi adapter, but there was only one USB port, and it was microUSB... (see discussion above).

This is a bit less of a problem with the Pi Zero W, because it has a built-in wi-fi adapter, but even with that a lot of users still want or need a wired network connection (including me).


micro-USB to 3-Port Type A USB plus RJ45 Ethernet

So I was quite pleased when I noticed this new accessory specifically made for the Raspberry Pi Zero.

It as a microUSB connector, so it eliminates the need for the adapter cable mentioned above; it has three Type-A USB ports, so for example you can connect a keyboard, mouse, and wi-fi dongle; and it has an RJ-45 10/100 Ethernet connection.

I have tested it on all three types of Pi Zero (1.2, 1.3, and W), and it worked perfectly every time. No special installation or configuration required, just plug it in and it is ready to go.

There is also a power connection on the adapter, so you can add an external power supply to it if you need to connect USB devices with higher power requirements (external USB disk drives and such). The power supply itself is not included.

Oh, and something else that I didn't see mentioned anywhere, it also includes network Link and Activity LEDs, so you can see what the status of the wired network connection is.

The only thing I have seen which comes close to the functionality of this adapter is the Broadcom wi-fi/USB adapter, which I wrote about quite some time ago. It has two USB Type A ports and in integrated WiFi adapter - but it is itself a Type-A device, so you still have to use a micro-USB to Type-A adapter of some sort.

UPDATE: I didn't include a link to the product because it is easily available at all the authorized Raspberry Pi distributors, and I assumed that anyone who wants it would get it from whichever distributor is closest / most convenient for them. I got mine from the Pi-Shop.ch, of course, but I have also seen it at Adafruit and Pimoroni.

I honestly don't know who manufacturers it. There is absolutely no name, part number, serial number or other identification on the one that I got. The only writing on it says "1Port USB Network with 3Port USB HUB". If you just look at your favorite Pi distributor, I'm sure you'll find it with no problem. One small thing to be careful about - this device also exists with a standard Type-A plug, rather than the OTG plug, presumably for use on non-Zero Raspberry Pi systems.




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