August 10, 2005

Keyspan USB Print Server

About a week ago, my doorbell rings, and before I can get to the door I can hear a large truck driving off, and on the doorstep is a small box. It really irks me when delivery drivers just drop stuff on the porch, but when I found out it was a new goodie to review, I quickly forgot all about that and tore into the packaging.

Behold, the Keyspan PS-4A USB Print Server! Not to be confused with the older US-4A model, which looks identical, the new PS-4A model is bi-directional (printers that can report back ink/paper status can now do so), and includes full USB 2.0 connectivity.

So, just what is a USB print server, exactly? Basically, this will turn your USB based printer into a networkable TCP/IP based printer, sharable to every computer on your network. I know, some of you are probably thinking, hey, I've got a Mac, I can share my printer already. And of course, I was thinking the same thing, until I decided to take this little box for a spin.

The first thing I thought that would be handy is that you wouldn't need to leave a system running to keep your printer shared. The second thing I thought of was that you could print to your printer from an entirely different network over IP, either from a separate subnet in a corporate environment, or to your home system from elsewhere through your home router, something that Rendezvous, er, Bonjour, doesn't do. So, I set about to set things up and see how it all worked.

The box included a CD with software that installed easily on my Mac, and basically this will let you configure your Print Server, set it up with a static IP or use DHCP addressing, etc, etc, and will essentially make it appear to be a separate USB port on your Mac. A connected printer will immediately pop up in your Printer Setup Utility as an available printer with no configuration necessary, assuming you have the necessary drivers already installed for that model, very nice.

The PS-4A directly supports attaching 4 USB devices, but according to the documentation devices that happen to supply extra USB ports for pass-through (internal hubs) will let it chain up to 8 devices total off the one server. Personally, I don't see folks having that many USB printers all in the same spot, but still, nice to be expandable.

First thing I tested was a HP Deskjet 5550 at the office, plugged everything in per the directions, installed the software, and after launching their config utility, sure enough, the printer popped right up. One thing that I didn't care for was that the default setup must have the user 'connect' to their printer in this utility to make it available for use (basically make it unavailable to other users), they can then print, and finally free it up for others to use. Didn't seem very Mac-like, must be a Windows thing. Fortunately, they also include an auto-connect option, which just as it sounds, lets the Mac connect on the fly without checking out the printer first, and releases it once finished.

The big advantage of the new model printer server is that it is bi-directional, meaning that the printer can communicate back to the Mac, for things like paper and ink status. I was able to use HP's utility to get the status of my ink levels and other info, worked just like it was there on the USB bus.

I tested with a few other model printers at the office, several HP models, both Inkjet and a Laser, all worked as expected. So, I packed up my trusty HP 5550 and the PS-4A and brought them home, hooked it all up here, installed the software, and again things worked as expected. I then set up my router's firewall to port forward the particular port I had assigned the print server to the print server's IP address. I connected back to my work system, entered the IP address of where the print server was now located, and in a few moments had again established a connection to the server, but this time across the internet from my office to my home, through my router, and finally to the print server. As before, the HP 5550 popped right up, and another print job came through just fine.

This last test wasm for me, the most impressive. My particular router doesn't like my IP printer at home, or probably any standard IP printer. The router included an option on some models to hook a parallel printer up and print to it via IP, my model didn't include this port, but the router still hogged that port assignment just the same, making printing to a standard IP printer impossible through the router, so I could never print to my home printer from the office before. At last, I was able to send jobs through to a printer here, basically because the Keyspan server uses a non-standard port (reassignable by the user) for printing.

All in all, I was very pleased with this product. In addition to supporting printers, it also supports scanners, multi-function printers, storage devices, PDAs, digital cameras, etc., but no audio/video type devices. I hope to get my hands on one of the newer HP multifunction printers soon and give that a try with this server, HP sells ethernet adapters for several of their printers, but the price on those is much higher than the cost of this little box, and if it works just as well, why spend the money?

Keyspan is well known for their great products, and this looks like another winner for them.

Posted by Jim at August 10, 2005 4:17 PM | TrackBack