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Icron WiRanger Wi-Fi connected USB hub

USB-over-Wi-Fi, anyone?

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Review The whole point of wireless is the freedom to connect to something from anywhere within an area rather than from a single, specific place. Icron's WiRanger wireless USB hub system stumbles at the first hurdle. Yes, its two units - the hub and the box that connects to your computer - link wirelessly, but both need mains-power feeds. Good for desktops, then, but not for a laptop-friendly experience.

Icron WiRanger Rex
Icron's WiRanger: the Rex module is a four-port hub

The first of the two WiRanger boxes - dubbed the Lex, for Local EXtender - is a small, metal unit with activity LEDs on the front and, round the back, an antenna, a printer-style USB port and the power connector. The Rex - the Remote EXtender - is almost identical: it lacks the rear USB port, but has four standard USB sockets on the front instead. Both are well made, with a solid, hand-built quality.

Icron promises true plug and play, and WiRanger delivers. Power up the Lex then connect it to a spare USB port on your computer and it's ready to go. Place the Rex up to 30m away, power it on, and the two units almost immediately register each other's presence and establish a link.

The only driver software to install is that required by whatever devices you plan to plug into the hub, so the WiRanger set will work with PCs, Macs and Linux systems.

The Rex and the Lex communicate using 802.11g Wi-Fi, so there's plenty of potential for interference in the crowded 2.4GHz band in which they operate. In out tests, we kept the two units about 4m apart, more to facilitate easy plugging and unplugging of USB devices than anything else, and we left the WiRanger modules in their default Wi-Fi channel, 1, already well away from the channel used by our wireless router. The Lex and Rex are factory-paired and designed to operate only with each other - not even with extra WiRanger boxes in the vicinity. The units' SSID isn't broadcast, so there's no chance of ordinary computer users in the neighbourhood accidentally connecting to them using other Wi-Fi kit.

With the Lex hooked up to a MacBook Pro, we connected an Elgato Turbo.264 h.264 video encoding accelerator - reviewed here - along with a USB Flash drive and an iPod Nano. The drive mounted on the Mac OS X desktop in seconds, closely followed by the Nano and the accompanying launch of iTunes. Firing up the Turbo.264's control app revealed it could 'see' the hardware as well as if the dongle had been connected directly to the computer. From a device perspective, it's as if the WiRanger boxes are invisible.

Copying songs over to the iPod was visibly slower than operating, but not slow as to be impractical and still faster, it seemed, than USB 1.1. Alas, the Turbo.264 refused to encode video across the link, throwing up an error. To be fair, software and hardware are tightly coupled and assume a faster, more stable link than the WiRanger, connecting by Wi-Fi, can provide.

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