Ted on Tech

The accounting professional's power port jungle

For the average professional — especially one who commutes daily — power ports have become indispensable. From the office desk to the car or train, to the home desk, to bedside, ports are ubiquitous for the various devices needed to keep personal and professional lives in order.

Somehow, I never seem to have enough ports, especially USB ports. Part of that is the form-factor of the PCs that I’ve switched to: Intel NUCs (Next Unit of Computing). I’ve written about these tiny four by four-inch PCs before in this space, and I can’t seem to stop building them. The ones I build usually have a total of four ports — two in front and two in the rear. That’s not a lot when two of these ports are taken for a wired keyboard (right now, a Logitech mechanical) and wired mouse (likewise a Logitech unit). Things are the same or even worse on the laptops I sometimes use.

That’s why I have a tendency to try out new USB hubs and other adapters. The one I’m currently using on my production machine is a Kensington UH7000C. It’s a small seven-port powered USB 3.0 hub, which comes with its own wall art power adapter and can crank out a hefty four Amps of power. That’s more than enough for my use, but lets me attach my Dymo label printer, LG USB DVD burner, Epson desktop scanner, a 3D printer, and still have plenty of ports left to plug in the occasionally flash drive. It costs about $60, and I may pick up another one to travel with, since I generally travel with a host of devices. Each of these, including an iPhone, iWatch, and Kindle Fire tablet, has its own power block, and I always have another one or two power blocks with me “just in case.” And that’s before the morass of cables, microUSB, Lightning, and a Belkin iWatch cable, that I also travel with. If it gets any worse, I’ll have to pack a larger bag and use checked luggage, something I try hard to avoid.

Power port
A worker displays a JAQ fuel-cell charger, manufactured by MyFuelCell, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. Mobile World Congress, an annual phone-industry event organized by GSMA Ltd., runs from Feb 22 to Feb 25. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

One of those power supplies is a new Puregear USB PD USB-C Wall Charger. If you haven’t run across USB-C, it’s an emerging standard. While its used on an increasing number of Mac products, it’s also the same cable as a Mini DisplayPort or ThunderBolt 3 connector. The advantage to a device like the Puregear (which incidentally, requires yet another different cable) is that it outputs power at a higher current rate. The one I have is a $45 single-port wall charger and can put out up to 24 watts. Considering the average wall power supply these days is about five to 10 watts, that’s a large difference. The big difference comes with devices such as the newer iPhones and other smartphone and tablets that can fast charge when connected to one of these. Puregear claims it will charge a capable device up to four times faster than a standard charger. I haven’t actually timed it (it’s a task I’ll leave until I’m utterly bored with what’s on my to-do list), but it does charge my iPhone Xs noticeably faster than the wall wart the phone came with.

Speaking of Mac devices, at a recent press event, Kingston slipped me one of their Nucleum hubs. While it is basically aimed at Mac users, it’s actually a very capable (and at $45, affordable) USB-C hub. You can connect up to seven devices, it has two USB 2.0 ports, two USB-C ports, an HDMI port, power delivery pass-through up to 60 watts, and a reader that lets you use an SD or microSD card. I actually have it connected to an Intel NUC sitting on another desk.

One monitor per eye?

Over the past year or so, I’ve become a big fan of dual-monitor setups. I admit — I’m a bit late to the party on this, but I’ve had to work with both documents and spreadsheets, going back and forth. Having the document on a large 24-inch display and the spreadsheet on a slightly smaller 19-inch display to the side greatly improved my productivity. I was fortunate in that my little PC had both HDMI and Mini DisplayPort jacks. A Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable and the DisplayLink utility later, and both monitors were up and running and I was in business. I’m so taken with having two monitors, I’m thinking of adding yet another. My little PC doesn’t have a third port, but I have an USB-C Dual 4K HDMI Adapter from iogear sitting in the box calling out to me. It plugs into a type C USB port (which is also a Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt-3 port) and has two standard HDMI ports. It doesn’t require a power adapter, and it’s only $35. Of course, I’ll have to lay out a bit more than that to buy yet another monitor, and clear a lot of the clutter off of my desk, a major task, but if two displays are good, then three displays…

I’ll let you know how it goes.