You know the situation – all the USB ports on the back of your case are tied up and you haven't got a USB hub to hand. It's something we find happening to us on a daily basis and there never seems to be enough ports to plug in a card reader when you need one. It wouldn't be such an issue for me personally, but someone pinched the extra ports that formerly resided in the top of my Cooler Master Mystique and I've been left with two less USB ports than normal and the need to plug the headphones in the back of the case.
Thankfully, Asus has provided a rather elegant solution in the form of the FrontLinker. Given my port-related poverty, I leapt at the chance to review the FrontLinker, hoping it would solve my problems and mean I'd never need to switch my USB cables around again.
What does it do?
The Asus FrontLinker is a front panel port replicator that sits in an empty 5.25" drive bay and lets portable devices interface with the computer. To this end it has five card reader slots that can take Compact Flash, Smart Media, Memory Stick, Secure Digital and MMC cards without the need for an external reader – handy for photographers everywhere then.
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The FrontLinker also has a handful of 'magic' features that will be useful for everyone. The magic cables are all hidden away behind a panel that flips down when pushed and are all retractable. The magic cables are all strong enough to take a fair few tugs, so you don't need to worry about knocking your devices off the table while they are connected.
The magic cables can be a bit fiddly to get out sometimes and forcing them to retract back in requires a bit of a knack sometimes, but they provide some good functions. The cables offer an iPod connection, a generic MP3-in and a miniUSB. The miniUSB and iPod cables allow the connected devices to be charged even when the PC is turned off which can prove quite useful, as well as allowing files to be downloaded and uploaded to the PC. The latter obviously only works when the PC is on though.
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The iPod connection, which we suspect would see the most use of all the cables, is unfortunately the weak point in the bunch. Not only does it lack a little pull-tag with which to yank it out by like the other two do, but it's also located a little too close to the hinge of the covering panel. While fiddling about trying to get the iPod cable extended we managed to accidentally knock the door off twice, something which didn't really fill us with confidence about the build quality.
The magic cables are all a decent length, which means users don't have to worry about dangling their devices from them.