The other connections possible with the FrontLinker include an eSATA, an IEEE 1394a port, a 6.3mm Karaoke microphone port and a single USB port. Honestly we would have hoped for another USB and the absence of a headphone connection seems almost ludicrous for a selection like this.
Admittedly, the focus of the FrontLinker is clearly on providing a variety of connections for portable devices, but we use headphones and USB ports every day and we can't remember the last time we plugged a Karaoke microphone into a PC.
The panel for the FrontLinker, though weak at the hinge, is still fairly well designed and even has a little half centimetre gap for fingers to get round when opening it. Extended cables can also be channelled through this gap so that the door can be closed when the magic cables are in use, though we wouldn't suggest you risk putting extra pressure on the panel's flimsy hinges.
Installation and usage
Installing the Asus FrontLinker was a simple affair, requiring only an empty 5.25" drive bay and a screwdriver with which to remove the side of the case. The manual that the FrontLinker came with walked us through the process quickly and with little trouble as it was simply a matter or linking up cables.
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Fortunately, we installed the FrontLinker in a black Cooler Master Mystique 632
, so the black of the FrontLinker went with it quite well. The model we were fiddling with would probably look a little out of place on a white case.
Using the FrontLinker is simple and it doesn't require any drivers or software to run as it's essentially a card reader with a few extra ports helpfully tagged on. It also has a small green LED that lights up when cards are inserted in it – good to know if your case is filled with blue LEDs that may cause unfashionable colour clashes.
We should also point out that the card readers don't allow the whole card to be inserted. The Compact Flash card reader for example leaves about a centimetre of card poking out the front, which you can obviously tug on to remove the card. It won't be an issue for most, but if your case has a door with very little room between it and the front of the case then you'll have to be sure you've taken the cards out before you slam the door shut. That is unless you like hammering CF cards into the front of your rig.
So, what do we think of the Asus FrontLinker?
Well, the FrontLinker isn't a bad piece of kit and if, like me, you're always scrounging for card readers or searching for a spare USB port then the FrontLinker will save you some headaches.
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The problem is while FrontLinker doesn't really do anything wrong, it doesn't really do anything very well either. It's got a good selection of ports for day-to-day use, but it hasn't got more than one of any of the most popular and is missing a headphones port altogether. It's got some handy retractable cables for portable devices, but the door will break off if you try to use them. It can recharge your iPod and cameras for you, but these devices all come with recharge packs and cables anyway.
The FrontLinker is useful for those that think they'll really need something like this and want a good looking panel attached to the front of their computer, but those people could easily buy a cheap external card reader and USB hub instead. With these, you could then use the cables that came with your iPod (and other devices). It might save you a fiver and you can use that kit on the go, if needs be.
At just over thirty pounds in the UK
, but with no US pricing available, we think the FrontLinker is a fairly decent price, though external readers and connections may be cheaper and offer more versatility as long as you don't mind carrying them around.
Ultimately, the FrontLinker is a solid enough product but it just doesn't bring anything new to a market already saturated with cheap card readers and iPod docks. What little it does have going for it is let down by a lack of headphone support and a breakable front panel.
What do these scores mean?
- Build Quality