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Upgrade USB 1.1 to USB 2.0 on an Old Computer

How to upgrade to USB 2.0 on your old desktop computer or laptop/notebook

Published Sep 30, 2005 by lobo235
Last updated on Oct 13, 2008

There are all kinds of new USB devices out there that use USB 2.0 technology. These devices are compatible with your old USB 1.1 computer in most cases but to take advantage of the speed increase that USB 2.0 has to offer, you will need to upgrade your computer to USB 2.0. In this article I will tell you how to do the upgrade from USB 1.1 to USB 2.0 and I will also tell you some of the reasons why you should upgrade.

Why do I need to upgrade if my device works fine with USB 1.1?

If your device is working on USB 1.1 you don't need to upgrade. There are some good reasons why you should upgrade though. For starters, USB 1.1 can achieve a top speed of 12 Mbps and USB 2.0 achieves a much higher 480 Mbps. That means that USB 2.0 can potentially be up to 40 times faster than USB 1.1. Of course this also depends on how fast your particular device was designed to go. With most USB 2.0 capable devices, however, you will see a big difference between plugging it into a USB 1.1 port and a USB 2.0 port. Also, USB 2.0 is going to stick around for a while so by upgrading now, you are preparing yourself to be able to use next-generation devices at the USB speed they are designed for.

Alright, so how do I upgrade then?

Laptop / Notebook Computers

Most laptops have a PCMCIA expansion slot that allows you to add new functionality to the laptop. There are USB 2.0 PCMCIA cards that you can use to add USB 2.0 to your older laptop. Amazon has an excellent variety of PCMCIA USB 2.0 Adapters that are affordable and very easy to install and use.

Desktop Computers

USB 2.0 can easily be added to a computer using a USB 2.0 PCI card. These cards are relatively cheap and they can be found in almost any computer store. You can even find USB 2.0 PCI cards at Walmart. The cards will typically have 3 - 5 ports on them. These ports are setup so that you will have to plug your USB devices into the back of the computer. There are some kits you can buy that will allow you to have USB ports on the front of your computer using one of your drive bays. I recommend getting a USB 2.0 hub instead of a kit that adds USB ports to the front of your computer. A USB 2.0 hub can be placed in even more convenient places like on top of your desk. A USB hub is also a good way to get more USB ports if you happen to run out.

I have never seen the inside of my computer. How am I supposed to install a PCI card?

First off, you will need to shut down your computer and then unplug it from the wall. Now, figure out how to open up your computer case. This can be difficult because computer cases are not created equal. Some cases will require you to use tools (usually a phillips screwdriver) and some are tool-less. Something important to note is that static electricity will ruin your computer. Be sure to discharge any static electricity you have on something besides your computer before touching any of the internal areas of the computer. Once you get the case open you need to check to make sure that you have an unused PCI slot inside your computer. A typical PCI slot is white and looks like this:

A typical PCI slot

If you don't have an unused PCI slot you have two options: You can get rid of an old PCI device to free up a slot (example: get rid of your PCI modem if you have broadband now) or you can go out and purchase a new computer (which will most likely already have USB 2.0 built in). The back of the computer will most likely have some metal placeholders used to cover unused slots so that dust does not have an easy way to get into the case. If your computer has these you will need to remove the metal placeholder that corresponds to the empty PCI slot you want to use. Then, gently put your USB PCI card into the PCI slot being sure to push it in evenly so nothing breaks. Secure the metal backplate of your PCI card to the case using the screw (or other device) that was holding the placeholder in. Close the computer case, plug in the computer, and turn it on. Once your operating system comes up, install any drivers that came with the PCI card so that your operating system knows how to communicate with the USB 2.0 PCI card. After the drivers have been installed you have now completed the upgrade so go ahead and plug in all your high-speed USB 2.0 devices and see the difference.

Some of the devices that will benefit the most from the USB 1.1 to 2.0 upgrade are as follows:

  • USB 2.0 External Hard Drives
  • USB 2.0 Flash Memory Readers
  • MP3 Players including Apple's iPod
  • USB 2.0 Thumb Drives

Good luck with the upgrade and feel free to leave feedback about this article.

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