Get a USB 3.0 hub plus Gigabit Ethernet with Kanex's DualRole

Even though shipping Macs have sported USB 3.0 ports for more than half a year, compatible USB 3.0 hubs have been thin on the ground. Expanding those 4.8 Gbps ports would make better use of all that bandwidth, and the increased bus power (900mA vs. 500mA for the older USB 2.0 standard) is perfect for juicing multiple devices. What about a Gigabit Ethernet port, too? That would be sweet.

Indeed, the Kanex DualRole hub delivers precisely that package -- a three-port USB 3.0 SuperSpeed hub, and a Gigabit Ethernet port besides. The combination means that you can free up ports on your current-gen Mac, especially on the Retina MBP or the MacBook Air if you need to plug into Ethernet; you can claw back either a USB port or a Thunderbolt port that would have normally been used for networking.

Kanex is announcing and demoing the DualRole at Macworld/iWorld this week. In my hands-on time with the DualRole, I noted appreciatively that it includes a pigtail USB 3.0 connector built in; finding the correct cable to connect a hub might prove frustrating when most of your cable inventory is USB 2.0. That 3-inch cable tucks into the side of the compact gray and white unit (about three-fourths the length of an iPhone 5, and about twice as thick) when not in use.

The three expansion USB ports are all on one of the long sides, with a fair amount of space between them to accomodate wider flash drives or other peripherals. There's a 5V power input for an optional AC adapter (not included with the hub), but I was able to power a standard 4GB flash drive and a LaCie rugged USB 3.0 hard drive simultaneously off the hub without external power and with no problems.

While the USB ports on the hub are entirely plug and play, the Gigabit Ethernet port isn't quite configuration-free. Using the port requires a quick driver install and a reboot on either OS X or Windows; the driver is downloadable from Kanex's product page for the DualRole. Once I installed the driver, the Ethernet adapter showed up immediately in the Network preference pane.

The DualRole is available now from Kanex's online store for US$69.00. If you're looking for a USB 3.0 hub that's easy to pack and adds networking savvy on the side, it's a find.