While many notebook buyers are getting large desktop replacement units destined to spend most of their lives on a desk, most of us still buy a notebook with the intention of moving it around a good deal, often between home, office and other locales. It’s a little bit of a pain to plug in everything we need at each stop; that is assuming your notebook has enough ports for everything you use anyway. That’s why docking stations are popular, because they help ease the hassle of being mobile. This dock from Targus has many upgrades though, one of the most promising being video over USB.
In case you’re not familiar with the concept of a universal docking station, it works like this. The docking station plugs into the wall to power itself. All your devices, like a printer, mouse, keyboard, sync cable, speakers, microphone, etc. plug into the docking station. All of those condense into one USB cable connection to your machine. So in the end you plug in power, a single USB cord and monitor into your computer each time, instead of those three plus all the peripherals. This unit from Targus is a little different though in that it offers video over USB as well, reducing the cable connections to two.
This docking station is the only one on the market to include video over USB. The good news is that you reduce a cable connection to your notebook and the docking station supports a variety of different modes and settings. The bad news though, is that it only supports a maximum resolution 1280 x 1024 and 16-bit color. The resolution isn’t really a problem, it’s certainly acceptable for a product like this, but the 16-bit color is a killer. Normal video quality is 32-bit, so the end result is something that looks washed out with little color contrast.
The other problem is that USB 2.0 only has a limited amount of throughput available. When you use several accessories there is a possibility of slowdown, something that occurs more frequently when you add the monitor to the mix. I really like the innovation and the options to use an external monitor as primary, extended or mirror, but the color quality kills the deal for me. A little lag I can take, but 16-bit color apparently I can’t.
The video over USB is a new feature though and isn’t a make or break for this product. It’s something that’s there if you want it, but it’s easy enough to pass on. Here’s a rundown of the ports the docking station offers:
- 2 USB 2.0 standard ports (white)
- 2 USB 2.0 powered ports (black, providing up to an Amp)
- 15-pin VGA (Supports 1024 x 1024 16-bit color)
- RJ-45 Ethernet 10/100
- Two 3.5mm audio jacks (1 stereo out, 1 microphone in)
- RS232 Serial Port
All of these funnel down to one USB cord that connects to your notebook. Beyond the ports, the dock is designed to have your machine rest on it, elevating the bottom for better ventilation and tilting the keyboard for more ergonomic typing, if you don’t use an external keyboard while docked. The top of the dock has rubber feet to keep the notebook in place.
The Targus docking station has a few more tricks up its sleeve as well. The dock has what’s called a global suspend mode. When the notebook goes to sleep, the docking station goes too, to conserve power. When your machine wakes again, the dock fires back up on its own. In some cases though, you might not want the USB ports to power off. I like to be able to trickle charge devices like PDAs over USB, so this is important. Targus gives you the option of leaving the two black USB ports powered even in standby to alleviate this concern.
The bottom line is this dock is easy to set up, offers plenty of ports and has well thought out bonuses that others don’t. I’ve used this product every day for the past month and really enjoy it. I never thought much of plugging in all the cables, and even though this only gets me down to three, there’s enough of a hassle savings for it to be worthwhile. The connection to the dock can slow since the throughput of is limited by USB 2.0, but I rarely found such delays (without monitor or Ethernet), and even when they occurred they lasted only a few seconds.
- Video over USB
- 2 USB ports with extra power (great for external optical drives, printers)
- Smart extra features
- All accessories convert to one USB input
- Video over USB is only 16-bit
- Occasional lag when a lot of devices are in use at the same time
The Targus universal notebook docking station with video is the most full-featured universal dock on the market and worth the investment if you’re looking to simplify connections every time to you return to home base, wherever that is.