GOING PLACES

GOING PLACES<@VM>These 29 docking products will give you the right connection



As docking stations and port replicators become standard across product lines, you can reduce your total cost of ownership

By David Essex

Special to GCN

Most notebook computer reviews make little more than passing mention of docking stations and port replicators, the optional devices that provide a permanent desktop connection for mobile PCs. But a clear understanding of docking products can help government information technology managers save money, improve convenience for users and allocate resources with greater flexibility.

Docking products are at least getting more attention from major notebook vendors. Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp. and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., for example, are working to make their docks and port replicators more universal across their product lines, according to the three companies.

The move will reduce the manufacturers' costs as well as simplify purchasing and maintenance for buyers. Hewlett-Packard Co. says it has already done this with what it calls the first cross-product family of docking devices for its Omnibook line.

Docking products break down into fairly neat categories. Lowest in price and simplest in function are port replicators. These lightweight attachments duplicate the main ports and connectors of the notebook.

They provide basic connections to desktop mainstays that cannot or should not be moved, such as the monitor, printer, and often a mouse and keyboard.

Port replicators lack room for half-size PC boards but occasionally have PC Card slots that can hold a token-ring or Ethernet card for patching the notebook into the agency's network. Some port replicators include an RJ-45 jack that works with Ethernet circuitry in the notebook itself or in chips inside the replicator.

Docking stations supplement port replication with more desktop PC features that notebooks typically lack, such as slots for PC Cards, bays for a second hard drive, floppy drive or optical drive, and peripheral connectors that are too big to fit on the notebook, such as SCSI ports.

They typically also provide a locking mechanism that adds stability and security against theft. Docking stations also offer optional monitor stands, which let you place the display directly above the CPU for a more PC-like setup. Some also provide a place for recharging batteries that have been removed from the notebook.

The main drawback of docking stations is their steep price'typically $500 to $800, which is two to three times the price of a port replicator and even approaches the cost of a low-end PC.


























Five reasons to buy a docking station
Desktop-class expandability: Many so-called desktop replacement notebooks cannot live up to the title without the help of the normal-size expansion slots and extra drive bays that a full-size docking station provides.
Network connection: Placing a standard half-height Ethernet card in a docking station can be an easier, cheaper and faster-performing alternative to equipping a notebook with a PC Card network connection.
Cable management: Keeping one end of the notebook link always connected saves users time and reduces the likelihood of damage to cables and other hardware. Port replicators provide this at about one-third the price of docking stations.
Total cost of ownership: Besides making it possible for one computer to serve each user's office and mobile computing needs, docking stations that work with more than one notebook model can be less complicated to maintain and more receptive to changes in personnel, location and notebook fleets.
Security: Most docking stations have locks and passwords that make it difficult for thieves to walk off with a notebook or gain unauthorized access.




All in one

A third type of docking device, a hybrid usually called a minidock, ministation or convenience base, may provide a more convenient, ramplike connection to replicated ports.

Minidocks occasionally have room for a drive bay or half-size board, but they don't have as many of them as docking stations do, and they lack locking devices and monitor stands.

They're close in price and functionality to port replicators that have added Ethernet capability.

Some mininotebooks and ultraportables from vendors such as Fujitsu America Inc. of San Jose, Calif., Sony Corp. of America of Park Ridge, N.J., and Toshiba have special expansion devices that resemble port replicators.

With dimensions and weight like that of a midsize flashlight, these devices are more like port prostheses than replicators. Some ultraslim notebooks are so thin that they don't have room for serial, parallel and VGA ports, so they use a small proprietary connector for the expansion bar, which is included with the systems.

Not surprisingly, the broadest selections of docking stations and port replicators come from vendors with the broadest notebook lines and strong offerings in the high-end desktop-replacement segment. Compaq, IBM and Toshiba are the major players in docking and port replication. But a growing number of vendors are offering docking options, and a third-party manufacturer, Xtend Micro Products Inc., sells docking accessories for several of the Big Three's notebook lines.

The vendors have been making efforts to stabilize their docking platforms to extend their useful life even after new notebook designs are introduced.
























Glossary
Docking station: A docking device that augments port replication with room for extra disk drives, expansion cards and ports, and has mechanisms dedicated to locking the notebook in place.
Hot docking: The capability to dock a notebook PC without having to turn it off.
Minidock: A hybrid device in between a port replicator and a docking station, it contains all of the typical ports of the former and some of the latter's expansion room.
Pass-through: Replicated ports that depend on circuitry on the notebook for operation.
Port replicator: A docking device intended to replicate the notebook's existing ports so that deskbound peripherals can remain connected to a single physical interface.



Top of the market

'Our DeskStation V Plus is the longest-lived docking station on the market,' said Toshiba group manager Chris Abate, referring to the 4-year-old docking station for the Tecra and Portege notebook lines. IBM emphasizes the modularity of its port replicators and docking stations, though several devices work with more than one model and its SelectDock III has been around for several years, IBM worldwide product manager Rob Pace said.

But the promise of universality is just that'more promise than reality. The fact is that today's docking products are a confusing hodgepodge of model-specific designs, even within vendors' own product lines, except for those of HP, which has comparatively few notebooks to support.

The standardization problem centers more on the electronic rather than the physical connection between the notebook and the docking station or port replicator. An industry consortium has so far failed to define a common interface that will work across vendors' products, Abate said.

Be careful

When you are choosing docking stations or port replicators, take care not to buy more desktop expandability than your work force needs.

The added expense of a full docking station plus optional monitor stand may be wasted on employees who depend mostly on office-type applications such as word processing and basic spreadsheets, and on e-mail and low-speed network links.

Most port replicators are adequate for this level of connectivity. Less technically savvy users might best be supported by minidocks, which are somewhat easier to connect and disconnect than replicators.

Docking stations are generally worth the extra money for users who need substantially more disk storage than is typically found in today's high-powered notebooks. Engineers, multimedia specialists and others who work on large projects that are stored electronically may need extra hard drives, optical drives and faster network connections to adequately manage their workloads.

People who telecommute for part of the week or who travel extensively may also benefit from having a second, larger hard drive and a network connection via a docking station.



They can more easily copy or mirror their desktop files to the notebook's smaller hard drive, or back up the notebook drive to the agency's network drive. Workers with small desks who must take their work off-site can benefit from a docking station with a monitor stand, which makes the notebook and desktop combo fit into a more compact, vertical space.

Watch out for hidden costs. Vendors often require you to buy a special adapter to make a docking unit work with a particular notebook model, a fact not always apparent before reading the fine print.

Choose the docking station or port replicator that works with the greatest number of models in your notebook fleet. Conversely, it also makes sense to consider compatibility with the docking setups you already own'or at least that the vendor will continue to offer'when buying new notebooks.

Finally, don't forget to consider your users' docking requirements when pondering a volume purchase or upgrade of your notebook fleet.

The real deal

The real costs of docking should also figure prominently in any cost-benefit analysis of each vendor's notebook offerings.



David Essex writes about information technology from Antrim, N.H.
































































































































































































































































































































Vendor Product Type Compatible notebooks Drive bays Ports and connectors Price (including adapters)
Compaq Computer Corp. Houston 888-202-4682 www.compaq.com Convenience Base EthernetPort replicator (plus Ethernet)Prosignia 100 seriesNoneSerial, parallel, VGA, mouse, USB, RJ-45 and Ethernet card$279
Convenience Base Pass-Through Port replicator Prosignia 100 series None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, USB, RJ-45 and Ethernet card$189
Convenience Base II Ethernet Port replicator (plus Ethernet) Armada 1500c, 1700/1750, 3500None Serial, parallel, video, mouse, USB, RJ-45 and Ethernet card $279
Convenience Base I Pass-Through Port replicator 1500c,1700/ 1750, 3500 Armada None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, USB$189
Armada- Station II Docking station Armada 7400, 7800 Two half- height or MultiBay Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two), RJ-45 and Ethernet card, MIDI/game, PC Card (two), microphone, audio out$779
Armada MiniStation E Port replicator (plus Ethernet) Armada 7400, 7800 None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two), RJ-45
and Ethernet card, MIDI/game, PC Card (two) microphone,
microphone, audio out
$439
Dell Computer Corp. Austin, Texas 800-727-1100 www.dell.com C/Port Advanced Port Replicator Port replicator Latitude CPi Series, CPt Series None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two), RJ-45 and Ethernet card, infrared, microphone, audio in/out $279 to $296
C/Port II Advanced Port Replicator Port replicator CPi Series, (plus Ethernet) Latitude CPt Series None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two), RJ-45
and Ethernet card, infrared, audio out
$429
C/Dock Expansion Station Docking station Latitude CPi Series, CPt Series One media bay Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two), RJ-45 and Ethernet card, infrared, audio in/out, SCSI-2
$606 to $643
C/Dock II Docking Station Docking station Latitude CPi Series, CPt Series One media bay Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two), RJ-45
and Ethernet card, infrared, microphone, audio in/out,
SCSI-2
$729
Port Replicator Port replicator Inspiron 3500 None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two),
microphone, audio in/out
$138
Port Replicator Port replicator 7000 Inspiron None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two),
microphone, audio in/out
$148
Hewlett Packard Co. Palo Alto, Calif. 800-752-0900 www.hp.com Port Replicator Mini Dock Port replicator Port replicator OmniBook 900, 2100, 4100, 7100 OmniBook 900, 2100, 4100, 7100 None None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two),
microphone, audio in/out Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two),
microphone, audio in/out, PC card (two)
$199 $399
Mini Dock Port replicator OmniBook 900, 2100, 4100, 7100 None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two),
microphone, audio in/out, PC card (two)
$399
Docking System Docking station OmniBook 900, 2100, 4100, 7100 One 5.25-inch Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB (two),
microphone, audio in/out,
PC card (two), SCSI-2
$809
IBM Corp. Armonk, N.Y. 800-772-2227 www.thinkpad.com Port Replicator Port replicator ThinkPad 380/E/D/ ED/XD/Z, 390/E, 560E/ X/Z, 570 None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, floppy
$155
Enhanced Port Replicator Port replicator ThinkPad 380/E/D/ED/ XD, 560X None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, floppy, audio
in/out, MIDI/game, USB, PC Card (two)
$255
Enhanced Port Replicator with EtherJet Port replicator (plus Ethernet) ThinkPad 380Z, 390/E, 560Z None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, floppy, RJ-45
and Ethernet card, audio in/out, MIDI/game, USB, PC Card (two)
$395
SelectaBase 600 Port replicator ThinkPad 600 None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB, audio out,
MIDI/game
$189
SelectaBase 770 Port replicator ThinkPad 770 None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB, audio out,
MIDI/game
$189
SelectaDock IIIDocking station Port replicatorThinkPad 600, 760, 765, 770One 5.25- inch, one UltraBay II or two UltraBay I (for
CD-ROM, DVD)
Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard, USB, microphone,
audio in/out, MIDI/game, SCSI-3
$695
Micron Electronics ''Inc. Nampa, Idaho 888-652-7398 www.micronpc.com MicronDock Docking station Port replicator Port replicator NX366 TransPort Trek2None Serial, parallel, mouse or keyboard, VGA, NTSC video,
USB, MIDI/game, PC Card (two)
$191
MicronDock Port replicator NX366 TransPort NX333, None Serial, parallel, VGA, NTSC video, mouse, keyboard, audio
out, USB (two), Ethernet mini- PCI connector, MIDI/game
$191
Toshiba America 'Information''Systems Inc. Irvine, Calif. 800-477-1616 www.toshiba.com DeskStation V Plus Docking station Tecra 500, 510, 650CT, 710CDT, 720CDT, 730CDT, 780, 8000; Portege 650CT, 660CDT One half- height, one SelectBay (for CD- ROM, DVD, floppy, Zip) Serial, parallel, VGA, keyboard,
mouse, USB, microphone,
headphone, audio in/out, MIDI/game, PC Card (two),
SCSI-2
'$949
DVD Network Dock Hybrid Portege 7000, 7010, 7020 One DVD Serial, parallel, VGA, keyboard, mouse, USB (two), RJ-45
Ethernet
$649
Tecra 8000 Network Dock Port Replicator Ethernet) Port replicator (plus Tecra 520, 530, 550, 570, 750, 8000 None Serial, parallel, VGA, keyboard, mouse, USB, microphone,
audio in/out, MIDI/game
$599
NoteDock II Enhanced Port Replicator Port replicator Tecra 500CS/ CDT, 510CDT, 710CDT, 720CDT, 730CDT, 730XCDT, 740CDT; Portege 650CT, 660CDT
None Serial, parallel, VGA, keyboard, mouse, USB, microphone,
audio in/out, MIDI/game, PC Card (two)
$599
NoteDock Enhanced Port Replicator Port replicator Satellite Pro series None Serial, parallel, VGA, keyboard, mouse, floppy, headphone,
audio in/out, MIDI/game, PC Card (two)
$399
Xtend Micro ''Products Inc. Irvine, Calif. 949-660-7300 www.xmpi.com Port Replicator Port replicator Separate models for IBM ThinkPad 750, 755, 760 series; Toshiba
Satellite and Satellite Pro models; Compaq Armada 1500, 7700 series
None Serial, parallel, VGA, mouse, keyboard; audio in/out, USB (Toshiba Satellite 220/Satellite Pro replicator only)
$75 to
$200

inside gcn

  • IoT security

    A 'seal of approval' for IoT security?

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above