Review: 5 universal docking stations make quick connections

Link your laptop to an office full of peripherals with one USB cable.

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Kensington Notebook Expansion Dock with Video

Kensington Computer Products Group's Notebook Expansion Dock with Video is the highest-priced docking station in this group, but it offers two things the others don't: It supports Macintosh notebooks, and it can connect with DisplayLink USB displays.

At 1.2 in. by 9.8 in. by 2.6 in. and 0.6 lb., the Kensington dock is similar to the Targus dock in size and weight, and both thoughtfully include black rubber skids to avoid scratching your furniture or notebook. But the Kensington dock adds vent slots along the bottom to allow extra cooling air in.

For those who prefer not to use an external keyboard, the dock gives the notebook's keyboard a 12-degree tilt for more comfortable typing; I found it stable with small and large notebooks.

The dock provides a fair assortment of ports:

  • 10/100 Ethernet for wired networking
  • VGA for connecting an external monitor
  • Four USB 2.0 ports
  • Microphone and headphone jacks

It lacks an RS-232 serial port, PS/2 port, flash card reader or DVI display connector. All the connections are along the back, and the system has its own AC adapter. But unlike the others, it has no on/off switch.

Getting it to work took about five minutes. After installing the software on your laptop, you'll need to restart the system.

Once it's set up, the dock has a task tray icon for controlling the video. You can choose to have the external display either mirror or extend the desktop of the notebook. The dock supports up to 1,280-by-1,024-pixel resolution (or 1,440 by 900 for wide-screen notebooks), a popular resolution for 19-in. LCD monitors. But that comes up short compared with the Dynadock's 1,920-by-1,200 resolution and might prove to be a problem with a larger display.

Kensington universal docking station

The Kensington dock. Click to view larger image.

Unlike the others, the Kensington dock can work with DisplayLink USB monitors and projectors. DisplayLink technology uses virtual graphics software to send a full video signal through a USB cable. While this technology makes setup easy, there aren't many of these devices available at the moment, and most of the first devices are tiny auxiliary screens.

There were no problems connecting with any of the peripherals I used, and the system was up and working in 45.9 seconds after being plugged in. That's a little slower than the Targus or Vantec docks, but faster than the Toshiba Dynadock. It consumed 10 watts of power, the most of any of these devices, but it never felt hot.

While the Targus, Toshiba and Vantec docks limit their use to PC notebooks only, Kensington has software for Mac notebooks as well. The seven-month-old beta worked well with my MacBook Pro system, although the external monitor's video lagged a little. The company says that a final version of the software will be available for a free download in the coming month.

For MacBook users, this could become a necessity.

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