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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Sakar iConcepts Universal Docking Station

Note: No longer available.

If all you want is minimalist connections, Sakar Inc.'s iConcepts dock is the way to go. At $60, it is the cheapest dock in our roundup, and while it doesn't include networking or external video ports, it's the only one that has speakers and a notebook cooling fan.

Easily the largest dock in this group, the iConcepts device measures 1 in. by 12.9 in. by 8.9 in. and weighs 1.4 lb. Its footprint makes it great for systems with 15.4-in. or smaller displays, but larger systems overhang the base too much and feel wobbly on it. Unfortunately, it doesn't tilt the notebook to make typing easier.

At two minutes, this dock was the quickest of the bunch to set up. Unlike the others, the iConcepts dock requires an (included) audio cable in addition to the USB cable. Sakar doesn't sell an AC adapter for the dock -- to power it, you can use the USB cable (so it draws its power from your notebook) or a generic AC adapter.

The downside of its simplicity is that the iConcepts dock has the minimum of ports:

  • One USB 1.1 and two USB 2.0 ports
  • A pair of PS/2 ports
  • Jacks for audio in and out
  • A flash card reader that works with SD, MS, SM and CF modules

It does without ports for a wired LAN and external video, which means you'll need to connect your Ethernet and monitor cables to your notebook separately, taking away the big advantage of a dock: one place to plug in.

It's the only one of the docks I looked at that includes its own speakers, which pop out from the sides of the dock. They're a step up from most notebook speakers, but hardly high fidelity, and the switch to turn on the audio is too small for my fingers.

Sakar iConcepts universal docking station

The Sakar iConcepts dock.

The dock worked fine on my three notebooks, and the only USB peripheral it couldn't handle was a Toshiba external DVD drive. In day-to-day use, the dock was convenient, but it took 20.8 seconds to connect with a PC notebook. That's slow compared with the Vantec's 18.7 seconds, which includes setting up networking and video connections.

While connected, the system drew 1.7 watts from the notebook with the fans working and 1.2 W with the fans off, making it the power miser of the group.

All told, the iConcepts dock is a bargain that seems designed for those looking for a notebook cooler that can make a few connections and deliver better sound.

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