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  • Docking stations: Combining the best of laptops and desktops

    Home Forums AskWoody blog Docking stations: Combining the best of laptops and desktops

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      • #2290685
        Tracey Capen
        AskWoody MVP

        HARDWARE By Lincoln Spector Do you know anyone who uses a desktop PC anymore? Not sure I do. Laptops have plenty of power, and you can take them anywh
        [See the full post at: Docking stations: Combining the best of laptops and desktops]

        3 users thanked author for this post.
      • #2290723
        Mele20
        AskWoody Lounger

        Why would anyone use a laptop unless forced to do so by their employer? I have two powerful desktops and no laptops. I get tired of folks insisting desktops are dead. If I need to access the internet when away from home (rare) I use my iPhone 10R or iWatch.

        1 user thanked author for this post.
      • #2290725
        mn–
        AskWoody Lounger

        Why would anyone use a laptop unless forced to do so by their employer?

        Lots of people who prefer to be able to carry the thing even to just different rooms in their house… or while traveling.

        Some who also don’t have room for a proper desktop setup.

        But, clarification required: Are we discussing “desktop” PCs as separate from “deskside” PCs or does it include both kinds? Because the “small desktop” low-power office models are getting sort of uncommon except in niche uses (shared office between shifts, or hooked up to specific devices like instrumentation… or cash register), but the “deskside” power models are still common in engineering, media jobs, software development… gaming…

      • #2290726
        Alex5723
        AskWoody Plus

        World’s First Universal 10-In-1 Super Dock | Indiegogo

        The Dual USB-C Super Hub has a twin USB-C cable that integrates Power, USB and DP Alt Mode functions. The dock features twin USB-C cables with one USB-C cable being primary and the other being secondary.

        Both the USB-C connectors can be connected when used with a Mac to support 2 x displays – 4K@60hz (Primary HDMI – 1) + 4K@60Hz (Secondary HDMI – 2) from 2 x HDMI outputs along with other downstream ports. If only one USB-C connector (Primary) is connected, the dock will support 2 x displays – 4K@60Hz in dual display set up via the 2 x HDMI (1 & 2) along with other downstream ports.

        Only the primary USB-C connector will be used with a Windows computer and the dock will support 2 x displays – 4K@30Hz in dual display set up via the 2 x HDMI (1 & 2) along with other downstream ports. The dock also features a USB-C (USB.1 Gen1) downstream port with 5G Data and up to 100W of Power Pass thru.

        US$70

        https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/world-s-first-universal-10-in-1-super-dock#/

        • This reply was modified 7 months, 2 weeks ago by Alex5723.
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      • #2290747
        MrJimPhelps
        AskWoody_MVP

        There is one disadvantage to using a docking station vs. simply plugging all of the wires directly into your laptop, and that is portability around the house. My wife likes to sometimes use my laptop (hers died). When I used a docking station for my laptop, she would have to power down, remove the laptop from the docking station, and power back up. By not using the docking station, all she needs to do is unplug a few wires; there is no more need to power down.

        The downside to the above approach is that sometimes there are ports available in your docking station that aren’t on your laptop. For example, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, extra USB ports, and video ports. My docking station has a DisplayPort video port; my laptop has only a VGA port. I’ll therefore get better video quality by using the docking station if I want to use an external monitor,

        Group "L" (Linux Mint)
        with Windows 8.1 running in a VM
        • #2290760
          mn–
          AskWoody Lounger

          would have to power down, remove the laptop from the docking station, and power back up

          That’s quite a bit of a bother, but also not typical.

          Usually you’d be good with a suspend-to-RAM at most, while some models with some driver versions worked as fully hotplug through the dedicated large docking connector (though in many cases that’s “unsupported but known to work”) 10 years ago already.

          Fully hotpluggable is more common in newer models, too.

          The downside to the above approach is that sometimes there are ports available in your docking station that aren’t on your laptop. For example, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports,

          Oh yes, and some docks also have had mass storage slots and occasionally even expansion card slots. (IIRC some old IBM-era Thinkpad had an optional larger dock with ISA slots, and recently I’ve seen Thunderbolt 3 docks with PCIe.)

      • #2290753
        doriel
        AskWoody Lounger

        The idea of docking station is very nice. I have experiences with Dell docking stations and it serves its purpose very well.

        But belive me or not, I like the older ones more. That old fashion docking station. Connection is more stable and they even offer more connections
        – two large DPorts (no reduction DP – MiniDP needed)
        – more USB ports
        – stable docking

        old

        New ones connected via USB-C is so.. connection is so fragile. The cable is thick, hard to bend and USB-C seems to be not centered very well.. See the picture from reality. Its not hard to crack that port by accident.

        new

        It remids me of that “slim” RJ-45 port with these tiny door, in which cable sometimes is stuck. Modern, but not so reliable for me.
        Also sometimes I must unplug new docking station from electricity in order to get it working again (disconnecting and reconnecting USB-C seems not to work). Sometimes display darkens and peripherials do not work too (apart of ethernet).

        Dell Latitude E6530, Intel Core i5 @ 2.6 GHz, 4GB RAM, W10 1809 Enterprise

        HAL3000, AMD Athlon 200GE @ 3,4 GHz, 8GB RAM, Fedora 29

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      • #2290763
        geekdom
        AskWoody Plus

        The author presupposes that no one uses a desktop, then builds a case on that supposition. The supposition is erroneous.

        On Hiatus {with backup and coffee}
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      • #2290791
        Biiljoy
        AskWoody Lounger

        I used the old style maybe ten years ago but switched to a cheap old desktop it’s been great had it forever does everything I need.  Thinking about replacing it with one that has a TPM chip but this one is still working.  My laptops are there for portability, the desktop is more of an accounting workstation and media server for the rest of the house.  All using a laptop for this purpose does is increase price and decrease cooling ability.  IMO when I had laptop and docking station dust was a major problem.  With the desktop I open the case and clean it about once a year, has great airflow and never had a problem like that.  I think I paid $100 for it and maybe same amount for monitor.  Docking station to me is good for an office where you are there part of the day and then take the laptop home.  For a home that the computer is not leaving desktop just makes more sense to me.  Also for games and CAD there is no chance for a laptop its no comparison.

      • #2290810
        anonymous
        Guest

        Desktops are not in any way dead.  Ever see a serious gaming laptop?  They’re gigantic.

        A cheap laptop with a docking station costs as much as a decent laptop.  I’ve used docking stations for decades and they work fine, especially in a corporate networking environment where I could dock into dual monitors and ethernet with one click.  Otherwise, my laptops performed perfectly undocked.  Yeah wifi’s slower and wireless to large screens is not super smooth but those are perks vs. essentials.

        Docks are very convenient; if your laptop is so basic you need a dock to do what a good laptop does, uh, buy a good laptop. 🙂

        1 user thanked author for this post.
      • #2291018
        cmarionl
        AskWoody Plus

        I’m using a Dell docking station at home to share 2 screens, an ethernet connection, and a USB dock with few peripherals (headset, scanner) between two two computers. One computer is a company-provided Dell Latitude tablet and the other is my own personal Lenovo Thinkpad.

        Two swith between computers, I have to unplug the current computer’s USB-C cable from the dock and plug in the USB-C cable from the new one. This seems to work consistently well. The displays will usually flicker and sense the new set up and the USB peripherals adapt to the new computers. I occasionally have to reboot one or the other of the computers if the changeover doesn’t go well, but this is very rare.

        I’m wondering if there is a more elegant solution than unplugging and plugging these cables in? I would’ve thought there would be a simple y-shaped cable solution with a switch that could be used in this scenario, but I haven’t found such a thing.

        Is there an elegant, cost-effective solution available that would eliminate the need to pull out and insert the cables each and every time?

        Thanks.

        • #2291078
          DrBonzo
          AskWoody Plus

          You want something like an iogear (brand name) GUB231 or GUB431 2 or 4 port USB peripheral sharing switch. I’m not trying to plug iogear, but I have one of these switches that allows me to have one printer connected to 2 computers (via cable) and just flick a switch to route the printer to either computer. Sounds like you need something a bit more complicated but iogear also makes a bunch of other similar sorts of stuff, so it may give you someplace to start.

          3 users thanked author for this post.
        • #2291077
          anonymous
          Guest

          cmarionl wrote:
          I’m wondering if there is a more elegant solution than unplugging and plugging these cables in? I would’ve thought there would be a simple y-shaped cable solution with a switch that could be used in this scenario, but I haven’t found such a thing.

          Is there an elegant, cost-effective solution available that would eliminate the need to pull out and insert the cables each and every time?

          Hmmmm, sounds like maybe you’re describing some sort of tricked-out KVM switch?

          As the name suggests, basic KVM switches have multiple “keyboard, video, and mouse” connections to support connection of and switching between two (or more) devices. Never needed or searched for this, but maybe you could find one with dual-video/dual-monitor connections?

          And use of a simple ethernet switch with two ethernet cables would allow both your devices to be connected to your network simultaneously. But you’d probably still need to separately replug the USB hub with your peripherals (although if your scanner has a built-in NIC you might be able to connect it to the ethernet switch and use it as a network scanner).

          But, honestly, the number and complexity of your connections makes me think your existing “docking station” setup might be a better solution. And as you already have it set up, and it “seems to work consistently well”…

          Hope this helps.

          2 users thanked author for this post.
          • #2291855
            cmarionl
            AskWoody Plus

            Yes, the current setup works reasonably well, but there’s something about pulling out and plugging in cables every day that feels like a bad idea, especially in the longer run. It appears that working from home will be the standard condition for some time to come.

        • #2291116
          doriel
          AskWoody Lounger

          Is there an elegant, cost-effective solution available that would eliminate the need to pull out and insert the cables each and every time?

          I think its called something like “sharing switch”, but I dont see the reason. I know such switcher is used for switching video source for projector, but for docking station?
          Instead of pulling cables, you will be pressing some button on the switch. What easier way you want to get, that pulling one cable out?

          Dell Latitude E6530, Intel Core i5 @ 2.6 GHz, 4GB RAM, W10 1809 Enterprise

          HAL3000, AMD Athlon 200GE @ 3,4 GHz, 8GB RAM, Fedora 29

      • #2291055
        OscarCP
        AskWoody Plus

        Tracey Cappen: “Do you know anyone who uses a desktop PC anymore?”

        That remark was, I think, made tongue-in-cheek, but it seems work commenting on:

        The most powerful workstations are desktops and those who need their power have, therefore, a use for desktops. Others have them because they are “make your own computer” hobbyists, or need to have them permanently on their desks in their small businesses, or at their desks in their job’s cubicles and offices, as provided for their work by their employers, among other reasons. For most of us, at home, a laptop may be enough to do all what we need a computer for, and has the added convenience that one can work or stream videos with them while in bed or sitting on a bench or easy chair in one’s garden. And laptops are computers one can carry along on trips and also allow to move about within one’s place of work, e.g. to attend meetings, etc. with a computer always at hand. So: different needs, different reasons.

        That applies also to the “dock vs. hub” question: I only need a hub, not a dock, with a few different kinds of ports: several USB-B and -C, as well as Ethernet and HDMI, all connected with a single cable to a Thunderbolt port in the Mac. Hubs are quite small and lightweight these days, so they are handy to carry around in the laptop’s bag. Docks may be more practical to use with desktops.

        Windows 7 Professional, SP1, x64 Group W (ex B) & macOS Mojave + Linux (Mint)

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        • #2291199
          rc primak
          AskWoody_MVP

          That applies also to the “dock vs. hub” question: I only need a hub, not a dock, with a few different kinds of ports: several USB-B and -C, as well as Ethernet and HDMI, all connected with a single cable to a Thunderbolt port in the Mac. Hubs are quite small and lightweight these days, so they are handy to carry around in the laptop’s bag. Docks may be more practical to use with desktops.

          Look here for the distinction between hubs vs. docks:

          https://www.kensington.com/news/docking-connectivity-blog/hubs-vs-docks-explained/

          Technically, I think the term Hub refers to multiplying one port into several ports of the same kind. Dock refers to using one port and branching it into several different types of additional ports. The original port on the laptop or PC may be card-sized (or bigger on some older laptops) or USB-C sized, or anything in-between.  Even smart phones can use docks and hubs.

          -- rc primak

          • This reply was modified 7 months, 2 weeks ago by rc primak.
          • This reply was modified 7 months, 2 weeks ago by rc primak.
          • #2291725
            OscarCP
            AskWoody Plus

            rc_primak: I am puzzled, because the example of a ‘hub’ shown in the Web page you gave a link to clarify this matter is precisely the kind of thing I have called a ‘hub’: one connector to the computer, at one end, to the ‘hub’, at the other: the gadget itself, with multiple ports, often of different kinds.

            What I know about ‘hubs’ I learned it by looking around in the Web for something small and with all the ports I needed. And all the ones that I found looked as I have just described them. As does the ‘hub’ I ended up buying and have now with me. This might be a matter of a mere difference in two accepted technical jargons, but, if so, it is a confusing one.

            For some more examples:

            https://www.businessinsider.com/best-usb-c-hub

             

             

            Windows 7 Professional, SP1, x64 Group W (ex B) & macOS Mojave + Linux (Mint)

            • #2292396
              rc primak
              AskWoody_MVP

              That page shows a mixture of hubs and docks. Business Insider is not a technical publication. They often mix up tech terms or even misuse them outright. I’d stand by the Kensington article as a good guide.

              -- rc primak

              • #2292408
                mn–
                AskWoody Lounger

                Folks who should know better (like laptop manufacturers’ marketing departments) have done their part to confuse the issue.

                Lenovo for example has sold “hubs” that have several kinds of connectors and…

                1 user thanked author for this post.
      • #2291070
        MrJimPhelps
        AskWoody_MVP

        Here is a post I wrote a while back, entitled “Desktop vs Laptop”:

        Desktop vs Laptop

        Group "L" (Linux Mint)
        with Windows 8.1 running in a VM
        1 user thanked author for this post.
        • #2291194
          rc primak
          AskWoody_MVP

          See also in that thread, from ch100 —  https://www.askwoody.com/forums/topic/desktop-vs-laptop/#post-87552 .

          I have had an Intel NUC based on the Skylake 6th Gen Core-i5 processor since about 2016 and it is still going strong, except for some sort of BIOS glitch when commanded to shut down (power off). (It restarts instead, then shuts down the next time the command is encountered.) I’ve run a dual-boot on an SSD (500GB and Ubuntu now 20.04 LTS, originally 16.04 LTS) and Windows 10 (originally whatever version was then current, now Version 1909 Pro). This is the best of both worlds in many ways.

          I can transport the NUC (though without a battery it won’t be truly mobile) and use it in demos and some meetings. Moving from room to room is a no-brainer. The NUC was easy to transport and set up again when I moved from Chicago to Boston. (No backup  hard drive disasters, unlike Fred Langa’s recent moving experience.)

          There are plenty of ports for my peripherals, and Windows and Linux each ahs ways to connect to displays and peripherals (including scanners and printers) wirelessly. Zoom and my new web cam and headset work perfectly in both OSes. The desktop footprint is twice the size of a deck of playing cards, plus a keyboard. Mouse wireless or wired is perfect, and Bluetooth works just fine in both OSes (though over the years Ubuntu has had a few issues).  Graphics are onboard, though I could have opted for discrete graphics if I had paid a little more for the Skull Canyon Core-i7 model), works for all my video and conferencing and online streaming needs. Can do 4K, but my displays don’t go that high.

          Very small form-factor “desktop PCs” don’t have as much power as towers, and can have heat issues, but other than that, I see no reason not to call my NUC a desktop PC. So as far a I’m concerned, the desktop PC is not dead. Not even close.

          Now as for my “laptop”, I prefer the term “Notebook” for what I use. It started life in 2018 as a Core-m3 based ASUS Flip c302 Chromebook (rather pricey, but I knew I would need an Intel core-i type of processor, not anything ARM). This Chromebook works best with a full-sized dock which is unique to the ASUS portable models. That’s a bit pricey as well.  For travel I have a smaller mini-dock which is from Best Buy (Insignia), mostly for projector and audio use,  and this works very well for what it does.

          If Chrome Apps worked well enough for me offline, I could have stopped there. Or even stayed with one of the cheaper ARM based Chromebooks.

          This Chromebook has been jury-rigged to dual-boot with a separate Linux Root Partition, Fedora 32 Linux with the Xfce4 Desktop Environment. Not an ideal Linux setup, but one which can coexist (so far) with Chromebook’s very strict security lockdown. There is a partial replacement SEABIOS for the firmware, as outlined for the CHRX installation scheme.  This is not a Child Root as Crouton is, nor is it whatever Crostini is. It is this Linux dual-boot which made it necessary to have a core-i processor.

          So I have essentially two laptops shoehorned into a Chromebook-based Notebook. And by and large, it all works well. (A few internal hardware features have to be replicated externally — most notably sound output for Linux on a Chromebook, and the keyboard had to be remapped for Linux, inside the Linux OS. There’s one or two other internal hardware features which I never use, which also don’t work under Linux. Blame all of this on the use of SoC by ASUS in all of their Chromebooks.)

          Based on my experience, I would say it is the laptop which should be dead, not the desktop. But then, I used a lot of ingenuity to reach my Desktop Plus Notebook (plus dock and a few SD Cards for “sneakernet” non-Web data transfers) Nirvana!

          -- rc primak

      • #2291166
        snissen
        AskWoody Plus

        In more than 30 years of PC support, I’ve used only about a dozen brands of computers, only a few including portable models. But with those portables, I have tested dozens of docking solutions. And the only ones I found that worked reliably didn’t even appear in your review: docking stations made by the computer manufacturer, designed for that model of portable. Yes, they may be more expensive, but how many times do connections have to fail or require fiddling before you could have justified that cost difference? To me, reliability is solution #1, and I have only found it with manufacturer’s docking stations. I think you missed this one.

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        • #2291175
          mn–
          AskWoody Lounger

          And the only ones I found that worked reliably didn’t even appear in your review: docking stations made by the computer manufacturer, designed for that model of portable. Yes, they may be more expensive, but how many times do connections have to fail or require fiddling before you could have justified that cost difference? To me, reliability is solution #1, and I have only found it with manufacturer’s docking stations.

          Well, er…

          I’ve only ever tried to use a non-brand-accurate docking solution exactly once. And that was a fairly standard USB-C with power delivery, altmode graphics, audio, and keyboard & mouse.

          Everything else was same-manufacturer, manufacturer-specific connector and listed as compatible.

          And I’ve STILL had compatibility problems. As in graphics capability problems with “unexpected” display connection variants, some non-mainstream peripherals (special needs keyboards, weird mice) and in some cases laptop and dock internal firmware versions mismatch.

          Fun when the thing crashes when exactly one specific model of USB mouse is connected via explicitly supported dock, works with the mouse directly attached, works with any other mouse through dock…

          (Also at one job I had the task of listing exactly which HP power supply and docking station combinations were supported with which laptops models, only considering those of each that existed within organization inventory at the time. That was a very dense matrix with a lot of boxes ending up as “depending on firmware versions” and many of the common combinations still falling into “not supported but known to usually work”.)

          Now, a previous workplace was experimenting with cross-brand USB-C and Thunderbolt docks a bit when I left. I’ve seen reports that some brand-specific variants actually showed better reliability with other brands too than almost all docks advertised as generic.

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        • #2291196
          rc primak
          AskWoody_MVP

          As I posted above in https://www.askwoody.com/forums/topic/docking-stations-combining-the-best-of-laptops-and-desktops/#post-2291194 Yes, this does seem to be generally true. Though, the ASUS dock is also very good on some other brands of laptops, notebooks and Chromebooks.

          -- rc primak

      • #2291189
        Biiljoy
        AskWoody Lounger

        I had one that was branded hp but I got on eBay from China for $15 and it worked great.  Then the thermal paste on the hp laptop came loose while it was on and almost started a fire.  After that no more docks or hp if I can help it.  Was corporate class “elitebook” what a joke.

        • #2291197
          rc primak
          AskWoody_MVP

          I suspect that was a problem with the HP and its cooling system. Not with the dock.

          -- rc primak

          • #2291729
            Biiljoy
            AskWoody Lounger

            Of course I only mention it for chronology.  I had the laptop and dock for years, the laptop failed while plugged in, and then I abandoned that setup.  I didn’t mean to imply cause and effect just relaying that is my only experience with docks and I moved on.  For what I use a computer for a desktop is perfect and if I need to move around I use a laptop, the dock now just seems like trying to get by with one machine for multiple uses that are better served with separate purpose built machines.  If that makes sense I have a hard time explaining myself it makes sense in my head.

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            • #2292660
              doriel
              AskWoody Lounger

              For me docking station makes perfect sense. Its just for certain group of people – in corporate world, where people go from office to meeting room, or for a bussiness trip, or some people as sales representatives. They really need mobile device. And if you have some set-up in the office – multiple screens, mouse, keyboard, network, …

              We cannot generalize if desktops are dead, or not. It just depends on user. Imagine somebody announces combi car models are dead, because you can purchase SUV. Its not black and white. There are also some shades of grey.

              Dell Latitude E6530, Intel Core i5 @ 2.6 GHz, 4GB RAM, W10 1809 Enterprise

              HAL3000, AMD Athlon 200GE @ 3,4 GHz, 8GB RAM, Fedora 29

      • #2298178
        Charlie
        AskWoody Plus

        I’m still using an old circa 2003 IBM ThinkPad T-40 laptop with a matching IBM ThinkPad docking station made for it exactly.  I’m not sure if it’s hot detachable (I never had reason to try it).  It has everything a person could want back then – mouse port, keyboard port, parallel port, VGA port, and 4 USB ports.  I mainly use it because I can plug in a 15″ external monitor in lieu of the small 14″ screen that’s part of the laptop.  Also have a USB mouse and a PS1 keyboard plugged into it.  Still works fine but you have to make sure dust doesn’t get into the connector.  Things go a bit haywire then.  These are original IBM, not Lenovo.

        I’m looking for a docking station to use with my 2007 Sony VAIO laptop, but from what I’ve read here it sounds like the more current stations are not as reliable as the older ones.

        • #2298202
          mn–
          AskWoody Lounger

          I’m still using an old circa 2003 IBM ThinkPad T-40 laptop with a matching IBM ThinkPad docking station made for it exactly. I’m not sure if it’s hot detachable (I never had reason to try it).

          Those were sort of weird about hot detach / attach. ISTR that it was “supported” only in specific circumstances, known to not work in some of those after a few operating system updates that came out after the warranty period, and known to work also in some cases that were not supported… and the external drive bay was sometimes hotswappable and sometimes not, too. (Could take an optical drive, a HDD tray, or an extra battery. A former workplace had lots of these.)

          1 user thanked author for this post.
      • #2299549
        Charlie
        AskWoody Plus

        I’d really like to get my hands on one of those “Ultra Drive” Hard Drive units so I could clone a new hard drive.  These old IBM laptops will not do a bootable HHD clone over USB.  Plus it takes hours (like 3 or 4) to copy it all on USB 1.1.

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