30 Hardware and Windows Tips in 30 Days Tip 15: Easy Laptop Expansion Via Docks and Port Replicators
Whether you're searching for more USB ports, digital audio, better video output, or an easy way to connect to all your office gizmos with a single connection, your laptop's expansion port or extra USB port makes it easy.
Looking for "Missing" USB Ports? Your Laptop's Expansion Port Could Hold the AnswerRight after I purchased my HP dv5003cl laptop about 18 months ago, I was digging around in Device Manager, and noticed something peculiar. According to Device Manager, I had four USB root hubs, but my laptop has only two USB ports. With each root hub capable of driving two USB ports, I figured I was six ports short. Where were they? It wasn't until I stumbled across a too-good-to-miss weekend sale on an HP QuickDock port replicator and docking station that I realized what was going on: there were the six "missing" USB ports.
But Wait, There's More!Instead of only two USB ports, forcing me to decide which USB devices would be left out (or using an external hub), now I have all eight. But, that's not all. QuickDock also provides several other useful goodies, including component video (a much better choice for connecting to my HDTV than S-video), composite video, a coaxial SPDIF digital audio port, another 10/100 Ethernet port, and more. Not only could I connect a bunch of devices to my laptop with a single connector, but I had access to higher-quality video and audio than before. Quite a deal, especially for about $100 on sale (normally about $130).
Can You Take Advantage of Easy Expandability?Let's be honest - the proprietary expansion bus needed for devices like QuickDock is one of the items likely to be left on the cutting room floor when vendors are looking for ways to shave every last dollar from the cost of a notebook computer. To find out whether your mobile PC can be expanded this way, your best bet is to look on the sides, the back, or the bottom for a proprietary connector. Then, check your vendor's website to find out what models fit your computer. If you're shopping for a new computer, check the item description, but don't worry if you don't find a reference to a docking station or port replicator. You might need to find the item itself on the vendor's website and check compatible model numbers.
No Expansion Port? Third-Party Alternatives Via USB
Don't feel left out if your laptop doesn't have a proprietary connector for a port replicator or docking station. Targus makes three port replicators, two of which connect via USB, and one super-deluxe model with both digital audio and DVI digital video that connects via the ExpressCard slot found on new models. For a sampling of productcs from other vendors, see About.com's Mobile Peripherals roundup of docking stations.
Learn More HereLearn more about HP's QuickDock for selected HP and Compaq notebook computers.
Dell's port replicators and docking stations (along with a smattering of third-party products) can be seen here.
Gateway's port replicators (and some third-party products) are available here.