Anyone who's ever used a laptop docking station quickly sees the advantage of being able to plug into multiple peripherals (keyboard, mouse, large-screen monitor, USB drive, printer, etc.) with a single connection. Newer wireless docks, such as the one soon to be available for Dell's high-end Latitude Z, can make the process even more convenient by automatically connecting your laptop to its peripherals whenever it comes within a certain range of the dock. (They don't, however, charge your notebook's battery.)
For those of us who don't have a fancy-schmancy laptop with a dedicated wireless dock, Toshiba has launched the new Dynadock Wireless U universal docking station, which works with most Windows notebooks.
The silver and black Dynadock Wireless U is a dead ringer for Toshiba's original Dynadock U, except that rather than connecting with a notebook via a USB cable, it does so wirelessly. Using the Wireless USB protocol, a pair of swivel antennas at the back of the dock maintain contact with a USB dongle plugged into the notebook.
While this doesn't eliminate the cables running from the dock to the peripherals, it does mean you can keep the dock and cables mostly out of sight - under the desk, for instance, or on a nearby shelf. However, you'll trade desk clutter for another kind of annoyance -- the clunky USB dongle sticks out of the notebook 2.75 inches and is guaranteed to get snagged on something in your bag.
Everything needed to get started is in the package, including the dongle, various cables and adapters. Unfortunately, setting up the Dynadock Wireless U can be slow - it took me nearly an hour. After loading the software, you'll need to plug in a USB cable between the notebook and dock to associate the two devices, then restart the notebook.
Subsequently, the two will automatically connect when the notebook is close enough to the dock to sense its signal. Alternatively, you can set the Wireless USB Manager software to require approval for every connection. To disconnect, just hit the on-off button on top of the dock and go.
At a Glance
Pros: Can unclutter a desk, has a great assortment of ports, works with most Windows laptops
Cons: Expensive, can't charge laptop battery, bulky dongle, no Mac/Linux support, gets hot
The Dynadock Wireless U has 6 USB ports, two of which are up front for easy access; headphone, microphone and line-out jacks; an optical SPDIF connector for driving a set of digital speakers; and a DVI port for an external monitor. Based on DisplayLink software, the dock's software adjusts your system to match your monitor's resolution; it can handle up to 1680 x 1050 resolution.
I set up the Dynadock on a windowsill behind my desk, connecting it to a keyboard, mouse, 17-inch monitor, wired LAN, memory stick, external hard drive and speakers. With the USB dongle in place, my Fujitsu LifeBook A6220 running Windows Vista connected whenever it was within about 35 feet of the dock. The dock took between 10 and 20 seconds to fully connect with the system. (I had similar results with other laptops running XP and Windows 7 RTM.)
The video stream to my 17-inch monitor was just as smooth as when it's connected to my notebook with a cable, but it dropped out at a range of between 15 and 20 feet. In my HD Tune benchmark tests with a Western Digital 250GB external hard drive, the dock moved data at only 12 MBytes/sec., compared to 33.1 MBytes/sec. with a USB cable.
Also on the downside: At $US300, the Dynadock Wireless U costs twice as much as most wired universal docks, and the device gets warm quickly. And unlike a dedicated dock made specifically for your notebook, universal docks can't charge the notebook's battery, which means you'll still have to plug the notebook into an outlet for a recharge. So much for the dream of a cord-free desktop.
Although the Dynadock works with notebooks running Windows XP, Vista and the upcoming Windows 7, the device isn't truly universal -- it lacks the necessary software to work with Macs or Linux machines.
For those who want to come home a desk that isn't a warren of wires and cables, Toshiba's Dynadock Wireless U is a breath of fresh air. Still, its awkward dongle and inability to charge the notebook make its $US300 price tag seem a bit steep.
Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.