HP USB Docking Station Review

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The HP USB Docking Station lets users quickly connect to desktop gear without the need to connect bundles of cables to their notebook or netbook. For the average user who might use the same computer at work or home this means they can quickly start their day with a single cable connection. In this review we find out how easy it is to set up this docking station and if it really simplifies our day-to-day activities.

HP USB Docking Station Specifications:

  • Universal USB connectivity that enables attach to HP and other notebooks
  • Higher resolution VGA (1600×1200) and DVI (1680×1050)
  • Plug and Play – Onboard flash memory module with installation software
  • XP compatibility and Vista compatibility up to Vista 64
  • Headphone and Microphone Jacks
  • Size: 1.1 x 8.66 x 3.2
  • Weight: 11.32 oz
  • Price: $139

Build and Design
The HP USB Docking Station is about the size of two notebook power adapters with a glossy black body. The design isn’t as polished as other docking stations I have seen and style wise is lacking compared to most HP notebooks. Using the Imprint finish would have improved things drastically since the glossy plastic finish was plagued with fine scratches and swirl marks within a day of use and transportation.

The docking station has average build quality with solid connections on the back and a weighted feel that adds to its durability. It has thin rubber feet which helps keep it in one spot on your desk instead of being dragged around, as long as the desk surface doesn’t have any dust that might hinder traction.

Ease of Use
I really have the praise HP for the way they handled drivers on this USB docking station. While most manufacturers use a driver disc or suggest you visit their website, HP included 128MB of flash storage inside which contains the drivers and installation utility. After you plug it in an external drive pops up with the software and about 100MB of extra space. While you could technically use it to store the occasional document, I would probably reserve it for future driver storage.

The installation utility installs the drivers for all parts of the docking station, including the network connection, audio jacks, and display adapter. Whenever you have the docking station plugged into your system a application sits in the system tray that gives you quick access to the display options to change the resolution and other attributes.

Performance
Display performance from the docking station was very reasonable as long as you didn’t plan on watching Divx or Xvid encoded movies on a screen attached to it. All media players dragged from my primary notebook display onto the external screen would freeze or stutter immediately. Flash inside a web browser fared better, including embedded video sites such as YouTube or Hulu. Playing in its regular size the videos played smoothly, as long as you didn’t try to view it in full screen. I was not able to view any video in full screen without freezing the display and trying to minimize the video while viewing the static image.

Since everything including video is sharing the same USB bus for data, file transfers were drastically slowed to other external devices. File transfers to my USB memory stick which usually go at 30MB/s were slowed by 67%, down to about 8-10MB/s. The HDTune benchmark images below show the drive normally, going through the docking station with video enabled, and again with video disabled. If you normally attach an external drive for regular backups, using this docking station would lengthen the time required to copy files over.


Kingston 8GB w/ docking station and video enabled

Kingston 8GB USB normal conditions

Kingston 8GB w/ docking station and video disabled

In terms of thermal performance, this docking station put off a surprising amount of heat during use; reaching external temperatures of up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit while using it with an external display. This could probably go down as the hottest USB accessory we have ever reviewed.

Conclusion
The HP USB Docking Station is a decent accessory to look at if you share your computer between home and work, and need to connect multiple devices at both locations. With a single USB connection you can connect external speakers, an additional display, network cable, and four USB devices. Pushing all of this data through a single USB connection does have its downsides, with limited video playback support and much slower USB transfer speeds. A true docking connector with pass-through connections is always the best option for connecting external devices, but if you don’t have that option this is your next best bet.

Pros:

  • Connect multiple devices through a single USB connection
  • Support for DVI (which not all notebooks or netbooks have)
  • Handy onboard flash to store drivers (no lost installation disc!)

Cons:

  • Gets very hot under normal use
  • USB file transfer speeds are acceptable, but not great
  • Not as stylish as most HP products

Availability and More Information
The HP USB Docking Station ($139) is available from the HP website as well as many online and retail stores.


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