Kensington sd200v Notebook Docking Station Review

by Reads (19,972)

by Ben Stafford

The Kensington sd200V Notebook Docking Station is the latest device from Kensington to provide a "universal" type of dock for notebooks. The dock connects to your notebook via a single USB port. From the dock, you can plug in five USB devices, speakers, a microphone, and a VGA monitor.


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Features and Specifications

  • DualView lets you expand your work area across your notebook screen and an external monitor
  • DualView Switch and Smart Connect/Disconnect technology manages the dual display settings for you
  • Gain instant access to your keyboard, monitor, mouse and all peripherals with one USB plug
  • Stereo out & Microphone In port lets you connect 2.1 stereo speakers or Internet chat headsets
  • Mini tower design reduces desktop footprint
  • Plug-n-play and hot pluggable, so you can connect to the dock and swap devices without shutting down
  • 5 USB 2.0 ports (4 on back, 1 on front), Microphone In & Stereo out ports
  • 1 VGA port compatible with widescreen monitor (up to 1440×1050 pixels) and regular monitor (up to 1280×1024 pixels)
  • Front LEDs for connectivity status
  • Works with any Windows XP and Vista notebook
  • Dimensions: 4.0"L X 6.25"H X 2.125"W
  • Warranty: 2 year warranty

Build and Design

The sd200v has good build quality. The construction is primarily plastic and it feels pretty solid. The black plastic body has vents on the sides to dissipate heat and the front of the sd200v is a white panel with some status lights to indicate power and display status. There is also a button to switch DualView modes and a USB port. You’ll find the rest of the jacks and connectors on the back of the device. All of the connections are solid and don’t wiggle when you start plugging in your devices.

 
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The dock, while primarily plastic has just about a perfect amount of weight. It doesn’t feel heavy at all, but it’s just heavy enough to prevent the upright form factor from falling over from the weight of lots of cables plugged into it. A slightly wider base with rubber feet provides additional support and stability.

One other design item to note is that the power adapter for the sd200v is nice and compact, with a slim, lightweight "brick" appearance.


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In Use

If you want to use the sd200v as a USB hub, it won’t require the installation of any other software. However, why would you pay for a dock than can do video and audio and then only use it as a USB hub? To get the use of the video and audio features on the dock, you need to install the software.

Since I have a slot-loading drive on my laptop, I avoided the miniature CD-ROM that contained the software. Even if you do use the disc, Kensington still encourages you to download the latest software from their website.

Once the software is all installed, you can plug in the VGA cable from your monitor directly into the back of the sd200v. The appropriate status light will activate on the front of the dock. If you want to switch between the clone mode (your screen is duplicated on your displays) and the "extended" mode (your desktop is extended and your mouse pointer travels between screens), then you can use the button on the dock or the Kensington application that runs in your System Tray.

This System Tray application lets you change the resolution, color depth, screen rotation and position of your external display in relationship to your main display.


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Overall, the dock works as advertised. It works very well as a USB hub. During my review, I plugged in several devices, like keyboards, mice, and thumb drives – and they all worked flawlessly. File transfer speed to a thumb drive attached to the dock was equivalent to the file transfer speed to a thumb drive without the dock.

For audio, a separate USB audio driver is installed before you can use the audio jacks on the dock. On the Kensington web site (where you download the driver files), you’ll also find instructions on how to configure the audio devices on your system so that the audio ends up playing back through the dock. Audio performed just like output directly from your computer.

Video-wise, the first thing you should know is that the dock can only drive resolutions up to 1280×1024 on a normal aspect ratio monitor and 1440×1050 on a widescreen monitor. However, during my testing with a 20" widescreen monitor with a native resolution of 1680×1050, I was only able to use 1280×1024. If your monitor does 1280×1024 resolution (or less) natively, then you’ll be good to go. Another limitation, for those with Vista, is that the docking station can’t do the Aero Glass theme. When the dock is installed, you’ll get a pop-up from Windows saying that the Basic theme is now in use.


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Video performance through the dock was sufficient for your "everday" type computing – web browsing, email, etc. I played back videos in both Windows Media Player and Quicktime during the review, on both my main display and the display connected to the dock. Quicktime videos played well on both screens, and I could even drag the window across monitors. However, with Windows Media Player, the image would not move on the external display – the movie was essentially frozen even though the movie was still playing. While I didn’t try to play any "real" games to test video performance, I did try some of the built-in Windows games to see if they would work. The "Purble Place" game, when moved over to the external display, abruptly exited with a "no suitable graphics device found" message. The Chess Titans game, while it would load, would not refresh the image on the screen (similar to what happened with Windows Media Player). So, bottom-line, don’t expect the sd200v to be able to keep up with video needs of anything other than typical Windows applications.

Conclusion

The Kensington sd200v Notebook Docking Station is a high quality docking solution. It can do everything that a casual computer user would need in a docking station. It does the easy things (act as a USB hub and audio) well. The trickier piece, video over USB through the dock, to an external display, is a little limited. The maximum resolution is limited (1280×1024) and anything that uses more advanced graphics may not work at all. Build quality is good and the form factor is nice for use on a desk.

Pros

  • Nice vertical/tower form factor takes up less space
  • Nicely weighted to keep it from falling over
  • Good styling – looks professional and not cheap

Cons

  • Video is limited through the dock


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