Sweex External USB 2 Docking Station review
(Picture 3) If you regularly use your notebook at a desk, you should take advantage of a port replicator – one simple connection replaces up to ten. Some notebooks have proprietary docking ports on the base that are compatible only with the manufacturer’s own (and often expensive) docking station – in our bargain notebook Labs, the HP and Dell have ports like this. But if your notebook lacks such a connection, all is not lost.
The Belkin Hi-Speed USB 2 Dockstation is one answer to the problem. It’s nowhere near as expensive as most proprietary docks, yet allows you to hook up parallel, serial, 10/100 Ethernet and USB peripherals. There are only two USB 2 ports, so you’ll have to spend extra on a USB hub if you have more than two USB devices. And, given that there are no PS/2 connectors, your mouse and keyboard could immediately use up both USB ports.
Unusually, there’s a VGA interface too, but it’s simply a passthrough – there are captive USB and VGA cables sticking out the side of the Dockstation. As with the other two replicators here, Belkin’s includes a PSU for powering the USB ports to ensure you don’t overload the bus when using a webcam, scanner or other powered USB device.
The Targus Mobile Port Station ups the USB port count to five – a much more reasonable number – and also adds a mini-jack audio port, the only one here. This means you don’t have to make a separate connection to your notebook if you have a set of speakers on your desk.
Unlike the Belkin Dockstation, which has ports on both sides, the Targus only has ports on the rear. The front has a row of LEDs to show which peripherals are connected. On the right-hand side is a Type B USB port for connection to your notebook, plus a power socket for the included PSU. The only problem is that it’s pricey at £75.
The Sweex External USB 2 Docking Station is right at the other end of the price scale, being £11 cheaper than the Belkin. Yet, it has the same ports, plus two PS/2 ports for a keyboard and mouse. There are no audio or VGA interfaces, but it’s just as simple to connect your monitor directly to your laptop as it is to connect the Belkin’s VGA cable. And if you don’t want to connect an external monitor, there’s no VGA cable cluttering up the desk.
Again, a PSU is included for powering the two USB 2 ports. Confusingly, there are two Type B USB ports, one on each end. Both are unlabelled, but one is for connection to your notebook (a cable is supplied) and the other to hook up a second PC or notebook. Using the PC Linq software supplied on CD, you can transfer files between the two computers without needing a crossover network cable and having to fiddle around with IP addresses and subnet masks.
We’re not entirely convinced by the blue/silver livery (it hardly matches the vast majority of notebooks currently on sale) and the build quality isn’t quite up to the standard of the Belkin or Targus, but for this price and with the handy PC Linq feature it’s the one to buy.
Although it isn’t strictly a port replicator, the Belkin Switch2 could prove just as handy. It’s essentially a KVM switch that lets you share your existing keyboard, monitor, mouse and speakers between your desktop PC and notebook, or a second PC.
A small box has connections for two USB devices (your mouse and keyboard), a VGA monitor and a set of speakers connecting via mini-jack. Emerging from the rear are two captive cables that branch out (as you’d expect) to VGA, USB and mini-jack connectors to hook up to your two computers. The round button can then be placed somewhere convenient on your desk to switch between the computers (a wireless version should be available shortly). For £36, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to double up your peripherals.