Notebook docking stations pose a conundrum for anyone who likes to frequently upgrade their computers. You buy a $200-$300 docking station tailored to your specific make and model of notebook and when you decide to upgrade again, there goes more money for a new docking station. So there’s been a trend towards universal-type docking stations with built-in monitor, USB, audio, and Ethernet ports in the hopes that upgrading your notebook won’t necessitate yet another dock purchase.
I got the chance to try out StarTech’s $129.99 USB to VGA 4-in-1 Docking Station, which hopes to provide an affordable alternative to model-specific offerings.
Overview and Features
- Four-port USB hub
- VGA output up to 1600×1200 at 32-bit and 1920×1200 at 16-bit
- Audio/Mic input
Setup is relatively quick and easy, consisting of plugging everything into the dock and installing some software. I currently have a USB mouse and keyboard plugged in, plus a USB-to-DVI DisplayLink adapter powering a 19-inch monitor. I’m running the VGA connection out to another 19-inch monitor and I’ve got a cable plugged into the Ethernet port as well. So, in total, I’m running three monitors (two 19-inchers plus my laptop display), an external mouse and keyboard, and an Ethernet connection.
Before this setup, I had a four-port USB hub that I connected to my laptop and I plugged in my VGA monitor to the port on my laptop. All in all, I’ve saved one step in not having to plug the one monitor into my laptop anymore. Plus, I now have a slightly faster network connection. Previously, I’d just been using my laptop’s wireless signal. My desk looks a tad less cluttered, though, and plugging in just my laptop’s AC adapter and one USB cable feels a lot more simple.
The VGA output isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When plugging my monitor directly into my laptop’s VGA port, I’d be harnessing the power of the graphics subsystem. With the USB-to-VGA setup, the monitor is only as good as the throughput of all the USB devices firing at once. Consequently, I’ve noticed that things displayed on the monitor feel sluggish. Scrolling up and down web pages is a bit choppy and opening my photo editor on the screen connected to the dock slows things down considerably. Still, it works fine for basic stuff like moving files around and basic word processing. You’ll want to do gaming and any big boy work on your laptop’s native screen, though.
The driver for the VGA output is listed as “USB 2.0 Graphic Dock” if you’re interested. My DisplayLink adapter, which works along the same lines as the USB 2.0 Graphic Dock doesn’t exhibit the same slowdown. Thinking that it may have been hogging USB bandwith and slowing down the other adapter, I unplugged it. However, the dock’s VGA connector was still exhibiting the same slowdown.
You should already have an idea as to whether or not this type of device will suit you, especially if you’ve used a standard docking station before. You don’t get the same one-step connection as you would with a regular docking station — you’ll need to connect your power adapter manually as well. You’ll also be using the relatively weak graphics system built into the dock versus using the one built into your notebook.
The VGA issue aside, though, this is a pretty straightforward device that could make things easier for people with modest docking needs. If you want quick access to a mouse, keyboard, Ethernet port, speaker system, microphone, and second monitor, StarTech’s dock is a fine and very-affordable option, especially if you upgrade computers on a fairly regular basis.
USB to VGA 4-in-1 Docking Station [StarTech.com]