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HP USB 2.0 Docking Station with DisplayLink Review


DSC06880The HP USB Docking Station with DisplayLink opens up your laptop to a world of ports using just a USB cable. It includes video ports, DVI and VGA, an Ethernet jack, a microphone jack, a headphone jack, 4 USB ports and even a security cable slot. By plugging almost any laptop or PC into this dock via USB you can have all of these peripheral ports running simultaneously (DVI and VGA will only one will output at a time). It is intended to work with any computer with USB 2.0 running Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Intel-based Apple Computers. The USB Dock is able to make all of this possible using the DisplayLink Technology, which uses a software-based graphics card to efficiently display video transferred over USB.

What’s in the box:
The package we received included the USB Docking Station, a Type-B USB cable (regular USB on one side and the more squarish USB on the other side of the cable), a power adapter for the docking station, and a manual.

The HP USB Dock has a one gigabyte flash drive built in to the device with the necessary drivers for Windows. I could not have been more pleased with the set up on Windows XP. I connected it to an Acer Aspire One Netbook. After connecting the USB cable to my netbook a folder with the installation file popped open. I followed the installation prompts and within minutes all the HP USB Dock features were ready to start playing around with. An icon is added to your task bar with display options for the second monitor. It is super easy to use. Options include: Screen Resolution, Color Quality, Screen Rotation, Extend or Mirror.

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On Windows 7 (32 bit) the process was a little slower. When the dock is plugged in, Windows 7 will attempt to download all the drivers automatically. This turned into a 10-15 minute process on my Lenovo Z60 laptop. It couldn’t find the correct display drivers so I had to download them manually from the website, after another 10 minutes and a restart, HP USB Docking Station was functional, and just as usable as it was on Windows XP.
The last laptop in the house to try was my Macbook running Snow Leopard. Unfortunately the built-in flash drive on the Docking Station doesn’t include OSX Installation files. For OSX you have to download the installation file from the Display-Link website. It was only a few megabytes (which was considerably smaller than the Windows installation file). It takes a few minutes to install and requires a restart. Once installed, your Mac will recognize it as it would any additional display. This means display settings can be tweaked regularly by going to system preferences and clicking displays.
Overall, the set-up was pretty pain free. As long as the display drivers install correctly everything should work fine. I had no problems with any other ports. All of the ports function as if they were actually attached to your computer or laptop.

The design of the Docking Station is very nice. I’d be proud to have it sitting next to any one of my laptops. It’s all black with an HP logo and an LED on the top. It’s 8.8” x 3.2” x 1.1” and weighs less than a pound. It’s definitely portable. All of the ports are in the back of the device, with the exception of the USB cable that plugs into your laptop or computer, which is on the front.

The video quality was much better than I expected considering it’s transferring over USB. It supports 32-bit color depth and up to a 1600×1200 resolution. For regular computer usage like document viewing or web browsing, the external monitor looks near-perfect. The quality when watching a DVD on the external monitor is a little less than perfect. Most users will probably not be able to tell. The images are pretty crisp, but the refresh rate is not optimal.  The video is still 1000x better than resorting to using an S-Video out cable from your laptop to display video on a television. I also tried watching a 720p HD video (MKV format using my MacBook), it was choppier than the DVD, but still pretty watchable. Video quality will also depend on how powerful your laptop or computer is. While watching a DVD, I put the HP Docking Station to the test. I connected ethernet and a couple USB devices. There was little to no affect on the DVD that was being displayed on my external monitor while the other devices were being set up on my laptop. You can set up your monitor in Mirror or Extend mode. If you use mirror it will mirror your monitor on the external display in the same resolution you’re using. If you choose Extend mode you can set the resolution specifically for the external monitor. Extend mode is ideal for multitasking, especially on a netbook. As mentioned there are DVI and VGA outputs included, but only one will work at a time. It’s also completely silent, no buzzing, whirling, or humming.

All in All this device was rather impressive. It’s great that it’s not bound to just HP computers, and even greater that it works for Windows and Mac. The device requires it’s own power, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it will use less power from your laptop, and because the power is what makes DisplayLink  technology possible. It’s bad because it detracts from portability and also it uses one of the plugs that is sure to block at least one other plug outlet on your power strip. Other than that, the HP Docking Station can offer you a much more efficient computing environment. Plug in your speakers, keyboard, microphone, printer, external hard drive, internet, and monitor. It’s great having an easy connection to pass all signals, including video, over just one USB cable. You can purchase the HP USB Docking Station from HP or Amazon for $99.

Pros: Pretty easy to set up, Great video quality over USB, Affordable
Cons: Requires AC Adapter, No Mac Drivers included on device