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Kensington Universal Notebook Dock
With the possible exception of the MacBook Air, most laptops, even netbooks, have several USB ports, so four extras might not appear that useful. This is a secondary, powered USB hub, though, so peripherals drawing up to 500mA direct from the USB source are well supplied. The Kensington Dock comes with a surprisingly compact 3A, black block power supply so you could, for example, run two external hard drives and two DVD drives concurrently, without power problems. If you’re running that kind of configuration, though, you might be better off with a desktop, anyway.
No mere pass-through portage
The audio and network ports do pretty much what you’d expect, with stereo headphone and mono mic giving fair sound. Listening to both classical and rock tracks gave a good balanced stereo stage and a plenty of presence. Spoken word input would be good enough for narration soundtracks or speech recognition – if the netbook had the welly for running Dragon Naturally Speaking. Remember, this isn’t a pass-through of the laptop’s audio, but digitised and taken over USB to the dock.
Once you’ve installed the expansion dock software, all these connections work transparently, so for example, it’s not necessary to make any audio setting changes.
To test the device’s capabilities, we used a Carphone Warehouse Webbook, based on a 1.6GHz VIA C7-M chip, so not the quickest ultraportable on the block. We set it to play an iPlayer video on the external screen, with audio through the dock headphone socket, while simultaneously backing up files to a Clickfree external hard drive, using a USB mouse and all running via the Kensington dock. The system worked extremely well, with no visible stutter in the video and the backup completing in the same time as it did when directly connected to the Webbook’s USB port.
The AC adaptor delivers enough juice for a host of high-power peripherals
Pricing of the Notebook Expansion Dock with Video is odd. Prices from big-name sources range from £80 to £140, but this is way over what you can get it for. Some Amazon Marketplace suppliers sell it for around 50 quid, which is more reasonable, and we’ve seen it for less than that.
Find it for around £50, and this is a neat expansion dock. It works well, though it might struggle if you were playing games on an external monitor, while archiving to an external HD, playing music and downloading applications over Ethernet. Do that and many notebooks will grind to a halt, anyway - this dock won’t save them. ®
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