Patterico's Pontifications


Bleg: Docking Stations/Monitors/Etc.

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:51 pm

We just got a new laptop and may get another. I’m hooked on the mobility.

However, the screensize sucks — and if you get one with a bigger screen, the battery sucks. So what I’d like to do is get a setup where I have a single large-sized monitor on my desk, and can hook up any laptop to it — whether it’s my Dell laptop from work, my new Gateway laptop, our aging HP laptop with the large screen, or any other brand we choose to get in the future.

Ease of connection is important. I don’t want to have to screw in a DVI or VGA connection every time I hook the sucker up to the desk monitor. That means some sort of docking station, or a USB-controlled monitor. I see Samsung has a new one out this year, and it seems kind of pricey but I’ll still get it if it does the job. But it’s a little low in height; I want one on a stand so it can sit on my desk and be at eye level.

I have a new assignment (did I mention this? I am no longer in Compton but am assigned to the gang unit in Long Beach) and my workload is very heavy. (Have you noticed the slowdown in my blogging? I think I did around 35 posts last month. Nice thing is, the less I blog, the better our traffic is — this month was the best traffic month since the election.) I spend a lot of time at the desk at home now, and I need a good setup with a good-sized monitor. By which I mean at least 19 inches. 21 would be better.

I’m also willing to listen to suggestions on desks. We need to scrap the one we have and get a roomier one, given the amount of time I will be spending in the home office. I saw a nice desk at Staples today that is sizable and L-shaped, with a nice hutch, for around $500 for the whole set. Reviews say it scratches easily but is otherwise very nice.

Thanks for your thoughts. Please keep my particular specifications in mind when you make suggestions.

33 Responses to “Bleg: Docking Stations/Monitors/Etc.”

  1. Get a laptop with a HDMI port. Nuff said.

    Plumpplumber(balding) (55b261)

  2. Patterico,

    Desk I use:

    Solid oak, left drawer is flip down front for keyboard if necessary.

    I got tired of crap.

    Regards, Todd

    Todd (0c8993)

  3. Yeah, HDMI doesn’t require you to screw in a VGA or DVI connection, although then again the screws are somewhat optional in those connections too. Just push the sucker in and you’ll be fine.

    DVI (and HDMI, which is the exact same signaling but added wires for sound as well) is a terrible standard specifically designed to screw consumers over, but it’s what we have for the time being. You’re still definitely looking at a laptop with an HDMI port, and most current consumer-level models will have such a port.

    Andy (97db24)

  4. Well, I don’t think the laptop I just got has such a port, and I don’t know what I’d do with it if it did. You’re talking “Setup for Dummies” here — the two comments so far, while well intended, assume a knowledge that I don’t have.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  5. Can’t say on docking stations, etc. (but the HDMI references above sound like a good way to go).

    But on monitors, I’d say go as large as you can afford. At least 21, though to my mind, 23 would be even better. If you are going to be on it a lot, then larger seems like the way to go.

    I have dual monitors at work (two 19’s) and I wish they were larger. Might be a function of my eyesight as I’m getting up there and eye-strain is becoming a concern. Wide screen definitely.

    Ergonomically, make sure the monitor is at an appropriate height. Everything can be just fine but if the height is off, neck strain/back strain won’t be far behind. A half inch at work made all the difference.

    Bill M (c5889b)

  6. Oops, now that comment 2 appeared, I meant what are now 1 and 3.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  7. I need an L-shaped desk for the room.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  8. What is the point of dual monitors anyway?

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  9. Don’t buy a monitor, buy a LCD TV and you can use as a monitor, watch TV or use to monitor security camera’s. I have a 22 inch that works perfect for each use. A remote selects source of signal. Some have the split screen that will provide dual use.

    Scrapiron (4e0dda)

  10. I have a MacBook Pro which has a DVI port. The MacBooks don’t have it. I look at a lot of documents in my work which is at home mostly. Two weeks ago, I bought a 20 inch monitor for my Arizona home office that cost $109. It works great with the Mac DVI to VGA connector. I also give lectures and use a VGA digital projector. I’m giving a talk to the Saddleback Republican Assembly next month on my ideas about health reform (plug) and will use my projector. I review medical records that are sent to me as pdf files. Some of them are 150 pages. With two screens I can set up all the documents I need and go through them pretty fast.

    Of course if you bought a PC laptop, forget what I said.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  11. Dual monitors give you more space to work with, and you can also do things like have e-mail open on one screen and a web browser on the other without the two cluttering each other up.

    Sorry to be imprecise about HDMI in my previous comment. It’s a port that in a way looks similar to USB but it’s not rectangular in shape; you can see an example here. ( If your laptop is new I wouldn’t be overly surprised if it didn’t have a port like this, but I’d be a little surprised. Much current home electronics uses it now; almost all current HDTV’s have at least one HDMI port, so there is now some crossover between computers and home electronics.

    Quite a few current monitors have an HDMI port; some may have a DVI port, which is completely, 100% compatible with HDMI, you just need to get the right cable. The monitor I bought for my wife’s computer is a 24-inch HP and it uses HDMI.

    The docking station solution would work, except that as far as I’m aware there is no standard, so each vendor uses its own proprietary dock.

    If you look at your current laptop and see that it has an HDMI port after all, probably your best bet is to get a monitor, attach an HDMI cable to it and leave the other end sitting on your desk to attach to any laptop you put down. And if you end up going down this path, a word of advice about HDMI cables: get the cheapest ones you can find, whether from Amazon or Newegg or elsewhere. If you go to Best Buy they’ll try and push into Monster cables that run upwards of $200, which are simultaneously a slap in the face and an insult to intelligence. A $5 cable will work as well over a 10 foot distance as a $200 cable.

    Andy (97db24)

  12. And get the best and biggest monitor you can afford. Your eyes are worth it.

    As for two monitors, that is a good idea, too.

    Eric Blair (a88004)

  13. I’ve tried several docking stations but they all had inconsistent video performance except where my laptop and docking station were the same brand. Since you have different brands, I’d try the Kensington docking station since some reviews say it has good video performance. Whatever you get, make sure it’s a laptop docking system with video, unless you go with multiple monitors.

    FWIW, I ended up with the 2 monitor system Bill M describes. I have a desktop and monitor. and I hook up the second monitor directly to my laptop. I use a docking station to connect the laptop to a keyboard, mouse, audio, printer, and other peripherals.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  14. Docking station is the way to go. Some even allow you to put in an additional video card if you don’t want to go with the onboard card. Dual monitors are extremely useful if you are constantly switching applications, or copying from one application to another. I usually use my monitor and then my laptop screen for my second monitor. Use a dock from your laptop manufacturer. It will work better. Andy is right about the cables…as long as there is no strong local interference (lots of power cables or high voltage/amperage.

    rudytbone (cbc07c)

  15. Off-topic but there’s also this dual-screen laptop.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  16. get the cheapest ones you can find, whether from Amazon or Newegg or elsewhere.

    Amazon? Newegg?

    People, let me introduce you to the end-all, be-all of affordable cables (from A/V to Co-ax to HDMI and toslink, to twisty-tie spools)…

    I have gotten a lot of stuff (most recently re-ordered a 25′ run of toslink fiberoptic cable for my 5.1 gaming headset that cost less than $10, including shipping), and it’s all good stuff. They have solid connectors, and fit snugly.

    I’m eying a 35′ VGA cable to run from my computer to my TV to make it into a BIG second monitor, mainly for video-use.

    The benefit of multi-monitor setups is that you can have, say, a word document on one screen, and your research up on the other screen (like a LEXIS NEXIS search or whatever) and you don’t have to minimize anything to go back and forth.

    The odds, however, of your laptop having more than one video output is slim, though.

    I really think a good, $210 or $230 monitor would be best, and just plug in the VGA cable. There really in no need to screw it into the laptop (though I would likely advise you screw it into the monitor).

    Also, I’d suggest an inexpensive usb keyboard. set your power setting on the laptop so that when it’s plugged in it doesn’t shut off when you close the lid, and then you can even set it aside and work like you’re on a regular PC.

    But it is possible that you could end up with a laptop with HDMI and a VGA/SVGA port, so you never know. I know a lot of Dells have them now. (btw, you should check Dell, HP, and Gateway sites to look at deals on basic computers – they won’t scream, but they aren’t too bad either)

    [note: fished from spam filter]

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  17. Another vote for the two-monitor setup, for the reasons described by Andy and Scott, above.

    AMac (4a5561)

  18. Is there software needed for a dual monitor setup?

    Just bought a 24 inch iMac for Better Half. I appropriated the 20 inch monitor for my laptop in our office.

    JD (a71690)

  19. JD…you need your video card to support dual monitors..most of them do these days, but if you have an older system it would be good to check. If yo have a desktop, you need to make sure that your video card has 2 ports. Most (All business class) laptops come with a monitor port so you can run a monitor and the notebook screen at the same time.

    rudytbone (cbc07c)

  20. The MacBook Pro is already set up for the second monitor. You just plug it in. Sometimes you have to fool around with the video settings to get one compatible with both the laptop screen and the second monitor. Ditto for projectors.

    MIke K (2cf494)

  21. Ikea used to have the excellent “Effectiv” line of desks (I type on one now), but that has been replaced by the cheaper Galant line.

    Note the L shape and the computer-centric design — the desk height is fine for keyboards and the bend is deep enough for ANY monitor (had a 21″ CRT on it back in the day).

    Kevin Murphy (3c3db0)

  22. Failing that, Plummer’s has a decent selection of modern desks.

    Kevin Murphy (3c3db0)

  23. The technical advice presented here is beyond my current knowledge, but I can add that I’ve had a kidney – shaped solid oak desk from Herman Miller for over a decade now, and I’ve mostly worked out of my home office during that time period. It’s pricey, but really terrific – looking, and has plenty of space on both sides of the wrap – around shape to handle two computers with screens, along with associated flotsam and jetsam. Also got their ergonomic chair that’s become ubiquitous over the years – but still worth it.

    Dmac (e6d1c2)

  24. Right, I forgot about! You would think since that’s where I got my cables I would have remembered to plug them too.

    But generally speaking, if you pay more than a few bucks (like 10) for a 6 foot cable you’re getting ripped off. Even at $10 that’s not a very good price, IIRC.

    [note: fished from spam filter]

    Andy (97db24)

  25. If you want the universality that you mentioned in your post (be able to hookup any laptop to the monitor) than neither the docking station or the HDMI suggestion will work for you. Your aging HP is unlikely to have a HDMI connection; it probably won’t even have a DVI one. And docking stations are all different across brands; you can’t use a Dell docking station with a Gateway laptop.

    The only way to get your desired universality is with a vga connection. I wouldn’t worry about threading in the screws, though. Just plunk down the laptop of the moment and plug the vga cable in. Laptops are heavy enough that they don’t shift around like a keyboard might while you are typing on them, so the connector should stay put while you are using it. You will probably also want to plug in power and an ethernet cable, so just fasten them down in some fashion so that you aren’t having to dig under the desk for them every time you sit down. Really, three quick plug-ins, and you are good to go. The only impediment to universality is going to be your power situation, since everyone uses their own power supplies and connector styles. But, there are universal power supplies that may make sense for you.

    Anon Y. Mous (952a77)

  26. I am pretty much a computer dummy myself, but I don’t see the problem with what you are trying to do. I always work dual monitors with my laptop, what I did was just plug the standard cord on the monitor in the also standard port on the laptop (I think we are talking VGA here, but I could be wrong).

    The only tricky part is telling the extra monitor what you want it to do. When I first started working like this my laptop ran Windows XP, and I had to go into the monitor setup (off the control panel) to tell it that I wanted to expand my desktop onto the external monitor (and what side of the desktop I wanted it expand). My new laptop runs Vista, which I generally hate, but Vista does this automatically. I pretty much just plug it in and start working.

    Roscoe (c63744)

  27. #8 — Comment by Patterico ā€” 8/29/2009 @ 8:09 pm

    What is the point of dual monitors anyway?

    Dual monitors are typically used when additional viewing space is desired. They are much cheaper than a single large monitor with equivalent viewing space and quality.

    Example: a researcher might have several documents open and might need to refer to them simultaneously or at least often enough that switching back-and-forth makes it inconvenient.

    Also, great for flight simulator šŸ˜‰

    Pons Asinorum (20c241)

  28. Both my wife and I used docks. but they are specific to our particular computers. When I replaced my last thinkpad, I just got one that would work with the same dock.

    I’ve wound up just putting all my files on a large external drive and taking that with me everywhere I go, but I would also love the idea of a dock that can take several different laptops.

    It’s not the screwing in one or another cable that’s annoying… it’s just the idea of hooking up several things. A dock makes it much cleaner and easier.

    Juan (bd4b30)

  29. Pat,

    Could you let us know which laptop you purchased?

    Some manufacturers have dedicated ‘docking stations’ but most don’t. If there isn’t one for your specific machine there are universal replicators like Toshiba PA3575U-1PRP. It connects to the laptop with a single USB cable so no need to mess with VGA or DVI plugs, and it’s hot-swappable. It has a built-in video card that will support up to 3 monitors.

    Monitor: contact your IT department and see if they have a Dell or HP account. If so they may get a good rate on refurbished monitors. The best deals I’ve seen recently were from Dell’s refurbished shop. Ex: 24″ for $190 all in.

    Dual monitors: like the previous commentors wrote, if you switch between applications frequently they they are useful. If not, you may not need an extra screen. Graphic artists and day-traders consider them required equip.

    bastiches (135406)

  30. 8.What is the point of dual monitors anyway?

    Windows allows dual monitors to function as one big monitor. You need to get used to the space in the middle (where the two edges come together) when you are using it all as one full screen. Otherwise, it’s possible to open multiple windows in full size and have them on different parts of the screen. I often have to work with multiple windows open, using info from those programs at the same time. Dual monitors makes this easy. Otherwise, you either end up making the windows smaller to see everything at once, or you have to cascade the windows and bring them into the foreground when you need to look at them.

    Bill M (c5889b)

  31. Knew a guy once who was a MASSIVE gaming geek, and had a 9-monitor set up – the high end, edge-to-edge kind so there was almost no line between them.

    God it was nice to look at.

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  32. bastiches, I think he wants to be able to use more than one computer with his dock solution, so he didn’t mention a specific model. I think the item you described sounds awesome, though… and sounds like what he wanted.

    Why use 2 monitors? Because it’s much easier to get work done that way. You have one monitor that is your primary focus… you have a maximized document or whatever on it. and you have a monitor that is not your primary focus that has different windows or a webbrowser for communication and research and everything else.

    At least that’s how I roll. Everyone’s a little different, but most can find a way to work better with two monitors than with one.

    Juan (bd4b30)

  33. I need to get a second monitor for just these reasons… I can support it with my current rig, just need to find one…

    Also, I need to swap my mobo for one that can handle more RAM… but that’s a different issue…

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

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