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October 1, 2009 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Laptop dock without the expense?

I recently purchased a new laptop, getting rid of my decrepit desktop. My issue is that I have several peripheals that I'd still like to use in conjunction with my laptop (wireless keyboard/mouse, speakers, second monitor, printer, etc.) while minimizing cable clutter and the number of things I need to physically plug in to the computer when I set it down on the office desk.

I looked at a laptop dock, and while it would be an ideal solution, it's a bit beyond my budget for the time being. I have multiple USBs, a VGA input and the power cord for the laptop, as well as the output for the speakers (plugging into headphone jack). Is there anything like a souped-up USB hub that would fit my needs? Is there a VGA-to-USB adapter (and would I really want to do that)? I'm open to any ideas, no matter how hacked the end-product might be.
posted by po822000 to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I use a toshiba dynadock, older models are available cheaply on ebay. If you are happy with using VGA and dont need features such as DVI out etc you will find that to be an economical option. Do make sure you download the latest drivers as it makes a difference.
posted by london302 at 12:08 PM on October 1, 2009

What kind of laptop? Different brands will have different available options for purchase, and if all the ports are on one side, that would make any DIY solution much easier.

A $20 powered USB hub with a single plug to the laptop should be able to take care of all of your USB peripherals - USB is designed to deal with these-plug-into-that-which-plugs-into-this-which-plugs-into-the-computer arrangement. So you could plug all your USB stuff into some messy tangled hub under the desk, but have one tidy USB plug on top of the desk to go into the laptop.

There are both USB speakers and USB adapters that let you plug regular jack speakers into them; incorporate one of those solutions into your USB tangle above and you have one less cord.

Do you mean VGA output, like for another monitor? I've used several USB-to-VGA adapters, and I can't really recommend them; you're better off with the stock blue VGA plug from the monitor to the laptop.

Power cord is a power cord, you're stuck with that.

So that makes one USB cord, one monitor cord, and one power cord for about $25. If you want less cords, you'll need to find a dock of some kind that also includes a USB hub, VGA plug and provides power for the laptop. That'll quadruple the price and may not end up being much tidier.
posted by bartleby at 3:12 PM on October 1, 2009

Your DIY option would be easiest if the ports you need to connect to are all on one side.

I've seen folks get the cords all arranged, make a template out of plexiglass, then drill the appropriate holes and glue or otherwise fasten the cable ends in the precisely spaced holes. That way they end up with a "connector stick" with everything prearranged that they can just slap into the side.

Very similar to these, which are made for macbooks which have no real dock solutions:
You just slide it and the macbook together until they click, and you're docked.
posted by bartleby at 3:38 PM on October 1, 2009

Your best bet for convenience is to get USB speakers or a USB adapter for your current speakers. I set my mom up with a powered USB hub that has a keyboard, mouse, printer, backup hard drive, with ports on top for her flash drives. All she has to do is put her laptop on the desk, connect the single USB cable from the hub, her monitor cable, her power cable (she purchased a second AC adapter that lives at the desk). I used twist ties (zip ties or any kind of cable tie) to wrap up all excess cables, including from the AC adapter, mounted an outlet strip under her desk for the various power connectors. She told me it was "a joy" to use her laptop on the desk now, compared to the chore it was before.

It's not quite a dock but with a hub and tying up all cables neatly it's about the next best thing. Bartelby's plexiglass "dock" connector sounds like it would further help so long as the cables are all on one side and you can mount them securely to the plexi.
posted by 6550 at 4:29 PM on October 1, 2009

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