* Prices may differ from that shown
~Down the Docks~
Docking stations are frequently found in offices where employees use laptops. They offer an easy way to take a laptop with a small screen and an ergonomically 'iffy' keyboard and convert it into something much more like a standard desktop work-station. I'm fairly sure that we have so many of these at work for reasons of health and safety. It's just not a good thing to force your employees to squint at little screens or hunch over small keyboards for many hours every day so laptop users need to be spoiled a little with extra gizmos.
A docking station is a piece of equipment into which a lap top - closed or open - can be placed, powered up and the user can then use a standard keyboard, mouse and screen and take power directly from the docking station power supply. These items are all plugged into the docking station and remain in place when the laptop is removed. You could - and many people would in the interests of saving money - just plug your screen, mouse and keyboard into your laptop and indeed all the necessary holes are generally present.
However, it's a bit of a pain to be screwing your screen into the back and using two of your sometimes precious USB ports to run these pieces of equipment and then unscrewing and unplugging every time you want to take your laptop to a meeting or take it home for the night. Instead you can just flick a switch, undock your laptop and walk away in seconds. No plugging, no screwing and no general fiddle faddling about. To paraphrase the old Vidal Sassoon shampoo adverts, "I just dock and go".
Depending on your model of HP computer there are different styles of docking stations available. The first I had was a horrible thing which was designed to lift the laptop up so that its screen would be at an appropriate height to be used instead of a separate monitor. This type of docking station only works if you have a large laptop screen and is useless for small machines like the HP 2560p which I currently use. I took a wander round the office and took some photos of the various differet styles of docking stations that are in use - you can see the photos at the end.
I've also had docking stations that rely on clunking the laptop onto some connectors which stick up from the docking station. These work when there are concealed ports on the base of the laptop which with the HP laptops is normally restricted to the heavier larger screen models. What I have now is one of the 'slot and click' docking stations. With this I simply place the laptop into a suitably shaped space on top of the station and then click it into place using a sliding switch at the side. This docking station is one of the neater ones I've had and takes up less desk space than most. It sits flat on the edge of my desk with all the wires dangling out behind.
~The Elitebook 2560p Docking Station~
The docking station I have at the moment is for the Elitebook 2560p and it's the HP LE877AA. Allegedly it should also work with the 2540p model too. It's also the one that looks just like the photo at the top of the page.
The width of the docking station is about 5-6 cm wider than the laptop at 36 cm. The breadth is 12 cm and it stands 5 cm high. Because of the design of the docking 'slot', even though the station is 12 cm deep, only 5 cm are additional to the footprint of the laptop itself so this uses up less desk space than you might expect. The docking station weighs 930g but it's unlikely that you'll ever need to move it so weight is not an important factor for most users. It's designed to stand on your desk and stay there, not to go running around the world in your laptop bag.
What matters most about a docking station is less what's there and more about what you can stick into it. In effect you buy a piece of plastic with some electrical gubbins inside but the benefit it gives is appropriately shaped holes into which you can plug things. What you'll find on this docking station is a plethora of holes some of which I use and some of which I don't even recognise.
The following are present:
* 1 display port - I assume this is for the monitor
* 1 eSATA port - I honestly have no idea what that is but this is what it says on Wikipedia "SATA is a computer bus interface for connecting host bus adapters to mass storage devices such as hard disk drives and optical drives"
* 1 VGA (D-Sub) port - I think this is for an older style monitor
* 1 hole for a microphone
* 1 hole for a speaker or headphone
* 1 Ethernet LAN (RJ-45) port - for the Ethernet network cable
* 4 USB 2.0 ports - 2 of these are for the keyboard and the mouse and a third is usually charging my phone.
* A hole for putting a security cable lock.
* A hole for the power supply
Once you have set up the dock there should be no reason to need to remove any of the cables. I watched the IT guy set this up and it took him less than five minutes and everything slipped in easily without any jiggling around. It really does seem to be idiot proof. Once it is set up, there's not too much to think about - it just delivers what it should, access to all the things you've plugged in, quick release and a reliable power source.
As the docking station doesn't really do much other than sit there and have things plugged into it, it's not easy to find much to say about its performance. All I would say is that I've never had a problem with any of the HP docking stations. They don't go wrong, they just get replaced when the computer gets replaced.
I have had four different models of HP laptop in the past four and a half years - three of them in the last couple of mnoths (don't ask - it's complicated) and every single model required a different docking station. Two had identical laptop bodies and still managed to not be interchangeable on the docking station front. This obviously ensures that HP can sell a new station with every laptop (and force the company to junk a docking station each time a laptop goes to meet its maker) and is clearly good for their business if not for ours. It means that you really do need to be 101% sure that you've bought the right model as something that 'looks right' could still be totally wrong.
The list price for one of these is around £150 although you can get them slightly cheaper by shopping around. Personally I think that's a heck of a lot of money for a bunch of holes and if it was my own money that I was spending, I would think seriously before paying so much. In a previous job when I was officially home-based, I had a so-called 'KVM switch box' which enabled me to use the same keyboard, monitor and mouse with both my work laptop and my home computer. To 'switch' between the two computers, you just flicked a knob on the front of the box. Sadly I had to give it back when I left but I would suggest that for most home users spending their own money who already have screen, mouse and keyboard and want to work with two computers, then this may well be a cheaper and less space-consuming alternative to a docking station.