Welcome to the USB 3.0 Era
The USB 3.0 spec burst on the scene in 2008, and is now a precocious four-year old. In other words, USB 3.0 is just about ready to go to school. With high-speed hard drives, memory keys and a variety of video peripherals, USB 3.0 offers an order of magnitude speed increase over USB 2.0. Enter Lenovo’s ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock, a $180 must-have device for putting all this power to work.
The beauty of the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock is that it does so much by bringing all of a computer’s connections onto one cable and looks good doing it. The black stubby device has a rubberized finish and soft feet that keep its many cable connections from pulling it off of the desk. Plus, the dot over the ThinkPad logo’s “i” lights up red when it’s turned on.
It takes about 5 minutes to install the dock’s software. Unlike HP’s 3005pr dock, which has all the needed software on-board, I needed to install the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock’s CD. It loads everything from the latest USB drivers to all the needed video software, but like other universal docks, it requires its own AC adapter.
The USB 3.0 dock is connection central with 5 USB 3.0 ports, which should be more than enough for even the most connected PC. If it isn’t, the device can work with a variety of hubs. There are two ports in the front for things like memory keys and three in the back for more permanently connections for things like an external hard drive or a video input device. It’s a little disconcerting that the USB 3.0 Dock doesn’t have any USB 2.0 connections, but the dock worked fine with a variety of older equipment.
Inside is DisplayLink’s DL-3900 Dual Head Graphics chip. That means that its pair of DVI video ports can each drive a separate monitor or projector to mirror or extend the host computer’s screen. The package includes a DVI-to-VGA converter for using older monitors and projectors, but I would have preferred that at least one of the outputs used the HDMI standard that combines audio and video.
Although the dock’s video resolution tops out at 2,048 by 1,152, it’s plenty for viewing or projecting HD programming. I used the dock’s video abilities to connect it to two 24-inch monitors to create an ultrawide screen that was perfect for editing images and video or working through a math problem on one screen while graphing it on the second.
The ThinkPad Dock has gigabit wired Ethernet but does without WiFi. Still, it can work with an off-the-shelf USB WiFi receiver. It has a single audio jack that consolidates a microphone and headphones, making it perfect for use with a headset during a Skype video conference.
It worked with a variety of Windows 7 systems, although the dock heats up quite a bit when it is used. It doesn’t degrade the host system’s performance, though. With HD Tune’s Pro 5.0 disk benchmark monitoring the data flow, the USB 3.0 Dock was on a par with using the memory key plugged directly into the computer. It was able to work with video, audio files and large images.
The $180 Lenovo dock comes with a 1-year warranty, but as good as it is, the dock isn’t perfect. It is a victim of its design that’s aimed at working with a variety of notebooks. Unlike a dock that’s made for a specific model of computer, it won’t charge the notebook’s battery. That means you’ll need to plug in at least one more cable.
+ 5 USB 3.0 ports
+ Dual monitor support
+ HD-plus resolution
+ Good performance
+ Works with old and new equipment
- No HDMI
- Can’t charge notebook