By Jim Bray
How do you expand your notebook PC affordably? And is there a way to stop
tripping over all those cables snaking around your desk?
Portable computers have come a long way since the days of the old DOS-based
models like the Osborn and Kaypro, beasts that may have been portable then,
but which are actually bigger than many of today's desktop PC's. Portables
can be just as powerful as desktops, too, depending on how much you spend and
how you get them configured.
My notebook PC blows my desktop one away in almost every way short of its
dinky little monitor, so when I got the opportunity to try an interesting
little docking station that can extend your notebook's monitor right off your
lap, I jumped at it.
The Universal Notebook Docking Station with Video, from Targus (www.targus.com),
is different from most docking stations in that, at $130U.S., it’s pretty
cheap and it also works with almost any Windows computer rather than being
Targus claims the Universal Notebook Docking Station with Video is the first
USB-based docking station with true video output capabilities; it features
a one touch interface that lets you connect your notebook computer not only
to an external monitor, but also to a keyboard, Ethernet, mouse, printer, speakers
or other devices.
I used the docking station to connect my notebook to a 36 inch RCA digital
TV that also acts as a computer monitor, and it worked fine. Well, it works
fine if you're content with a maximum resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, which
a lot of people are. (Editor's note: Since we printed
this piece, Targus contacted us to announce they have a downloadable patch
for the docking station that will up its maximum resolution to 1280x1024).
The video pass-through capability works best if you’re only using basic
business applications, such as Excel, PowerPoint or the like; it isn't nearly
as satisfying for gaming or videos. But for a temporary or casual hookup, such
as in a meeting room for displaying presentations, it should do the job
The docking station could also come in handy with older machines whose specific
docking stations are no longer available or are too expensive to be worth the
investment; it could also be a life saver if there's a pool of people who need
a docking station from time to time because you can buy one docker and they
can share it as needed.
The Targus has three video modes, so you can use your external monitor either
as the primary display, in combination with your notebook screen (each displaying
part of the image), or as a mirror that replicates the notebook screen onto
an external monitor or LCD (for presentations, etc.). And it raises the back
of the notebook up a bit to create a more comfortable typing position and to
let more air get at the bottom of the computer for better cooling.
A button on the back of the "docker" lets two of the four USB ports
mounted there have power constantly, whether the notebook you're attaching
to it is powered down or not. This is nice because it lets other USB devices
plugged into the docking station recharge or maintain their own power.
The Universal Notebook Docking Station with Video is definitely a niche product,
but it’s one of those things that, if you happen to need such a beast,
could be a real benefit.
Out of sight is out of mind
Another interesting product I tried recently is a little file cabinet-like
thingy that's designed to help clear up that rat's nest of wires under your
It's the Safecord Cabinet, from Torrance Design Innovations of Calgary, Alberta
(www.safecordcabinet.com). The unit sells for $60 Canadian and gives
you a single space through which you can run all the wires connecting your
computer to and from its peripheral devices and even the power outlet. The
tangles may remain, at least they do in my home office, but at least they're
shut away out of sight and out of the way where they can't cause anyone to
trip (and sue) or pull out a power cord when it's the most inconvenient.
It's a pretty simple concept, as is its execution. The little cabinet has
a series of ports on the top and both sides, and you can snake your wires in
one port and out another, keeping the wires off the floor and out of the way.
It came in really handy in my home office, too: I use one of those Roomba
robot vacuums to keep the room from resembling my local landfill (a virtually
impossible task, even for a droid), and as nifty as the Roomba is, it seems
particularly prone to getting snagged on wires, which makes the Safecord cabinet
a great solution for that black hole under my desk.
You can even stick your power bar in the bottom of the cabinet – as long
as it fits – and route its cord through a porthole on whichever side
of the cabinet is closest to your wall outlet, then you can snake other electrical
cords through the ports and plug them into the power bar inside the cabinet.
You can run any type of cable through the holes, of course, whether USB,
speaker wire, or whatever, and have them exit at the porthole closest to the
related device. And since there's really nothing but open space inside the
it's too thin to be used as a filing cabinet or junk drawer (believe me, I
tried), you can wind up any excess wiring and tie it up inside the Safecord,
out of the way.
My only real complaint about the Safecord cabinet is the assembly process.
The instructions are pretty vague and I had real trouble putting the thing
together properly. In fact, I ended up leaving some of the joints loose because
I didn't want to risk breaking the cabinet (and because leaving it that way
didn't affect its performance).
On the other hand, I have trouble unfolding assembly instructions, let alone
reading and following them, so maybe it isn't all the Safecord’s fault….
Torrance Design Innovations is also bringing a Safecord desk to market
which, according to the company's website, will be offered in a variety of