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There are four different types of laptop docking stations: standard, industrial, high-security and public terminals. All these models are based on a minimum 14-inch (35.6 cm) laptop and are not compatible with smaller units. A laptop is a portable computer unit that ranges in size from 8 inches (20.3 cm) to 24 inches (61 cm) in diameter, so the smaller ones are incompatible with docking stations.
Standard laptop docking stations are purchased as an accessory from the laptop manufacturer. The typical design is a small platform with a thick hub at the back. The laptop is pushed into the hub, which locks onto the base of the unit. In the hub itself are connections for video, sound, networking and Internet connections. When the laptop is connected to the hub, all these connections are made automatically.
Industrial laptop docking stations provide all the same functions as standard docking stations, in addition to other features. Barcode scanners, fingerprint identification units, and enhanced security protocols are typical on this type of station. Depending on the work environment, the station may be designed to accommodate laptops housed inside protective cases. This can include waterproof and drop resistant cases that are much thicker than standard laptop housing.
High security laptop docking stations are common in banking, military applications, and system development environments. The laptop is connected to the hub in the normal process, but the user is required to log into two separate systems. The first system provides minimal access and usually contains virus-scanning software. The unit is scanned and must be confirmed as virus free before the user is prompted for the second log in. The second connection provides access to the actual network and related systems.
A public laptop docking station allows users to connect to the Internet and power sources in an Internet cafe or public library. These stations provide access to the Internet, power and a monitor. Using this type of station, there is no need for wireless access or cards. The risk for virus transmission is minimal and activity can be traced back to a specific user, should it be required.
When connecting your laptop to a docking station, check the connectors to ensure they are firmly in place and that there are no obstacles between the docking station and the laptop. If you feel any resistance, pull the laptop back and check the connectors again. A broken connection can be quite costly to repair. In some cases, they cannot be repaired and an another docking station must be purchased.
@Terrificli -- for some of the specialized users mentioned in the article (military, organizations that need heightened security, etc.), docking stations are sill used. For most everyone else, just plugging peripherals in directly to the laptop is more than good enough.
There is one thing to keep in mind, however. Laptops still don't have as many USB ports as desktops. So, you might not have room on your laptop for everything that you want to connect. In those cases, you can pick up an inexpensive USB expander that plugs in to a USB port and offers a small hub with three or four additional ports on it. Problem solved.
Do most laptop users even need docking stations anymore? They may have been great a few years ago, but things have changed -- laptops tend to have enough USB ports for keyboards, mice and other accessories and enough other ports (video, Ethernet, etc.) to take advantage of anything that might have once been plugged into a docking station.
It is often far more economical to simply adjust your power settings so that the laptop will work with the lid shut and then hook up your monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer and other things you used to plug into a docking station directly to your laptop. With the standardization of USB ports and the general trend of building laptops with connecting with peripherals in mind, aren't docking stations largely obsolete?
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