I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — it’s wonderful to be me. In addition to my outrageous good looks, cutting wit, and the fact that I’m a trendsetter and a leader of fashion, companies are occasionally kind enough to present me with shiny new gadgets and gizmos for my perusal and pondering.
Such was the case recently when I was asked if I would care to review one of Accell’s new USB-C docking stations, the choice being between the Accell Air USB-C 4K Driver-Less Dock or the Accell Driver-Less USB-C 4K Docking Station.
Being a humble fellow (I pride myself on my humility), I opted for the smaller, lighter, and cheaper “Air” doc, which seemed more appropriate to my needs.
Actually, speaking of needs, there was one large elephant in the room or fly in the soup, as it were (I never metaphor I didn’t like), which was the fact that I didn’t actually have a computer with a USB-C port to connect to my shiny new USB-C dock (see also The A, B, C of USB for Beginners).
In turn, this pushed me to purchase a new notepad computer. My old laptop is a beast from a forgotten era, measuring 16.5” wide by 11” tall by 1.25” thick, sticking awkwardly out of one’s backpack, and weighing in at what seems like 100 pounds if you are carrying it from one end of the Dallas/Fort Worth airport to the other (I speak from experience). On the bright side, it does boast a copious collection of connectors, including four USB-A 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and one HDMI port. I don’t know how old this notepad is, but recent generations of the Windows operating system have not been kind to the poor little scamp, and it now takes about 15 minutes from pressing the power button and logging in before it can be persuaded to do anything useful.
All I wanted was an outrageously large amount of computing power for very little money. Surely that’s not too much to ask. One problem is that things move so quickly in this space that it’s difficult to know what to do for the best. Fortunately, I have a chum called Daniel who works at GigaParts, so I asked him if they had anything on offer, and he rooted through their inventory and found a little rascal that was on clearance and that perfectly suited my needs.
This bodacious beauty blows me away. It’s only 12.5” wide by 8.75” tall by 5/8”. Even though it’s as light as a feather, it boasts 16 GB of RAM, a 1 TB SSD, and a screamingly fast, state-of-the-art, quad-core Intel processor. I now think of this little ragamuffin as “My Precious,” so I immediately ordered a 13″ Leather Vertical Laptop Sleeve from Saddleback Leather to keep it safe and sound.
Using the small screen, keyboard, and touchpad of a notepad is OK when you’re on the road, but it’s not ideal. When I’m at home, I like to connect it to a large screen (via HDMI), a large keyboard, and a wired mouse (I hate wireless mice because the batteries always run out at the most inopportune moments).
Of course, as part of this machine being so small, it offers only a limited number of connectors, including two USB-A 3.1 ports, one USB Type-C port, and one HDMI port (it also came with a little USB-A to Ethernet dongle, which will doubtless come in handy). What this means is that, as soon as I’ve connected a USB keyboard and a USB mouse, I’ve used all of my USB-A ports, leaving nothing free for a USB webcam and suchlike.
This is where having a dock comes in. Do you remember the docking stations of yesteryear? In many cases, they were as big as the notepad and laptop computers they served. The idea was for the docking station to reside on your desk and to be connected to the power supply and all of the peripheral devices (screen, keyboard, mouse…). All you had to do was sit your computer on top, which connected it to the docking station via a special connector mounted underneath, and you were ready to rock and roll. On the one hand, this was a great idea, especially if you had one docking station at home and another in your office. On the other hand, the docking station was so large and heavy that you were unlikely to take it with you on a business trip.
All of which returns us to my shiny new Accell Air USB-C 4K Driver-Less Dock, which kicked all of this off in the first place. Measuring only 4.25” long by 2” wide by 3/4” thick and weighing only a couple of ounces, this little urchin has an integrated 6” cable with a USB Type-C connector on the end. You start by plugging this connector into your host machine (it’s compatible with Windows 8 and above, macOS 10.10 and higher, and Android 7.1 and later). In return, it provides you with three USB-A 3.1 ports, two HDMI parts, and an 87-watt USC Type-C PD (power delivery) port.
Currently, I have everything setup at the house. My new notepad is in my home office (my wife laughingly refers to it as the dining room) connected to the dock, which is connected to a large monitor, keyboard, mouse, and webcam, thereby leaving the two USB-A 3.0 ports on the notepad free for other tasks. If I wish to take the notepad into the family room with me, all I need do is unplug the dock from the USB Type C port and off I go.
Do you recall my saying that using the small screen on a notepad is OK when you’re on the road? I was lying. I hate it. I can live with the small keyboard and the touchpad, but I do like a large screen. Well, my new dock is small enough and light enough to accompany me on my treks, and it will allow me to use the spiffy high-def television screens that now grace every hotel in which I stay.
Now I’m looking forward to my next trip, wherever that might be, if only to take my new dock for a spin. How about you? Do you think you could be tempted to invest in one of these docks yourself?
I still like my old computer because it has ports. When will new laptops come without a screen or keyboard?
By the way, the 2 Ronnies can probably help with your dongle dilemma!
I used to love the two Ronnies — their classic “R U 1 ?” “I R 1 2 !” Priceless!
I would still like to get my RS232 ports back.
Max- you should get your friends to add an RS232 port to their dock. I would definitely buy one.
I have a box of them somewhere here in my office — do you want me to send them to you?
I loved RS232 as a robust interconnect/interface — but I hated having to power down the system every time I connected a new device.
I recommend the FTDI USB to RS232 dongles
Not quite the same as RS232 ports on your computer but for the most part they just work.
They have TTL level serial dongles which I’ve found very useful in troubleshooting (except that they keep disappearing). I see they also have I2C and SPI dongles…
I’m amazed at all the dongles that are out there — my new notepad came with a USB-A 3.1 to Ethernet dongle — when USB first came out, who would have thunk?
Max, I’m with you as far as docking stations go, I like you have one at work and one at home and can thus have two screens in both locations. Except that our Lenovo Laptops batteries are getting old, and expanding, and many will not fit onto the docking stations any more. Mine still does if I give it a thump in the right place. But work is not buying Lenovos any more because they won’t give us the required Modern Slavery declaration, so when I do have to replace it I will get a Dell, probably, and it won’t fit the docks. GRRR. So your USB-C expanders are a great idea, being manufacturer-independent.
Like Aubrey (being an old fart of similar vintage from Zimbabwe) I also bemoan the lack of RS-232 ports these days, even though I hardly ever need them any more, but I have found that the USB-FTDI type that Elizabeth suggests are a good replacement. Also pretty well machine independent and being FTDI based they just plug in and play mostly.
But don’t you love the fact that Microsoft WinBloat virtually forces you to buy a new machine every time they bring out a new version? I’m struggling along with a Win 7 clunker and before that I had a Win XP machine that I loved until it gave up the ghost. I used to refuse to use a Microsoft OS till it was 2 versions out of date (and thus patched to rock solidity) but it’s almost impossible to do that now, MS stop supporting them 2 seconds after they bring out the next version. GRRRRRR 😩
By the way, why do you need the expander to plug into hotel TVs? It sounds like your new notebook does have an HDMI port – can’t you use that?
Re the HDMI port — that just struck me when I was in the plane out here (where “here” is a top-secret location I cannot disclose). Save to say that in my backpack I have a long HDMI cable plus almost every other USB-? to USB-? combination known to humankind — plus power packs and wall warts and… also my traveling tool kit (inc. the little multimeter you recommended from Down Under).
Re HDMI – Keep it simple, stupid, as the saying goes. But I’d still be taking the new USB-C goodie with me too. But here’s something you may not have:
A cable with USB-A plug and 3 USB-A sockets, plus one USB-Mini plug. Effectively a 3-port hub in a cable. The Mini plug is pretty well useless these days, nothing seems to use them, everything is Micro now, but the 3-port hub is useful. I have a few of them chucked out from a project, so if you’d like one let me know and I’ll get it winging its way over.
Hi David — I really appreciate the offer, but I don’t think I’d use it because I already have a dinky little 4-way hub traveling hub.