Components for Building Computers From Scratch/docking



I need a recommendation on a docking station.  I just bought a Dell laptop M531R.  I need to be able to connect 2 external hard drives, a printer(not usb), and a scanner, and speakers, and a monitor.  I won't be using it alot and would like to keep it as inexpensive as I can.


ANSWER: Dell provides this hardware as a compatible device for your system:

In general it isn't anything that looks proprietary - it connects via USB (as most "docking stations" these days will - the era of true docking stations (e.g. devices that connect via proprietary means to enable additional outputs related to hardware within the laptop) is more or less over), and provides some additional I/O capabilities. The biggest advantage it appears to provide is/are the video outputs - the video outputs on this device are based on a DisplayLink chipset however, and are not driven by your computer's GPU (at least not directly - there are a variety of limitations associated with DisplayLink (very crudely it can be thought of as "video over USB")).

For substantially less money you could add a USB hub to provide more USB expansion for your various peripherals, and connect your monitor via the HDMI output of the computer (and use both the laptop's display and the external monitor, both driven by the computer's GPU). Depending on the monitor you have (or purchase), the USB hub and audio capabilities may be built-in (audio can be sent via HDMI, but it requires the receiver to support this; many monitors support HDMI input and also have speakers built-in).

Regarding the printer and scanner - what connectivity do they offer, and what else can you tell me about them? Being entirely candid, if the printer is a very old injket model that only supports IEEE-1284, I would honestly suggest replacing it as opposed to putting money into backwards compatibility devices (which may or may not work or enable full functionality); if we're dealing with a very expensive impact printer or plotter that's another story altogether, however compatibility is still not likely to be guaranteed with USB-to-1284 adapters.

As far as "how would this all hook up" - you would connect your hard-drives, and other USB devices (like a keyboard, mouse, speakers, etc), to the USB hub, and then simply plug the USB hub into the computer's USB port when needed. The monitor would then just be plug in via HDMI and you'd be ready to go after enabling the second display (should be possible with the Fn keys quite simply). It will be very straight-forward to set-up, and will carry-over from one system to another (so when you replace your computer again in a few years, you won't have to find yet another docking product or similar - you just plug the USB connector into the new machine and you're good to go).

If you currently own a monitor that does not support HDMI input, the easiest answer is to replace it with a monitor that does support HDMI, however converters do exist (they will cost about the same as an inexpensive HDMI monitor; I'd only go this route if you have a very competent CRT that you're hoping to retain use of).

Finally - I'm assuming that you're connecting a basic 2.0/2.1 speaker system and not something more elaborate - if this is inaccurate please provide more information about your speaker system.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for all the info.  
To narrow it down, as little as I would use these items as of now it seems like a USB hub would be the way to go.
The main thing I'd like to use is the printer.  It is older an Hp deskjet 920 so I am pretty sure that is the older parallel connector.  
I could probably live without using the scanner it's older as well and has the same type of connector I believe.
The monitor is not set up for HDMI, so is there a way to connect an older monitor connection as well?
I guess the best solution for me instead of buying new items would be to get a USB hub that support both the monitor and printer.  Are there USB hubs that will have a slot for each/multiple?
I took a brief look online and there are definitely single ones, but it would be nice to just have to get one.
I can use the USB connectors on the laptop itself for the external hard drives as I don't use them much.


No, there won't be a "USB hub" that will connect to those devices; there may be USB adapter devices, but functionality is not guaranteed (compatibility being the biggest concern). For something as old and inexpensive as a Deskjet 920, I'd honestly suggest just replacing it with an all-in-one that provides scanner functionality. At the end of the day you'll be saving money and headaches associated with getting such an old printer to work with a modern computer. You probably can also get something that's much more efficient in terms of ink price, as well as has a much better scanner.

As far as HDMI - there's no cheap solution, as previously stated. Can you tell me more about the monitor?


Components for Building Computers From Scratch

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