You’ve just picked up a ThinkPad X1 Carbon. It’s sleek and sexy, the ultimate portable tool really, but when you get to the office, dorm room or home, you’ve got a couple nice big monitors, a Blu-ray drive, a set of speakers that sound much nicer than the X1′s speakers, a mouse/keyboard combo and an external hard drive you’d like to use with your X1 Carbon. The X1 has only two USB ports and no docking connection. How can you hook up all those peripherals and do you want to spend five minutes doing it? Lenovo has your back with their USB 3.0 Dock. The USB 3.0 Dock is not a traditional ThinkPad dock that you would plug your ThinkPad into, but as the name implies, it uses USB 3.0 as the connector for the dock. The USB 3.0 Dock has lots of USB 3.0 ports and a couple DVI monitor connectors. The USB 3.0 Dock is designed to work with ThinkPads that do not have a docking connector, but will work with any USB 3.0 equipped ThinkPad. Read on to find if the USB 3.0 dock is a good fit for your setup.
Here are the specs for the Lenovo USB 3.0 Dock, model number 0A33970, under review:
- Five USB 3.0 – Two Front and Three Rear(One Powered)
- Two DVI with One VGA Adapter
- Combo Headphone/Microphone Jack
- Width – 1.00”-1.20”
- Depth – 3.34”
- Height – 6.34”
- Weight – 1.57 lbs
- Box Contents: Dock, Power Plug, USB Cable, Driver CD, Setup Pamphlet, and VGA Adapter
- M.S.R.P: $179 at Lenovo.com ($166 Street Price)
- Warranty: One Year
Design and Function
As I sit here holding the USB 3.0 Dock in my hand, the size of it reminds me of a transistor radio you would see in old movies and TV shows. It kind of just fits in your hands. It has a small compact design. It’s durable and well made. It stands about 6-inches tall and about an inch wide at the front, but it gets wider at the bottom to accommodate more ports on the rear. The dock is black and the sides are coated with the same grippy surface found on a ThinkPad case. The front of the dock uses a shiny black plastic. The power button is located on the top of the dock. When you set the dock down, it has enough weight that it won’t be knocked over if it’s touched lightly. However, when you connect all the cables, it has a tendency to fall over. I found it was easier to leave it on its side.
The USB 3.0 Dock gives you lots of connection options. You get five USB ports – two on the front for say an external drive or MP3 player maybe, then three on the rear. The bottom USB port on the rear is powered, which will allow you to charge a device like a phone. You also get two DVI connectors for the monitors. Lenovo supplies the dock with a VGA adapter if you’re using an older VGA monitor. There’s an Ethernet port too, which makes sense as Ethernet will more likely be used at a desk. The combo headphone/microphone jack is on the front for the headphone or speakers. A few disappointments in the design would be the dock does not power the notebook like with a traditional ThinkPad docking station. Powering a notebook via USB 3.0 is not possible at this time, you simply can’t deliver enough power via USB to run a laptop (though that may change in a year or two with new USB specifications). You’ll need to have your own notebook adapter and plug that in once you get to the office, or have a spare one there already. The other thing to note is the power button on the dock does not power off the laptop as well when you push it, only the dock. With traditional ThinkPad docks when you push the power button it turns on the laptop as well as the dock.
To test the USB 3.0 Dock, I have two external monitors to use – a 20” Dell UXGA hooked up using DVI and 22” Hanns G WSXGA+ LCD attached with the VGA adapter. I tested the dock on two ThinkPads – the X1 Carbon and T430. Setting it up only took a few minutes. It’s not as simple as a traditional dock where you just plug it in and forget it, but it’s fairly straight forward nonetheless. My question is, if you want to use the dock with a keyboard and mouse, where do put the notebook? With a classic dock once you find a place to put the dock, you’ve always got a place to put the notebook, but with the USB 3.0 dock, you’ve got to look for a place to put it every time you connect it. Once I got everything assembled and powered on the system, Windows seemed to be still missing a few drivers. I put in the supplied CD and ran the setup files. It took three or four reboots before Windows and the dock were talking the same language, but once they were, the dock worked beautifully on both ThinkPads. Being that both the X1 and T430 have the Intel HD 4000, they support up to three monitors. I was able to extend the Dell and Hanns G monitors while still using the notebook’s screen. I do not have a monitor with above Full HD resolution, so I can’t test it, but most ThinkPads come with a DisplayPort that can do 2560×1600 resolution. You can probably do a WQXGA monitor from the DisplayPort on the notebook, a monitor from the dock and then drive the laptop LCD all at the same time, but don’t quote me on that yet. I used the dock with my external hard drive, a mouse/keyboard combo and a pair of Logitech USB speakers. All worked impeccably.
Now that you’ve got the ThinkPad X1 Carbon or other docking station-less notebook, should you run out and buy the Lenovo USB 3.0 Dock? If you’ve got a lot of peripherals at the desk you want to connect on a regular basis like monitors and drives, the USB 3.0 Dock certainly makes things much easier than going without out a dock. The dock is well made, has more connection options than most users will need and works great after you get drivers properly setup. If you’ve got a ThinkPad with a proper docking connector like the T, W or X series, I’d be more inclined to go with a classic dock even though it’s more expensive. A classic dock will have its own power supply that also powers the notebook, which saves you the expense of having to buy another power adapter for your laptop. You can also turn on and off the ThinkPad from the dock with the more expensive true docking station solution. Plus, it’s a bit more more easy to set it and forget it. If, however, you’ve got a ThinkPad without the docking port connector like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon or a ThinkPad Edge and you have lots of goodies to hook up, the USB 3.0 Dock makes it convenient and at a reasonable price.
- Small Compact Design
- Lot’s of Connection Options
- Worked Flawlessly
- Durable and Well Made
- Less Expensive Than Traditional
- Where to Put Notebook?
- Cannot Turn ThinkPad On/Off from from Dock
- Doesn’t Stand Upright Well
- No AC Adapter to Power Notebook
See a Video Tour of the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock
Where to Buy