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Augmenting An Ultrabook

Lenovo X1 Carbon and Docking StationWay back in January when I bought a Lenovo X1 Carbon (X1C) I was a bone fide corporate road warrior. The decision to move into an ultrabook was motivated largely by the desire to have less to carry.

More recently I’ve transitioned into a more stay-in-the-home-office role. Sooooo, I’m not carrying things around very much…but I am living with some of the compromises entailed by the ultrabook class of device. All of this has me wondered when it’s ok to spend a bit more to augment the X1C vs going in another direction entirely?

Allow me to share some of the things that have come to light about the X1C. These are not so much defects as practical realities attached to the ultrabook form factor. For example, there aren’t very many ports. To be more specific, there’s one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port and a displayport.

It happens that I occasionally need to use some USB-attached devices. Since the X1C doesn’t have an Ethernet port one of the USB ports sometimes gets consumed by a wired network interface. If I also have the need to mass storage then the other USB port gets used by a portable hard drive. If at the same time I need to use my Jabra speakerphone or perhaps a better webcam…I can find myself decidedly port-deprived.

To be short of USB ports, while inconvenient, is easily and affordably remedied by a USB hub. Power is a whole ‘nuther matter.

HP-EliteBook-Power-SupplyPrior to the X1C I was basically an HP user. I had owned several HP laptops and a couple of HP netbooks. One of the nice things about keeping it all-in-the-corporate-family is the fact that, over a number of years, all my laptops shared the same power connector. In fact, I could use one of the more capable power supplies for any of my laptops or netbooks.

That simple fact is unbelievably convenient. It meant that I could have one power supply in the house, another in the office and yet another in my luggage. I basically never had to move a power supply around, or even think about it.

Ultrabooks are supposed to have decent battery life. In general, they do. The X1C usually lasts 4-5 hours on a charge. Even so, that’s not quite enough some days. This past weekend I found myself forced to stop what I was doing and fetch the power supply from it usual place in the office.

Old-HP-Docking-StationI admit that I am surprised at how annoying I find it to only have one power supply, and thus need to carry it from place to place.

A couple of years ago I received a docking station for my last HP laptop. It had been a co-workers, but when he laptop was replaced the new model wasn’t compatible with the old docking station. He passed it down to me. Although I rarely used it’s various ports, my experience with the docking station was pretty good. On that basis I thought I’d see about the potential of a docking station for the X1C. That could solve the problems of providing power and lack of ports.

There is a USB 3.0 docking station for the X1C . It’s pretty capable, providing (2) DVI ports, (5) USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet and analog audio I/O.  Offered for around $150 the Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Docking Station is not outrageously expensive, but it isn’t cheap either.

Lenovo-USB3-Docking-StationHowever, I am a bit dismayed to see that it’s really a port replicator…not actually a docking station. A proper docking station usually has a multi-way connector that mates to the bottom or rear edge of the computer. In contrast, a port-replicator connects to a common USB port on the computer.

The most significant difference between the two is that the USB-attached port replicator doesn’t power the X1C. That makes it a solution to adding more ports for office use, but not a solution to providing power in those office-bound situations.

The problem of providing power conveniently in various locations was apparent from my earliest use of the X1C. However, at that time an additional power supply was a $80-100 item. That seemed a bit steep for such a common device, which put me off buying one immediately.

The X1C uses an odd square power connector that’s not even common amongst other Lenovo models. Third party offerings from companies like Kensington are taking some time to arrive.

Recently I’ve found that the Lenovo power supply can now be found for a lot less. I see Amazon now offers the genuine article for a much less offensive $31.

Changes in the scope of my activities have meant that the form factor advantage of the ultrabook class laptop, while still very nice, has become less important in my working life. A second power supply would certainly be a handy, yet inexpensive addition to my arsenal, while it’s not yet clear if I truly need the docking station.

My needs have clearly changed. Perhaps I should consider wiping the X1 Carbon back to its factory image and reselling it? I could use the resulting funds to buy a more traditional laptop. That might be a sensible move, but it somehow feels like a step backwards.

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