May 27, 2005 Ever since Charles Darwin introduced his theory of evolution in the nineteenth century, countless scientists have searched for missing links - parts of the evolutionary line that should have existed, yet haven’t been found. Similarly, notebook users know all about missing links – between their laptops and desktops/peripherals when they return to the office. If you want to hook your laptop to your peripherals, you have to disconnect the cables from your PC and connect them to the laptop. If you need something from the desktop, you may well have to reverse the process and reconnect everything once again. Various “species” have evolved over the years to address this problem without ever being fully satisfactory. Docking stations, for example, are proprietary and work with only one specific laptop model. USB port replicators, on the other hand, are non-proprietary, but don’t function with a Video Graphics Array (VGA) connector – the connector that goes between the PC and the desktop monitor. Fortunately, a vital missing link in notebook evolution has finally been discovered – the UniXpress USB Port Replicator.
“UniXpress is the latest advancement in the notebook evolution, bridging the worlds of VGA, USB, and non-USB peripherals to the notebook with one single USB cable,” says Addlogix’ Matthew Chang. “And for the first time, road warriors can achieve 1280 x 1024 resolution via a USB connection from their laptop to a nearby monitor or even use a third screen without adding a video card.”
Docking stations for portable computers have existed now for a number of years. They are used in particular by frequent business travelers. Such people probably have long since decided that it is easiest to use the laptop as their primary computer. Therefore, he has everything loaded on it – databases, presentations, document files, and more. When they return to the office from a business trip, they need to connect their laptops to the printer, the network and an external monitor for a larger screen. Other peripherals might also need to be connected such as PDA’s. Plugging in one cable at a time becomes tedious -- printer, network, monitor, keyboard, mouse and perhaps others.
Docking stations emerged as an early solution to the problem. They basically consist of a piece of plastic the width of the computer and a large multi-pin proprietary connector. You connect it to your laptop and have all the other cables already hooked up to the docking station – whether they use serial ports, parallel ports, or USB. One connection, rather than half a dozen is a decent advancement in itself.
The downside, of course, is that these connectors are proprietary. A Dell laptop, for example, needs a specific type of docking station made for that model. A Sony laptop won’t work with that docking station, and a different model Dell probably won’t function either. When you decide to upgrade your notebook computer, you typically have to buy a new docking station too.
“Docking stations might be likened to the emergence of Neanderthal Man,” says Chang, “a definite improvement on what came before, but by no means the finished article.”
USB port replicators evolved as a non-proprietary alternative to docking stations. One device could be used to connect any laptop to its various office peripherals. Their name is self explanatory – they replicate the peripheral ports on the back of the notebook.
These connectors are good enough for some laptop users but not good enough for others. They basically give you everything you get from a proprietary docking station except for a VGA connector. So you end up having to dock your laptop to the USB port replicator and then run another cable to a monitor.
Why? VGA connectors have 15 pins, whereas USB connectors have either four or six. It hasn’t been technically feasible to try to translate a complex video signal into USB. Various compression techniques have been used without much success until Addlogix developed an innovative way to accomplish it.
“Our engineers have finally figured out how to make VGA run on USB,” says Chang. “For the first time, we can offer business a VGA connector on the USB port replicator.”
This technology from Addlogix is known as the UniXpress USB Port Replicator. It works on any Windows-based notebook or PC, and can do virtually anything a traditional docking station can do. Mobile users connect the VGA display, Ethernet, speakers, microphone, USB printers, and other peripherals to UniXpress. All of these peripherals can then interface with the computer via one single USB cable. This cable will be the only cable the user connects or disconnects when the computer is on the go.
UniXpress also comes with several unique features. For example, users can add a second monitor without installing video graphics cards i.e. you can have Word running on the laptop screen and an Excel spreadsheet on an external monitor via UniXpress simultaneously.
Graphic designers can use this capability to facilitate the manipulation of images in Adobe Photoshop and other graphics programs. No longer will users have to scramble the little tool bars and property windows away from the files that they are working on. Instead, they can have the document on one screen and the tool bars on the other screen. Similarly, animators, video editors and business users can make use of the additional “desktop space” to increase productivity. And on mid- to high-end notebooks which already have an additional VGA port, it is possible to add a third screen through UniXpress.
In terms of resolution, UniXpress is the only port replicator that supports video resolution of 1280 x 1024. Its patent pending graphics engine also offers jitter-free DVD playback. Further, its VGA port provides a benefit normally reserved for high-end video graphics cards – three modes of video support:
1) Duplication mode (the same image appears on the notebook and the second monitor)
2) Extended mode (different images on each screen)
3) Primary mode (acts as the only display) i.e. you close your notebook screen and an image remains on an external monitor. If you have a 19-inch flat screen on the desktop, primary mode lets you move from a 13 or 14-inch laptop screen to the larger monitor.
In his 1859 book “The Origin of the Species, Darwin outlined a core principle of evolution:
“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term natural selection,” he said.
In essence, the theory asserts that the survival or extinction of each organism is determined by that organism's ability to adapt to its environment.
UniXpress, then, represents the latest successful adaptation of the notebook. For mobile business users who go on frequent business trips, it represents the easiest and most effective way to adapt a laptop to challenging business and high-tech environments.