Hardware Review: UniXpress USB Port Replicator Takes Laptop Users to the Big Screen

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Reviewer Drew Robb has authored hundreds of articles for the likes of Computerworld, Information Week and Government Computer News. He writes a weekly Hardware Today Column for Serverwatch and is the author of the book, "Server Disk Management" by CRC Press.

Any frequent laptop user knows all about the hassles when you return to the office. After a long trip, the very least you need to do is look through your files, print some off, transfer a few others to a thumb drive and connect to the Internet to upload some files to colleagues. Unless you have a proprietary docking station, that means disconnecting the cables from your PC so you can hook up the notebook to your various desktop peripherals: printer cable, Ethernet, monitor cable, keyboard, mouse and others – it gets pretty tedious plugging in one at a time. Then if you find you need something from the desktop, you have to reverse the process and reconnect everything once again.

That’s where the UniXpress USB Port Replicator from Addlogix of Irvine, CA, comes in very handy. The basic principal is simple. If you are a frequent laptop/notebook user but have a desktop at the office – or use the laptop at the office to tie in to a host of peripherals and cables – you can simplify the connect/disconnect process down to a one-wire deal.

In many ways, the device is the next grade up from the usual road warrior solutions such as a docking station or traditional port replicators. Docking stations are proprietary and work with only one specific notebook model, while port replicators are non-proprietary, but don’t function with a Video Graphics Array (VGA) connector – the cable that goes between the PC and the desktop 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 – too much jitter, frozen images, voice and image out of synch, etc.

Addlogix, however, has developed an innovative way to accomplish the link between USB and VGA at high quality. Thus the UniXpress bridges the desktop to the notebook with one single cable.

I recently gave the UniXpress a test drive, seeing how it performed on my laptop and how it would interface with my monitor and desktop.

My laptop connected to UniXpress via one USB cable, while all my networking cables, peripherals and other bells and whistles were hooked up to the port replicator. At this juncture, I had the full use of my office equipment on the laptop.

But that level of functionality is no different than a regular USB port replicator. Where UniXpress distinguishes itself is in being the first USB port replicator to offer a connection to a VGA display.

I checked out the various ways that the screens could be arranged. Duplication Mode was the first one I tried. In this one, the same image appears on the notebook and the second monitor. Duplication mode was what I used, for instance, when I decided to type on the laptop and take advantage of the most eye-friendly screen. Both screens were live, but I ignored the laptop image for the larger model.

Alternatively, you can apply Primary Mode if you want only one screen active. In this case, you close your notebook screen and the image remains on the desktop monitor.

Once I had gotten the hand of the simpler options, I was ready for bigger and better things. Extended Mode proved to be a real treat. This enabled me to have different images on each screen. For example, I had Word running on the laptop screen and an Excel spreadsheet on the desktop. Then I put my notes from an interview on one screen and typed an article on the other screen. It was a pleasure to copy text from one screen to the other without having to minimize windows, and toggle back and forth.

Graphic designers can use this Extended Mode capability to facilitate the manipulation of images in Adobe Photoshop and other graphics programs. For mid- to high-end notebooks that already have an additional VGA port, it is possible to add a third screen through UniXpress for an even wider view.

There is yet another choice, known as Multimedia Mode that offers jitter-free DVD playback. Addlogix has developed a patent pending graphics engine that seems to make for far fewer glitches while watching movies.

Where to buy it: UniXpress is available at PCMall.com, and eCost.com.

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Matthew Chang
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