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Dell's Wireless Dock D5000 really does free your laptop from cables

Michael Brown | July 12, 2013
The technology is great—provided you like the one laptop model it’s currently compatible with.

Laptop docking stations can offer a perfect mix of productivity and convenience. They transform your portable computer (with its cramped keyboard, smallish display, and limited connectivity options) into a workstation connected to multiple monitors, a full-size keyboard, and oodles of connectivity options.

But the bad thing about notebook docking stations is that you can have a rough time disengaging the laptop from its dock. Connections at both ends--the dock and the laptop--tend to be fragile, and they can become unreliable over time.

Dell has a better idea: A docking station and a wireless network adapter card based on the IEEE 802.11ad standard--more commonly known as WiGig. Plug all your cabled devices--up to two displays, gigabit ethernet, keyboard, mouse, hard drives, and other USB devices--into the dock, and your laptop establishes a wireless connection to the dock. Your notebook doesn't need any cables (unless it's running on AC power). And since the combination operates on the 60GHz frequency band, it won't interfere with your Wi-Fi network operating on the 2.4- and 5GHz bands.

ROBERT CARDIN.The D5000 has a single USB 3.0 port on its front pane, along with an 1/8-inch stereo audio jack

There's just one significant drawback: Dell is offering the internal adapter card (the $37.50 Dell Wireless 1601 WiGig and 802.11n 2x2 Wi-Fi Half Mini Card) that's required for pairing the notebook to the docking station as an option with only one laptop: the Latitude 6430u. You can't buy the adapter card separately from the computer, so you can't add it to a Latitude 6430u you might already own. And there are no third-party adapters that would enable you to use the D5000 with other notebooks.

That will change in time: A Dell representative told me the company "absolutely" expects to offer its WiGig adapter "with additional products in the coming months." The spokesperson also said "the D5000 is fully standards-compliant," which means it will work with future WiGig adapters from other manufacturers. When those will arrive is anyone's guess.

Fabulous performance

Still interested? Of course you are! Even if you have no intention of buying one, you must be curious to know how a wireless docking station performs. In my tests, it performed remarkably well. The D5000 has two video outputs (one is DisplayPort 1.1--which means there's no support for multistream transport--and the other is HDMI 1.3), three USB 3.0 ports, one gigabit ethernet, and one 1/8-inch stereo audio jack.

I connected two 24-inch displays, one of which had native resolution of 1920 by 1200 pixels, and the other had native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. (Another bummer: The dock doesn't support HDCP, so you won't be able to watch copy-protected DVDs or Blu-ray discs.) I connected the dock to our corporate network, plugged in a Dell wireless USB transceiver (for a wireless keyboard and mouse) into one of the USB 3.0 ports. I connected a 1TB Seagate Wireless Plus hard drive into the second USB 3.0 port, and left the third vacant. If you don't have a networked printer, that third USB port could be used for a printer, scanner, or any number of other peripherals.


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