Is a Lenovo 0A33970 USB 3.0 "dock" the best way to add a third monitor to a workstation-class laptop, like the ThinkPad W520?
The Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock 0A33970 is available on Amazon here.
You may recall my saga of the major "turbo" boost I gave my stock ThinkPad W520 last October, using 2 8GB Kingston RAM kits, a 128GB RunCore mSATA SSD for my Windows 7 C: drive, and two 1TB Western Digital 1TB Scorpio Blue drives in a RAID0 for my D: drive. See also TinkerTry.com/tzilla and TinkerTry.com/thinkpadw520saga for more details.
It's worked out quite nicely, this is a fast system.
But I also admit that I've had issues with power management, possibly related to the SSD. It'll suspend fine (Windows 7 SP1 x64), but when trying to resume, the ThinkPad display shows only black for about 15 seconds, then Windows begins to boot from scratch. So yeah, the system is not waking from the sleep state properly. Why do I suspect it's the SSD to blame? Well, the process of elimination.
Using a traditional spinning 2.5" drive for Windows 7 allowed suspend/hibernate/resume to all function just fine last October, docked or undocked. But as soon as I installed the Runcore mSATA SSD at firmware 3.3.2, I couldn't suspend when docked or undocked. Now, with the recent 5.0.1 firmware, at least I can now suspend when undocked, which is certainly handy when traveling. RunCore support even states 5.0.1 was supposed to help with suspend/resume issues.
I cannot rule out that a new BIOS for the ThinkPad, or a new firmware for the RunCore, might come along some day, that'd address my issue eventually. But given this W520 first arrived in 2Q2011, I'm not holding my breath either (firmware and device drivers tend to trail off in release frequency).
So, why am I shopping for docks? Well, what if I can address several open issues with just one purchase, including:
- getting my 3rd monitor enabled
- getting my suspend/resume working again
- getting my watt burn and heat output down (important, considering my small office and the cost of electricity)
I'm hoping to achieve these goals by replacing my current ThinkPad W700 Mini Dock 2.0 (pictured below), especially now that the many month wait for new Power Management driver from Lenovo have proven to be futile. I'm getting tired of waiting, especially as I head into (warmer) summer months.
In one last desperate test, I temporarily removed all cables connected to the dock, except for power and video (there are 5 USB 2.0 cables, and a USB to digital coax audio that runs to amplified speakers), but even that didn't help. I still can't resume properly. It's really is the mere fact that I'm docked that seems to be doing me in, along with my particular BIOS and SSD firmware.
It's a well known limitation that the rather nicely decked out ThinkPad W520 can drive only 2 external monitors, even when docked. Yes, the dock has VGA, DisplayPort, and 2 DVI connectors, but the limitation is in the GPU/chipset. Visit the overview of the ThinkPad W700 Mini Dock 2.0, where it clearly states:
(1) Maximum of two monitors can be attached to the three video ports. The ThinkPad W700 display is disabled.
I like to keep the noise and heat of the laptop a few feet behind me when I work, using externally attached devices. I have 2 of my 3 monitors hooked up currently, and use the Lenovo ThinkPad Black USB Wired Ultimate Compact Keyboard with TrackPoint and a Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 8000. This way, using the keyboard and Trackpoint and mouse feels the same, whether I'm home, or away (yes, I travel with the dongle-free Bluetooth mouse).
So, checking out the variety of docks and port replicators recently at:
I began to also consider the Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 dock, available May 15th for $180:
Powered by DisplayLink's DL-3900 graphics chip, the peripheral adds five of the aforementioned USB ports, dual DVI jacks for implementing multiple displays and both gigabit Ethernet and audio connections. Not too shabby for an expansion set that connects to your chosen workhorse over a single USB 3.0 cable
While rather pricey, and not knowing all the details yet (video resolutions, exact port counts it offers, etc.), it still does appear to be a promising option. And such USB 3.0 based GPUs do claim less watt burn as well, seen here:
Currently, my docked W520 uses about 50 to 100 watts (depending upon CPU load), which works out to about $100 per year.
I use more watts with my system than I care to, because:
- I cannot reliably suspend/resume (I'd prefer for laptop to wake up at night for ~20 minutes just for daily backups, saving considerable electricity)
- I cannot use the switchable graphics, since with the W520 docked and the LCD closed (2 external monitors only), the only BIOS setting I get to work is "Discreet Graphics Only", which maximizes watt burn
Why don't I just go with something like the $110 StarTech.com USB32HDE USB 3.0 to HDMI® / DVI External Video Card Multi Monitor Adapter – 1920x1080? Well, reading reviews, didn't take long to find a buyer from newegg already saying the ThinkPad onscreen display crashes when using the software, click the "Feedback" tab.
I'd like to be able to go to 30" and 2560x1600 resolution for my primary display someday, either with the dock, or from my laptop's DisplayPort, whichever uses less energy overall. So step up to the $130 SIIG USB 3.0 to HDMI adapter (similar chipset) and you'll get that high resolution supported, but at this point I'm closing in on the $170 cost of the Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 dock, which will also get me a lot of other desirable features, and the ability to hookup just power and one USB 3.0 cable to my laptop when I'm back at home. Given I travel only a few times a month, docking and undocking isn't a big concern for me any longer. Managing the cables, minimizing watt burn, and keeping the heat and noise away are concerns. Having some sort of Lenovo support should I have stability or undocking issues sure wouldn't hurt, either.
Here's some photos of the new dock.
While waiting for the Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 dock to show up on lenovo.com's site (due to arrive May 15 2012), anybody want to weigh in with a known-good solution that you have first-hand experience with? Please comment below!
May 25 2012 Update:
Received an email from Lenovo today, with order status showing "Released to Manufacturing"
The email had a subject line of "Your Lenovo order #......... has been delayed" and went on to explain:
We apologize, but we are unable to ship one or more items on your order at this time. We anticipate shipment within 30 days of this notification. Our online order status tool displays the latest information on your order therefore a revised estimated ship date is not included in this notification.
I then click on the tracking link, and I see the item actually shipped out of Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong, on May 24 2012, with an estimated delivery date of June 3 2012.
May 26 2012 Update:
Received an email from Lenovo today, with order status showing "Shipped"
The UPS tracking now shows Scheduled Delivery: Thursday, 05/31/2012, By End of Day
May 31 2012 Update:
Part # 0A33970 arrived! Actually, both Fedex and UPS arrived simultaneously, with the UPS guy with the Lenovo package requiring signature.
Unboxing video now available:
Jun 03 2012 Update:
Detailed hands-on, now available:
Dec 15 2012 Update:
Great news, I got everything working quite nicely, read details here:
How to enjoy Windows 8 on your Lenovo ThinkPad W520 laptop, with 3 external monitors, and an external keyboard and mouse
Jun 03 2013 Update:
All is still going well. The Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock 0A33970 is available on Amazon here.
Dec 01 2013 Update:
If the high resolution is all you're after, then perhaps something like this newer product is a better choice for you:
StarTech.com USB 3.0 to DisplayPort 2560 x 1600 External Video Card Multi Monitor Adapter (USB32DPPRO)