Thee DocKtor's Blog

All About Docks

How to Build an Enterprise Class Workstation with a $249 PC

By The Targus DocKtor

The Dell Venue™ 8 Pro is $249. Indeed, this little PC—and it is a real PC—runs Windows® 8.1 Pro, not Windows RT™, or like an iPad®, or like a Chromebook™. No; this is a PC in a tablet’s body.

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Dell Venue 8 Pro

Key Advantages of the Dell Venue 8 Pro

  • Most users will be happy to use it docked as the center processing element in an office workstation where they can produce high quality data.
  • They can take it out of the office for many applications that run on hand-held tablets. For example, an insurance adjuster reviewing an automobile accident claim can use it to take pictures and fill out the spreadsheet/form the company uses to provide, and then cut a check like they might do today on an iPad.
  • They can go home and use it for infotainment applications like using Miracast™/WiDi to watch Netflix® on their large format HDTV—you cannot on an iPad. All along it is very adequate for checking email, social networking, reading a book, and things the iPad is good at today.

In summary, the Venue is the form factor that enables displacing the iPad for many usages and applications, but also can be docked to be a real work machine.

How I Did It

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Targus ACP71 Universal
Port Replicating Dock™

Step 1 Get a Universal Port Replicating Dock. Dell provides one. But so I don’t sound too much like a Dell salesperson, you can get a variety of other universal solutions from Targus®. I like the Targus ACP71 because it can be used to also charge ultra-books.

Step 2 I connected two external monitors to the dock; one using DVI-D and the included HDMI to DVI-D converter, and the second using the DVI-I port on the dock. Targus also provides a DVI-I to VGA converter if needed (i.e., for conference rooms using projectors with VGA only). I used the Dell® U2312HM monitors, mainly because Dell loaned me the Venue to test drive, but you can use any two external monitors up to 2048 x 1152 resolution each—yes, even though the Venue is 1280 x 800 by itself.

In fact, I have had the privilege of test driving this setup using a dock that natively supports up to two 2560 x 1600 DisplayPort™ monitors, but I digress. By the way, even when connected to the dock, I leave the Venue’s native monitor on. I mean, why not use it as a third monitor? And by the way, it supports Miracast, so theoretically a fourth monitor could be used this way.I couldn’t test this since I couldn’t get Miracast to work consistently. Anyway, I am digressing again.

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Dual Dell U2312HM Monitors

Back on topic, the Universal Port Replicating Dock is called port replicating because while the dock is connected to the PC USB port and the Venue 8 Pro USB 2.0 port, it provides additional ports. The dock has four USB 2.0 ports (one of them is a charging port) and two USB 3.0 ports (one of them is charging port). Now, that being said, the USB 3.0 ports can only run at USB 2.0 speed when connected, as with this Venue Pro using a micro USB 2.0 port and an adaptor.

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Micro USB B Male to USB A Female Cable

Step 3 With all these USB ports, feel free to connect an external keyboard and mouse. I used a full-size wired mouse and keyboard to be free of throwing batteries away (and because I have larger hands and small eyes). Anyway, you can connect a dongle to the port to use wireless devices. I also connected a Logitech® 1080p camera, but truthfully, the built in Venue Pro cameras are adequate for most applications (Skype™, Microsoft Lync®, GoToMeeting™, etc.). External storage and ODD can be connected through the dock to the PC here too. Anyway, I didn’t run out of USB ports and the dock does support adding another hub if you do.

Because the Venue Pro’s port is USB 2.0, the dock’s GbE port will not support GbE rate file transfers. USB 2.0 doesn’t run fast enough to support GbE, but FE is more than adequate for the bulk of applications running on/over the LAN/internet. Besides, there are many companies running faster than tens of megabits over the web. Certainly I had no problem streaming CNN and Netflix concurrently through the dock to the external monitors at full resolution. This could because the DisplayLink™ application running on the Venue Pro doesn’t use much of the Atom CPU to adaptively encode the video over the USB link. It has to be noted that if the dock is connected to a PC using USB3.0, GbE will work at wire speed. This is handy for large file transfers and nightly backups over the corporate LAN.

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Enterprise Workstation with Four 1920 x 1080 Displays

I also connected up external stereo speakers to the dock so I could listen to video streams and music in the cloud. But I told my boss that the speakers were so I could teleconference over the web without the need for a desk phone. She liked the idea and so I contemplated trying to convince her that I needed to have the 5.1 surround sound from the universal dock’s HDMI port. I haven’t broached the subject yet. Anyway, I don’t use the external microphone input from the universal dock, instead using the built in microphone from the venue. I mean, how many PCs don’t have a built in microphone these days?

So there you have it. This is my setup for being ultra-productive at work. I take the Venue Pro home at night to check my Facebook™, Instagram™, and Twitter™ accounts, not that I would at work where I use it for LinkedIn™. At home, it is also great for catching up on my favorite TV shows, like The BlackList. I tell my boss that I need it for getting things done while at home or on the road. And honestly, it does come in handy for checking my Outlook® email, task list, and calendar while not at the office. But truth in advertising, I am a geek and so I have a Targus Universal Port Replicating Dock at home, too. I connect the Venue 8 Pro to it, and voilá! I have access to any application my $1500 ultra-book does too.

How You Can Do It

The combination of a PC and a Universal Port Replicating Dock greatly enhances productivity. It is great to have your email open on one screen while you are editing a spreadsheet on another and video conferencing on a third. Don’t expect a raise from your boss, but you can build or suggest this enterprise class workstation for use at your company with the following components:

  1. $249 Dell Venue™ 8 Pro
  2. $169 Dell USB3.0 SuperSpeed™ Dual Video Docking Station
  3. $249 each Dell U2312HM 1920×1080 Monitor
  4. $20 Dell Micro USB Dongle for Data and Charging
  5.  $20 Dell Quiet Key Keyboard
  6. $20 Dell Three Button Optical Mouse
  7. $130 Logitech C930e HD Webcam
  8. $10 Logitech S120 Multimedia Speakers

That is $852 bucks as shown at full retail for one unit. While that is a great deal, I am absolutely sure that volume pricing and/or B2B pricing is much lower, closer to a smoking deal!

Feel free to vary the recipe for your tastes. For example, I like the Targus Universal Port Replicating Dock model ACP71 shown at $199. You can use higher end monitors too, all the way up to 2048 x 1152 each; a more functional keyboard and mouse, and you can add an external HDD and ODD. Any USB device can be connected to the universal dock; that is, the “U” in USB also stands for “universal” as in Universal Port Replicating Dock. By the way, you can use a higher end Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC, Ultrabook, tablet, or even a MacBook™ running OSX.

Contact Targus for support or more information at 714.675.5555 or visit targus.com.

Categories: Did You Know, Usage, White Paper

Tags: , , ,

4 replies

  1. Hi, a great example how you can create a cheap solution! When you connect the Venue8 with the ACP71 – is there also power charging for the Venue8 at the same time via the micro USB connection possible?

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  2. I have been testing various USB OTG cables with the Venue 8 as a downstream device to the Targus docks. Most will enable powering and charging the Venue 8 as a device (not host) on the dock’s charging ports, but there are some that do not. I haven’t been able to identify which will work and which will not but have noticed that the working ones, those that will enable power to the Venue as a downstream device to the dock, appear to be better constructed and thicker.

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  3. Dell came out with a simple cable to enable simultaneously use of the single micro USB port on the Venue 8 Pro (applies to Venue 11 too). The cable shown at http://search.dell.com/results.aspx?s=gen&c=us&l=en&cs=&cat=all&k=dell+micro+usb+dongle+for+data+and+charging&ref=ac . This cable enables simultaneously charging over the micro USB while implementing a USB for connecting date. Therefore one can connect the micro-USB to a Targus Universal Docking Station (any model) charging port and use the data port to connect to the same dock USB UP port to use the docking station features.

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