Until recently, I thought of a USB hub as a pretty basic tool. Sure, some are powered and some aren’t, and of course there are USB 3.0 versions, with some USB 2.0 versions still around, but for the most part they have traditionally been pretty boring. That has all changed now with the introduction of USB-C hubs that can handle high-resolution monitors along with high-speed peripherals and even distribute power to your gadgets.
Introducing DockCase USB-C Smart Hub
Until recently, finding out if a hub was compatible with your equipment was a simple but not very scientific process of plugging it in and seeing what happened. DockCase has begun to change all that, with a programmable “smart” hub that provides information about its status on an LCD display and supports multiple configuration options. Okay, when I first heard about it I thought it was a little over the top, but it was before going through two USB-C hubs that I purchased without being able to reliably get them to work with my Dell laptop and the devices I connected every day when I teach: Ethernet, a Dell 4K display, a mouse and keyboard dongle, a USB headset, and sometimes an external webcam.
None of these devices are exotic or unusual, and they all work flawlessly when plugged directly into my Precision 5540 laptop. But unfortunately, the 5540 only has one USB-C port, two USB-A ports, and no Ethernet jacks, so I really need a dock. Plus, unplugging all those cables multiple times a day is definitely a hassle. With DockCase Smart Hub, which should retail for $ 150, you’re paying for all of these features, but if you rely on a laptop and dock regularly, that’s a small price to pay for consistent performance.
The LCD display is surprisingly useful
One problem with most docks is that you can’t really tell what they’re doing and why they might not be able to work with certain equipment. It could be a bandwidth problem in the case of a monitor, or a power limitation, or some other incompatibility. The Smart Hub solves the mystery by providing a lot of useful status information on its LCD. You can see how much power it is drawing in, along with where the power is going. You can also see the bandwidth it is capable of reaching on each of its ports and often the type of device connected. For example, I had a hard time getting my Dell 4K monitor to work with two other hubs. It wasn’t instant with the Smart Hub either, but the LCD helpfully guided me through a few options and I realized I could easily keep it stable at 4K / 30fps by tweaking a couple of settings. 4K / 60fps was a little more challenging, but it ultimately worked even after changing the HDMI setting. Also, be aware that the dock runs beta firmware and doesn’t launch until January 2022, so I assume there will continue to be improvements.
With my previous docks, when an adapter didn’t work, I was pretty much out of luck. Aside from the trawl, it was basically about trying a different one. In the case of my 4K monitor debugging, it showed exactly what was going on on my HDMI 2.0 cable. So he let me know that I was having stability issues at 4K / 60fps and suggested that I lower the frame rate by changing the dock’s HDMI setting to “Balanced” instead of “Extreme”. The only thing that didn’t work is that I couldn’t use my Dell 4K monitor when it was plugged directly into the dock’s USB-C port, but it was easy to use an HDMI cable instead.
Configuring a DockCase Smart Hub
Hub parameters are controlled via a single button. Short presses advance through options like a tab key, while long presses choose an option. As you can imagine, this isn’t exactly a UI you want to use all the time, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fairly straightforward to make periodic configuration changes. You can set the amount of power consumed by the hub, the parameters for the built-in fan, and the HDMI and USB settings. There are some preset combinations for prioritizing data, video or charging, but you can also customize your own. Some settings changes only take effect after you unplug and plug the hub back in from its power source, but that’s about the extent of what you need to know.
Another cool feature of the dock is power management. It accepts up to 100 watts on one of its USB-C ports and can be set to funnel a measly five watts to connected peripherals, leaving 95 watts to charge the connected computer, or it can drive up to 25 watts for peripherals such as SSDs which may require more. power. Alternatively, if your computer is plugged in and can supply power via USB-C, the dock can use it.
One change from previous models that not everyone will like is that the card reader has been replaced with an additional USB-C port, which obviously offers more flexibility as USB-C can connect to a variety of devices, but for those missing a card reader on their laptop, adds another dongle to your list. On the upside, the company has added a small, essentially silent fan to address some heat issues in the previous model.
Price and availability
DockCase expects the product to be priced at $ 150 when it ships in January. In the meantime, you can learn more or join one of their offers for project supporters Kickstarter site.