Club3D's CSV-3203 Ultrabook Docking Station, Hands On

If you're someone accustomed to working on a desktop but had to switch to using a laptop as your primary PC for one reason or another, you may also miss your dual-monitor setup, especially if your laptop only has one display output. Fortunately, this doesn't mean that you can't use your setup at all. If your laptop has a DisplayPort 1.2 interface, you can use the DisplayPort MST protocol to drive up to four 1080p displays off of that one output. Today, we're taking a look at Club3D's SenseVision CSV-3203, which is aimed at helping users suffering from the problem described above.

Introduction To DisplayPort MST And Club3D

MST stands for "Multi-Stream Transport," a protocol that is part of the DisplayPort 1.2 standard, which was announced in 2009. This means that most devices with DisplayPort support version 1.2, and that support for DisplayPort MST is more widespread than you may imagine.

DisplayPort MST is enabled using a DisplayPort hub in order to drive multiple displays, as well as daisy-chaining between supporting monitors. Unfortunately, however, there were never many devices that had the feature up until the past couple years.

Club3D enters the picture as an advocate for DisplayPort MST, and from what we're seeing, Club3D is the most prominently active vendor that is pushing out dongles, adapters and various devices that use all of DisplayPort's MST feature. The company has products such as active DisplayPort to DVI adapters; DisplayPort to 2x, 3x and 4x DisplayPort or HDMI dongles; USB 3.0 to DisplayPort; and various other devices. The assortment enables you to use your DisplayPort connection to drive almost any display, or array of displays. A single DisplayPort output has enough bandwidth for a single 3840 x 2160 display at 60 Hz, which is equal to four 1080p displays at 60 Hz. Depending on how many display outputs your system has along with driver support, this can be used for massive walls of monitors.

Meet The Club3D SenseVision CSV-3203

The SenseVision CSV-3203 is a nifty little device that combines a multi-monitor DisplayPort MST hub with a 3-port USB 3.0 hub and with a USB-to-Ethernet adapter, essentially taking what used to be three devices and combining it into a single neat package that only needs two cables to be connected to your laptop -- you could look at it like a universal docking station. This is also what makes this product so unique -- it provides almost all the connectivity that many users need.

Of course, if you're using a full-fledged laptop or desktop, this product isn't for you. It is aimed squarely at the users of DisplayPort equipped Ultrabooks, and the reason for that is simple: these notebooks often have very little connectivity, limited to a single DisplayPort 1.2 interface, two USB 3.0 ports, and often no Ethernet at all. Power users often demand Ethernet, and if you were to use a USB 3.0-to-Ethernet dongle along with your mouse, you'd already be using all of your USB ports and wouldn't be able to connect your external hard drive or charge your phone.

The device's USB 3.0 ports are all powered, which is possible because the unit itself is powered by a 15 V external power brick. The unmarked button on the back of the device is a reset button that you can click to re-engage the connection with your laptop in case it drops or didn't initialize properly.

The only connection that is needed on a regular basis, and that appears to be missing, is a stereo output. Chances are, however, that you can draw the audio from your monitor, which can pull the audio stream from the DisplayPort connection.

Living With The CSV-3203

For my own testing, I connected the CSV-3203 to my Lenovo Thinkpad T440s laptop. My version is a European variant with a GeForce GT 730M graphics card. Regardless, it should work fine with most DisplayPort 1.2-enabled devices, even if it is driven only by the Intel HD Graphics. It's important to note, however, that not all DisplayPort 1.2 devices ship with driver support for MST, so be sure to check your devices before you take this plunge if you don't have a return policy.

I connected it to a Dell U2711 display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution, and sat a Dell P2414H 1080p monitor in portrait mode next to it. Due to the bandwidth provided by DisplayPort 1.2, I was able to drive both of these displays at their native resolution at 60 Hz. I did need to use two Mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapters, but you can avoid the added cost of the adapters by ensuring that your monitor comes with Mini-DiplayPort support or by buying Mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort cables.

The gigabit Ethernet worked, and that's all I really have to say about it. I didn't experience any failures, and naturally I was able to saturate my ISP's Internet connection with it. Transferring data between two PCs was snappy, too. The same goes for the USB 3.0 dock; it simply works.

Unfortunately, I did have one issue with the CSV-3203 -- coil whine. Whenever the system was up and running, there was some noticeable coil whine coming from the docking station, and replacing the power brick didn't seem to remove the issue. In an office environment, you may not notice this due to ambient noise drowning it out, but in a quiet living room it is certainly noticeable. The noise goes away when the device is in sleep mode, thankfully.

Using the device is as difficult as drinking water from a cup. You simply hook it up, and everything just works the way it is supposed to. The only thing you need to do is make sure that you set the display settings in Windows the first time you set it up.

It should be noted that throughout my testing, I decided to ditch my desktop for a few days and exclusively use my laptop with this setup. During this time, I didn't at all feel constrained by using my laptop much, because I still was able to use my big monitors and proper peripherals. Heck, coming home, plugging it in, and continuing where I left off when I was away was actually quite liberating.

Depending on where you get it, the Club3D SenseVision CSV-3203 can be yours for $150, which may be more than many users want to spend on such a device. $150 is a lot of money to make hooking your laptop up a little easier, but fortunately, this device is more than a glorified multi-monitor hub. If you're one of the folks sporting an Ultrabook and crave more and more practical connectivity, such as hooking your laptop up to two proper monitors, a full-size keyboard, mouse, and Ethernet, this product is strongly worth considering --  it not only solves the connectivity problem, but it's also a snap to use.

Now all we need is one of these for USB Type-C, and we'll be able to do everything with a single cable, including charging your laptop.

Follow Niels Broekhuijsen @NBroekhuijsen. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • PaulBags
    Coil whine? Nope. Suprised you didn't disassemble it, test and review the electronics.