IBM X4 UltraBase
The $199 IBM X4 UltraBase snaps onto the bottom of a ThinkPad X40; it's less of a docking station than a highly portable, second skin that adds a nice slice of multimedia capabilities to the notebook. The UltraBase features a wide variety of ports, a modular bay for optional extra devices, and the best warranty of any of the docks we evaluated. Too bad it's also one of the most expensive.
At 1 inch thick, 10.5 inches across, and 8.2 inches deep, the 1.7-pound X4 UltraBase doesn't add too much bulk to the ThinkPad X40, although we were surprised that the dock's textured plastics did not match the notebook's rubberized case. Providing an additional three USB 2.0 ports, plus one more that remains accessible on the notebook, the UltraBase also takes over the laptop's existing connections for modem, LAN, and an external monitor. To these it adds PS/2, parallel, and serial ports. While it lacks high-end connections, such as DVI, the UltraBase's modular bay accommodates any of IBM's optional UltraBay Slim devices, including an optical drive, a second battery, or a hard drive. With its $199 price, we wish IBM had included one of these features gratis with the UltraBase. The dock charges the notebookÂ’s battery when theyÂ’re connected.
The UltraBase and the ThinkPad X40 fit together well, connecting solidly; just place the notebook over the dock and lightly press to snap them together. A plastic bar folds out of the UltraBase's bottom to raise the laptop's keyboard to a comfortable 5-degree typing angle. When itÂ’s time to split up the pair, press the button on the side, pull on the release lever, and the notebook will pop out; it's fast and easy, and you can leave the ThinkPad X40 on when connecting to or detaching from the UltraBase. There's only one design flaw: the notebookÂ’s extended battery pack obstructs the ports along the back of the UltraBase. The dock features a built-in Kensington cable lock to attach it to a desk and a mechanical key lock to keep the notebook safe; they're nice add-ons, but a screwdriver is all youÂ’d need to separate them.
The UltraBase's speakers sound a lot better than the ThinkPad X40Â’s lone speaker, but they don't sound as good as the Harman Kardons we found on the HP xb2000 expansion base. While the UltraBase lacks suspend and resume buttons, the dock's front features a power switch with a lock to prevent the laptop from being turned on accidentally. All of the UltraBase's ports worked well, and it was able to move data to and from a mobile external hard drive at a middling 62Mbps.
IBM generously backs the UltraBase for three years--warranty terms that are much longer than those offered by any competitor. Although the printed multilanguage manual is skimpy on details, the quick-setup sheet is all you'll need. IBM offers 24/7, toll-free phone tech support, and the company's Web site also provides troubleshooting help, downloadable firmware, technical spec sheets, and a series of online video clips; you can even order a replacement key for the mechanical lock.