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Port replicators are handy devices that allow you to connect a laptop or notebook computer to peripherals like a printer, monitor, keyboard, or scanner quickly and easily. The key functionality of these devices is their ability to connect portable PCs and peripherals via serial, parallel, or USB ports.
Many people use port replicators when using their portable computers both at the office and at home. These computer users can connect that laptop to the replicator along with the printer, monitor, keyboard, or scanner. The result is instant home office setup without a tangle of wires in the process.
Laptop users who want to connect their laptops to larger monitors or keyboards than the ones that come standard on their laptops will find this functionality attractive. These devices also provide for connection to more than one device at a time. Laptops might have just two USB ports or a single serial port; port replicators, on the other hand, commonly feature a handful of each kind of ports, enabling the user to connect to monitor, printer, keyboard, and scanner, all at the same time.
Port replicators are similar to docking stations. The two devices share some of the same functionality, but docking stations are more versatile in that they feature ports for portable storage devices. Port replicators, on the other hand, specialize in standard port connections, such as serial, parallel, or USB; as such, they are usually less expensive and smaller than docking stations.
Another key difference between these devices and docking stations is how the laptop computer is connected to each. Port replicators actually sound more like docking stations when this element is defined, in that a laptop computer is physically inserted into a sort of clamp on the replicator, whereas a docking station requires just a cable connection. Laptops connected to port replicators are in direct physical contact; laptops connected to docking stations can be as far away as a cable and/or its extension(s) will allow.
One of the most popular functions performed by port replicators is connecting laptop computers to the Internet. These devices commonly have Ethernet or at least dial-up capability, allowing users to come home, plop down, connect, and surf — without the electronic hassle that would normally be associated with such activities.