Hands-On: HP Thunderbolt Dock G2 with Audio Module

Posted on October 29, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 9 Comments

Last week, I wrote about my first impressions of HP’s EliteBook x360 1030 G3 and Thunderbolt Dock G2. Here’s a quick peek at how they work together as a desktop replacement.

I’ve long suspected that I’d end up with this sort of configuration eventually: A business-class laptop and dock connected to the same keyboard, mouse, display, webcam, and microphone that I typically use with a desktop PC. This has become even more likely thanks to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, which combines the convenience of single cable connectivity and the horsepower needed to drive any possible combination of peripherals, up to and including two 4K displays.

And the HP Thunderbolt Dock G2 certainly satisfies those requirements: This powerful, boxy little expansion solution is all-business from a design perspective and packs all the ports one would ever need. (Well, sans HDMI-out, I guess. But since I’m using HP displays anyway, this isn’t a problem: HP has standardized around DisplayPort, and the Dock offers two such ports.)

Configuration and set up went as easily as I’d expected: After connecting the Dock to power—using a surprisingly large power brick and cabling—I just swapped out all the USB peripherals from my desktop and connected them to the Dock. This includes the USB dongle for my Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard and Mouse, my Logitech webcam, and the Focusrite Scarlet USB mixer for my podcast microphone.

Next up, I had to fish a DisplayPort cable out of my video cables bin which, yes, is filled mostly with full-sized HDMI cables. And then make that connection with the 4K display I normally use.

For the first connection with the EliteBook x360 1030 G3, I powered up the laptop and signed-in with my Microsoft account. Then, I connected the USB-C cable that’s hard-wired to the front of the Thunderbolt Dock and connected it to the one of the Elitebook’s two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports.

This connection powers the laptop, of course. But it also provides it with access to whatever displays and peripherals that are connected to the Dock. And Windows 10 being Windows 10, the default behavior is to mirror the laptop’s display on the external screen. So I tapped WINKEY + P and switched that to “Second screen only” so I could test what it would be like to use the laptop and dock as if they were a desktop PC.

The final step, so to speak, was to close the lid on the EliteBook and ensure that this laptop could work that way. It did go to sleep, of course. But it powered up quickly when I pressed the power button—which is conveniently on the side of the laptop since it’s a convertible—and appears to be working normally.

I was worried about two things: Fan noise, especially since I plan to leave the EliteBook’s display lid closed, and whether all of my windows and on-desktop icons would get moved around or otherwise displaced as I moved between docked and non-docked configurations.

And the fan noise is there, for sure. But it’s not all that loud and isn’t on all the time. Since I’m sensitive to sound and noise, this is something I’ll keep my, um, ears on.

The docking/undocking experience is a bit of a shit show. The problem, of course, is that I want to use different display scaling settings on the 27-inch 4K external display and the internal 13.3-inch display. And when I remove the cable and the display switches solely over the laptop … yuck.

The worst offenders are my browser windows. I had both Chrome and Edge open when I did this and both resized to tiny little unreadable windows. And when I plugged the cable back in and switched back to using just the external display, they remained mis-sized as well. So the problem I recall from the past is still very much present. I will keep experimenting.

The HP Thunderbolt Dock has a number of other features I’ve not yet tested, not the least of which is the optional Audio Module that was added to the review unit. This module sits on the top of the Dock and integrates very naturally with the bottom, creating a single, taller Dock.

The Audio Module provides top-mounted touch controls for video and audio conferencing, very similar to what HP offers on its business-class AIOs and laptops (on which these are dedicated function keys). It also provides a built-in speaker and microphone to complete the solution.

More soon.


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Comments (9)

9 responses to “Hands-On: HP Thunderbolt Dock G2 with Audio Module”

  1. pachi

    Having used a similar situation recently - there's an option buried under each program advanced scaling properties that will make scaling go from "scale to whatever DPI the computer was booted at" to "Scale to what DPI the computer was at when program was launched"

    Why the second option is not default makes me scratch my head, but it should help somewhat. Especially when your computer boots randomly with the wrong display as default (which will certainly happen)

  2. wright_is

    Paul, don't forget that the dock is designed for all HP notebooks, including the workstation class Z-Books, which can use 100W or more, so the power supply has to be meaty enough to power the dock and the laptop. It is over-dimensioned for a small Yoga laptop, but is about right for the high end workstation class devices.

    Something I came across with Dells a couple of years back. We had a bunch of Latitudes and a Precision, I got that in for a re-install, stuck it in my dock and it complained that the dock wasn't providing enough power, so it wasn't charging the battery! It turns out that Dell (and Lenovo) offer 2 versions of their docks, which differ only based on the supplied PSU-brick.

  3. wright_is

    The display scaling can be a problem. Although I thought MS had solved that in the meantime. I had my ThinkPad connected to a TB3 dock and when I unplug it, the scaling works automatically, but, of course, it just jumbles the windows from the external displays onto the only remaining display, when I undock. Maximized windows are generally okay, but "sized" windows can end up all over the place, although, in my experience, they have been correctly scaled.

  4. shmuelie

    IT and I are hoping we can switch to these docks for our Dell and Macs. Dell does make their own but it's buggy as anything and nothing out there has this many ports! And like HP said, our displays are all DP so no issue there.

  5. bluvg

    The Focusrite Scarlett stuff is pretty stellar. Relatively inexpensive, and it's one of the few ways I've found I can reliably count on to get audio output without clicks or pops.

  6. erson

    Go into power options and choose the option ”do nothing” when you close the lid while being powered. No more need to wake from sleep when you close the lid when docked.

  7. compunut

    In regards to your comment about the lack of HDMI ports, DisplayPort is the way to go. HDMI won't convert to anything else. DisplayPort will let you use a cable to convert to HDMI or digital DVI. This means one DisplayPort can drive any of those three connection types with just a cable change. This seems far more practical to me than having an HDMI port. Also keep in mind that DisplayPort is more capable than HDMI, enabling higher frame rates for 4k.