Can I retrofit Dell Mobility Computing Station 2.0?

Can I retrofit Dell Mobility Computing Station 2.0?

Postby bokuno » Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:47 pm

We own six or eight Dell Mobility Computing Station 2.0, manufactured by Ergotron for Dell. We are changing from Dell netbooks to other laptops. Is it possible to remove the Dell netbook docks and install docks for other brands of laptop? Or, alternatively, just remove the docks and make our own shelving for our laptops? I would hate to see these go to waste, and as a government agency, the paperwork involved in selling used equipment is intimidating.
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Re: Can I retrofit Dell Mobility Computing Station 2.0?

Postby steveA » Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:06 am

Sorry for the late reply. I'm going to ask our electrical engineer what sorts of issues you might encounter and then give you a more detailed answer. Obviously any modifications you make will void warranty, but on the other hand, it makes sense to try to re-use the unit.

This cart was developed per the specifications defined by Dell. By making the cart proprietary to their own netbook, it allows for extremely easy insertion and overall management of the netbooks. But the downside, of course, is this great piece of hardware becomes obsolete with the few netbook models with which it is compatible. It is why other carts we've developed or are developing incorporate a universal interface.

I'll get back to you soon with answers.
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Re: Can I retrofit Dell Mobility Computing Station 2.0?

Postby steveA » Tue Feb 28, 2012 4:58 pm

I got feedback from our electrical engineer. Rather than parse his response, I'm just going to copy and paste:

First power. Most netbooks and notebooks use power supplies that are specific to their equipment. The Dell power supplies have a signal that is used to tell the netbook that a Dell adaptor is attached to it (it is the center pin on the power supply connector). Without that signal, netbooks and notebooks won’t charge so if you are considering any other netbook or notebook besides Dell, you would have to replace all the power supplies with one specific to that manufacturer – but they should plug into the AC Controller box like the Dell power supplies do. However, the number of power supplies is limited to 24 with power-factor correction.

There are harmonic currents with power supplies that are rated at 65-watts or less. Basically the current is about twice what you would expect for the wattage with the non-power-factor corrected power supplies. The 90-watt power supplies have power-factor correction so that the input current is what you’d expect for the power consumption. The netbooks are limited to about 40-watts with firmware. This gets us to 12-amps maximum AC cart input current with 24 netbooks, an Ethernet switch and WAP installed. If you use a netbook or notebook that uses more than 40-watts or at 40-watts with a non-power-factor corrected power supply, the current can be twice what the Dell system is or about 24-amps. The maximum current that the National Electrical Code allows is 12-amps. So, if you are going to change to another notebook or netbook, it needs to be 40-watts or less and use a power supply with power-factor correction to keep the system from tripping wall breakers and internal circuit breakers.

Next is cooling. We specifically designed the cart to cool the 24 netbooks – any other netbook or notebook may or may not cool properly during charging and managing – this would need to be tested.

Connecting the power and Ethernet cables will be a challenge if trying to auto-dock the new netbooks or notebooks. The slots were designed to specifically mate up with the Dell netbooks. But, you could manually connect the power and Ethernet cables.

Finally regulatory. We had to design the cart to meet the US legal requirements for Electromagnetic emissions (FCC part 15) and Safety (UL60950 and 1667). If you make changes to the cart, you would be required to test and mark the cart as safe and meeting the FCC limits with the new configuration.


So, it is not impossible--there is just a lot of stuff to consider. There are other open-architecture carts that allow manual plugging of the Ethernet and power cables as well as a power system, which removes the restriction for the power-factor corrected power supplies, i.e., no matter what you plug into the cart for notebooks, the current will always be limited to 12-amps automatically. There is an HP/Ergotron cart that fits this bill and Ergotron will be launching its own cart very soon (I'll post a link as soon as it is on the web site). Update: Here are the new Laptop Charging/Management Carts from Ergotron.

Hope this information helps. Let us know if you have more questions.
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