Docking stations are small devices that help you expand your laptops’ connectivity. It is an extremely affordable solution to the missing of ports problem. The best laptop docking stations are especially handy for those working from home, like many of us at the moment. It transforms your laptops into a desktop replacement. Now let’s take a closer look at what factors you need to know when choosing the best laptop docking stations:
First thing you need to check before taking your credit card out is what type of laptop you are using. You thought that all laptop docking stations are the same? Here’s the thing: there are two main types of laptop docking stations, universal and model-specific.
As the name implies, universal docking stations mean that they can be used with any laptops, regardless of models and OS. However, this type of dock have somewhat limited connectivity options .
On the other hand, model-specific docks are designed to work with specific laptop brands or OS (Thinkpad, Macbook, Surface, etc.). For a more complete and pleasant experience, I recommend choosing the docks that are intended for your models.
In short, you need to look for and read carefully the specs of a laptop docking station. For example, this Acodot supports Windows XP to 10, while doesn’t support Surface RT and Linux/Unix.
This is the most important factor you need to keep in mind when choosing the best laptop docking stations. How are you going to connect your laptop to your dock? Are there connectors on the laptop and on the dock are of the same type? Here’s some ports you need to look out for:
This is the basic ports that you can find on every docks. The most basic docks such Amazon Basics Docking Station would have at least two to three of a USB ports. You can never have too many of these.
Aside from the number of USB ports, the type of USB is also important. USB 2.0 is slow but adequate to connect your wireless mouse and keyboard. I advise you to get at least USB 3.0/3.1 in this day and age. USB 3.0/3.1 is compatible with older USB generation and offers higher data transferring speed. Like this VKUSRA which features 3 USB 3.0 ports.
The newer USB connector is USB-Type C. This is the most popular connection at the moment. You can find this type of connector on most modern laptops. USB-Type C allows you to connect various different peripherals and output in a single USB port. Its speed is also among the best at the moment.
Thunderbolt 3 docks are among the best laptop docking stations you can find right now. Thunderbolt 3 offers 4K display, amazing speed and is compatible with previous connection types. That means you one port of this type can connect to Thunderbolt devices, all display, and all USB devices.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is whether your laptop supports Thunderbolt 3 or not. Technically, you can connect non-Thunderbolt laptops to Thunderbolt docks through USB-C but you won’t be able to use Thunderbolt features. Some noteworthy docks of this type include CalDigit TS3 Plus and StarTech TB3DKM2DP.
Look closely at the specs of both your laptop and the docks. First you need to check what type of video output it is: HDMI, VGA or DisplayPort.
If you want to connect to a single generic Full HD display through HDMI, any docks will do. Things get more complicated, though, if you plan on using a 4K, 5K display or multiple of them. Pay attention to not only your laptops specs but also the video hardware on the docks. Check to see whether your docks can support up to 4K 60Hz.
Some docking stations such as VA-DK004 or WAVLINK B082PFZVZ7 support up to dual 4K monitors or one 5k monitor.
And that’s some of the must-have ports on a docking station. There are still some other optional ports that you many need to take a look at:
Ethernet Jacks: Sometimes a Wi-Fi connection won’t cut it, and you want a stable connection. Ethernet jack allows you to connect your laptop to wired Internet connection for greater speed and stability.
SD card readers: If you are a photographer or media creation professionals, these ports could be handy. These allow for easier transferring data between your cameras and computer.
Audio interface: Sometimes you would find a headphone jack or mic jack separately or a combo jack. These ports help you plug in the headphones at a distance from the computer itself.
Instead of charging your laptops through power supplies, some docks are able to deliver power to your laptops. Most of the docks out there accomplish this through USB-C. The best laptop docking stations can give you such a true one-cable experience
One thing you need to keep in mind is the amount of power your docks can deliver. High-end laptops with a dedicated GPU would draw out more power than regular office laptops. So you need to check in advance the maximum output of power (in watts) on your docks.
For instance, a 13-inch Macbook Pro requires a power supply of 60 watts. So it’s not advisable to choose docks with output capability lower than this number. If it is, the dock will struggle to keep the Macbook Pro at full charged under heavy load. It’s recommended to find a dock with higher watts such as Elgato Thunderbolt 3 which delivers up to 85W.
4. Build quality
Aside from size and features, you may want your docking station to be durable when you travel. The best laptop docking stations should have a sturdy and lightweight body with a rugged design. Some stations made of metallic or aluminum are great choices.
Besides, some docking stations also spot a slim and sleek look that complement your whole system. Targus DOCK130USZ is built like a tank and is worth checking out.
1. Why should I get a laptop docking station?
There are many reasons to use a laptop docking station:
One-for-all port connection: USB-C, or Thunderbolt 3, allow peripheral devices of connection types to connect to one type of port. Some modern laptops don’t have USB-C, but a dock can add this connector of the future to them.
Convenience: As a laptop owner, chances are you travel frequently – whether from home to the office, or visit client’s site, etc. instead of plugging peripherals into the laptop one by one, you just need to plug or unplug the dock to and from your laptop. It’s a hassle-free and time-saving process.
Access to multiple devices: Some newer devices such as digital cameras are not compatible with laptops. Docking stations allow your laptops access to such devices. Furthermore, you can connect to external monitors which give you extra screen space for working.
Don’t need to buy another computer: Buying docking stations can help you save money. If you need to accommodate a certain device that your laptops can’t access, a dock is the affordable solution.
2. What is the difference between a hub and a laptop docking station?
A Hub simply expands the number of USB ports on your laptop. It acts as a splitter which helps you connect multiple devices to a port. Some hubs have only USB-A ports, while some variants have both USB-A and USB-C ports. In addition, there may be additional ports for Ethernet.
Docking stations expand more than just the number of ports. It brings all kinds of functions to your laptop, transforming it into a desktop replacement. Docks offer USB-A, USB-C, Thunderbolt, display outputs, etc. and even provide power for your system.
3. Why my laptop docking stations aren't charging my laptops?
As mentioned in the buying guide, you can charge your laptops using docking stations. However, some docks just simply don’t have this feature. The rule of thumb is that standard USB A-B docks typically can’t charge your laptops. This is due to standard USB ports unable to supply enough power for your laptops or tablets. You can charge your smartphones or tablets through USB ports on laptops, though.
On the other hand, you can often find the charging feature on USB-C laptop docking stations. Up to 100W of power can be delivered through USB-C connectors. If you find a USB-C docks with USB PD (Power Delivery), it means that these docks can be used to charge your laptops.
4. Is there any extra accessory I should get for my laptop docking stations?
Beside the number and type of ports on docking stations, you also need the right cables. Make sure you have the right cables that allow you to connect your laptops and peripherals to the docks. For example, HDMI ports require HDMI cables. If you want to output 4K display, remember to have a DisplayPort at hand.
Another thing to take into consideration is the length of the cables. Laptop docking stations have put you quite far away from the laptop, but make sure it’s long enough to have room for movement.
5. Do laptop docking stations need drivers?
Yes, they do. Docks need drivers to be able to work properly. Especially regular USB-A docks, they often require drivers or software to be able to function properly. In this case, you can find the drivers on the CD come with the dock or go to the manufacturer's website to download them. One exception is Thunderbolt 3 docks, they often have no need for drivers or installations.