The 10 Best Laptop Docking Stations
This wiki has been updated 31 times since it was first published in January of 2017. Today’s laptops are convenient when on the go, but if you want to use one as a replacement for a desktop, you may need some sort of docking station. Sometimes called port replicators, they connect an array of peripherals to your device, including monitors, keyboards, and speakers. You'll want to take special note of whether you need USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectivity or an actual Thunderbolt 3 port. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 24, 2020:
As chipsets get smaller, hubs and docks are starting to converge somewhat. The Kensington SD5600T is almost certainly the most versatile, as it's powered by an included wall adapter and works with both TB3 and USB 3.2 connections. The CalDigit Soho is one of the few other models to boast that active cross-compatibility. The high-end Siig DK0B11 and affordable Wavlink UG39DK1V are both especially useful for extending a desktop across multiple monitors, partly because of their standlone DisplayLink chipsets. Meanwhile, as long as you have your own USB-C PD power supply, the UTechSmart Hub is one of the most effective and versatile hubs you'll find.
October 04, 2019:
Docking stations can take one of two forms, either a small, multi-port dongle or a larger, more comprehensive piece of equipment with standalone DC power. The first type is much more portable though not quite as useful. The Belkin Mini is a good example of a simple and reliable adapter, while the UTechSmart is a great hub to bring on the road, especially if you have a good USB-C charger.
Slightly more useful are the freestanding models that actively charge your battery and power other devices without drawing power from the notebook itself. The Siig, Kensington, Echo, and CalDigit are similarly shaped models that come in a variety of configurations, so depending on your needs, one of those will provide many of the ports you need. The Plugable is similar, and it's popular among Mac users because it's specifically intended to be completely compatible with Apple products. It's important to note which ones require Thunderbolt 3 and which can use standard USB 3.1, whether in the Type-A or Type-C connector format.
The Targus Universal line almost certainly has something to suit nearly any configuration, and the Glyph is especially interesting because it allows users to set up high-speed external storage in both pre-configured setups or by adding their own aftermarket SSD.
Total Connectivity At All Times
Peripheral devices of nearly endless variety can attach via USB cable.
Computers are smaller, faster, and more integrated with our lives today than ever before. Direct evidence of this can be found in the high performance and utility of today's most advanced portable devices. Tablet PCs, for example, are gaining popularity in gaming and VR applications thanks to the increased power of their state-of-the-art chipsets. More people than ever in the history of personal computing are ditching desktop boxes and going fully mobile, with lightweight ultrabooks able to approach the performance levels of high-end desktops from just a short time ago.
The capabilities of today's home computers are truly impressive. Peripheral devices of nearly endless variety can attach via USB cable. Network and video data protocol has been standardized to the point of using a single type of ethernet or HDMI connector on every modern modem and television. Digital storage increases in capacity and speed as we speak. But the slickest ultralight laptops and fastest tablets just don't have the physical space for all that tech.
And there are some situations where a 15-inch screen and a couple USB plugs just aren't going to get the job done.
For those instances, we turn to docking stations, often referred to as port replicators. These handy devices connect directly to your portable computer and offer a wide array of capabilities, mainly serving as sophisticated types of breakout boxes adapted for use with end-user computers. The expanded availability of today's most common adapters liberates super-thin notebook computers cursed with a limited port selection. As you'll see while searching for the right choice for your desk, there are (unsurprisingly) a lot of different features in the field.
The Benefits Of A Dock
Different docks are constructed to suit varying needs. Some styles stand upright on your desk, and some are designed to sit underneath your notebook computer itself. In that vein, some of the more involved models feature built-in fans to improve airflow and reduce temperature, increasing the performance and reliability of your machine. A select few models even have on-board chargers, so you won't even have to bend over and plug in your laptop's power adapter when you want to drop anchor and connect with your peripherals.
While many people use wireless internet throughout their homes for both their laptop and desktop setups, this does have its drawbacks.
A number of popular laptop brands produce dedicated docks that fit with individual models of their computers. These are great choices if they're available. They often provide a sturdy physical base to add a heavier, desktop-like feel to your workspace, which can help you remain comfortable and focused when working for long periods of time. They can sometimes be a little pricey, but they're usually worth it.
While many people use wireless internet throughout their homes for both their laptop and desktop setups, this does have its drawbacks. When streaming HD video or connecting with your fellow gamers and racking up the frags, the latency and interference over the 802.11 band simply won't cut it. A wired connection to your modem is usually the best option in these cases. And the vast majority of docking stations do provide a physical ethernet plug.
What Can These Things Do?
The simplest types of replicators don't offer much in the way of bells and whistles. These are sometimes designed with specific uses in mind, such as web or video connections that a laptop can't otherwise accommodate. For that reason, they don't offer a huge improvement in connectivity like more comprehensive units do. While the basic style may have limited functionality, there's little chance of a bandwidth bottleneck forming between the adapters, ensuring the consistent throughput needed for things like live video streaming.
Also, there's one very important note for Apple users: be certain of the capabilities of the docking station you choose, as some of them simply will not work with Macs.
If your model of laptop doesn't have its own dedicated dock produced alongside it, you can look to a large selection of universal docking stations. In addition to providing easy access to physical network and video ports, a lot of these offer additional helpful features. Some units support multiple ultra-HD outputs, splitting your video among multiple high-res monitors or TV screens. A few such units even include on-board graphics and audio processors that can take over for underperforming laptop GPUs and support full 5.1-channel surround sound from a previously stereo-only computer.
In addition to the common HDMI port and a smattering of USB outlets, some docking stations offer more specialized i/o ports, like DisplayPort, mini DP, and even old-school-style PS2 connectors for use with legacy hardware.
Many models communicate using USB-C technology for optimum speed between the dock and your laptop. This is especially important when looking at models with a large number of different ports communicating with the docking unit's chipset. For that reason, some high-end stations incorporate dynamic technology that throttles bandwidth and prioritizes data across the device's connections, keeping the information flow smooth and preventing interruptions. This way your laptop can, for instance, reliably read a 4k video file from an external hard drive, process that video, and transmit it over HDMI through your docking station without experiencing any hiccups or loss of video quality.
Also, there's one very important note for Apple users: be certain of the capabilities of the docking station you choose, as some of them simply will not work with Macs. Others will work but with only partial functionality, as some features may be disabled. So, if you're hoping to connect your Macbook Pro on the fly, it's best to find a dock designed for your brand.
Whichever model you choose, it's sure to streamline the way you and your computer interact with data, media, storage, and playback devices, whether you're working hard at the office or unwinding at home.