Innovative Gadgets

The perfect docking stations for laptops in 2024


Relying on how a lot stuff you could plug in, your laptop computer might not have sufficient ports to help all of it — significantly when you’ve got extra wired equipment than Bluetooth ones. Docking stations add completely different mixtures of Ethernet, HDMI, DisplayPort, 3.5mm, reminiscence card and USB connections and, not like easy hubs, are sometimes DC-powered. For many who swap up their working location repeatedly, a docking station could make it simpler to swap between a fully-connected desk setup and a easy laptop computer, since only one port hyperlinks your pc to the dock. Which docking station it’s best to get relies upon partially on what you wish to plug in, however sifting by the a whole bunch of fashions on the market may be powerful. We tried out a dozen completely different choices that will help you slender down the very best docking station in your wants.

What to search for in a docking station

Firstly, think about what you could plug in. This can doubtless be the deciding issue while you go to truly purchase a docking station. Do you want three screens for an expanded work view? A fast solution to add photographs from an SD card? Are you trying to plug in a webcam, mic and streaming mild, whereas concurrently making the most of sooner Ethernet connections? When you’ve settled on the kind of ports you want, you may additionally wish to think about the era of these ports as properly; even ports with the identical form can have completely different capabilities. Right here’s a short overview of the connectivity completely different docking stations supply.

Monitor ports

Exterior screens sometimes want considered one of three ports to hook up with a PC: HDMI, DisplayPort or USB-C. HDMI connections are extra widespread than DisplayPort and the cables and gadgets that use them are typically extra reasonably priced. The most well-liked model of the DisplayPort interface (v1.4) can deal with greater resolutions and refresh charges than the most typical HDMI model (2.0). The entire docking stations with HDMI sockets that we advocate right here use model 2.0, which may deal with 4K decision at 60Hz or 1080p as much as 240Hz. The DisplayPort-enabled docks help both model 1.2, which permits for 4K decision at 60Hz, or model 1.4, which may deal with 8K at 60Hz or 4K at 120Hz.

You may as well use your dock’s downstream (non-host) Thunderbolt ports to hook up your screens. In case your exterior show has a USB-C socket, you may join instantly. If in case you have an HDMI or DisplayPort-only monitor, you need to use an adapter or a conversion cable.

After all, the variety of screens you may join and the resolutions/charges they’ll obtain rely upon each your pc’s GPU and your screens — and the extra screens you plug in can convey down these numbers as properly. Make sure to additionally use cables that help the bandwidth you’re hoping for. MacOS customers ought to needless to say MacBooks with the usual M1 or M2 chips help only one exterior monitor natively and require DisplayLink {hardware} and software program to help two exterior shows. MacBooks with M1 Professional, M2 Professional or M2 Max chips can run a number of screens from a single port.

USB ports

Most docking stations supply a number of USB Sort-A ports, that are nice for peripherals like wired mice and keyboards, bus-powered ring lights and flash drives. For sooner information switch speeds to your flash drive, go for USB-A sockets labeled 3.1 or 3.2 — or higher but, use a USB-C Thunderbolt port.

Sort-C USB ports are available many alternative flavors. The Thunderbolt 3, 4 and USB4 protocols are newer, extra succesful specs that help energy supply of as much as 100W, a number of 4K shows and information switch speeds of as much as 40Gbps. Different USB-C ports are available a variety of variations, with some supporting video, information and energy and a few solely capable of handle information and energy. Switch charges and wattages can fluctuate from port to port, however most docks checklist the wattage or GB/s on both the dock itself or on the product web page. And once more, attaining the quickest speeds will rely upon elements just like the cables you employ and the gadgets you’re transferring information to.

Practically each dock accessible right this moment connects to a pc by way of USB-C, typically Thunderbolt, and people host ports are practically at all times labeled with a laptop computer icon. Additionally they permit energy supply to your laptop computer: accessible wattage varies, however most docks are rated between 85 and 100 watts. That needs to be sufficient to maintain most computer systems powered — and it additionally means you gained’t must take up an additional laptop computer connector for charging.

Different ports

None of our at present advisable laptops embody an Ethernet jack; a docking station is a good way to get that connection again. Everyone knows objectively that wired web is quicker than Wi-Fi, however it would possibly take operating a fundamental pace comparability check to essentially get it on a intestine stage. For reference, on Wi-Fi I get a couple of 45 megabit-per-second obtain pace. Over Ethernet, it’s 925 Mbps. When you pay for a high-speed plan, however solely ever join wirelessly, you’re in all probability leaving numerous bandwidth on the desk. Each docking station I examined consists of an Ethernet port, and it may very well be the connector you find yourself getting probably the most use out of.

Simply two of our favourite laptops have SD card readers, and in case you want a fast solution to add recordsdata from cameras or audio recorders, it’s possible you’ll wish to get a dock with a type of slots. Of the docks we examined, about half had SD readers. For now, most (however not all) laptops nonetheless embody a 3.5mm audio jack, however in case you choose wired headphones and desire a extra accessible place to plug them in, many docking stations will present.

While you’re counting up the ports in your new dock, keep in mind that most firms embody the host port (the one which connects to your pc) within the complete quantity. So in case you’re searching for a dock with three Thunderbolt connections, make sure to examine whether or not considered one of them can be used to plug in your laptop computer.

The Cal Ditgit TS4 stands upright on a desk and we can see the ports clearly. The Cal Ditgit TS4 stands upright on a desk and we can see the ports clearly.

Picture by Amy Skorheim / Engadget

Design

Most docking stations have both a lay-flat or upright design. Most docks put the extra “everlasting” connections in again — akin to Ethernet, DC energy, monitor connections and some USBs. Up-front USB ports can be utilized for flash drive transfers, and even plugging in your telephone for a cost (simply make certain the port can ship the ability you want). USBs within the rear are finest for keyboards, mice, webcams and different stuff you’re more likely to at all times use. Some docks place the host port up entrance, which could make it simpler to plug in your laptop computer while you return to your desk, however a bunch port in again might look neater total.

How we examined

We began out by taking a look at on-line opinions, spec sheets from varied manufacturers and docking stations that our fellow tech websites have lined. We thought-about manufacturers we’ve examined earlier than and have favored, and weeded out something that didn’t have what we think about a contemporary suite of connections (akin to a dock with no downstream USB-C ports). We narrowed it all the way down to 12 contenders and I examined every dock on an M1 MacBook Professional, a Dell XPS 13 Plus and an Acer Chromebook Spin 514. I plugged in and evaluated the standard of the connections for 12 completely different peripherals together with a 4K and an HD monitor, a 4K and an HD webcam, plus USB gadgets like a mouse, keyboard, streaming mild and mic. I plugged in wired earbuds, and transferred information to a USB-C flash drive and an exterior SSD. I ran fundamental pace exams on the Ethernet connections in addition to the file transfers. I judged how straightforward the docks have been to make use of in addition to the assorted design elements I described earlier. I made spreadsheets and had sufficient wires snaking round my work space that my cat stayed off my desk for 3 weeks (a brand new report).

Picture by Amy Skorheim / Engadget

Host connection: 2 x USB-C | Energy supply to host: 75W (USB-C) | USB-C: 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x 3.1 | USB-A: 2 | Monitor: 2 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x DisplayPort 1.4 | Aux 3.5mm: No | SD Card: No

The Satechi Twin Dock Stand is completely different from all the opposite docks we examined in two respects: it doesn’t require an influence supply and it goes beneath your MacBook as a substitute of beside it. You could possibly nearly classify it as a hub, however I feel the excessive variety of ports earns it docking-station standing. It plugs into the 2 USB-C ports along side a Mac, which permits MacBooks with M1, M2 or M3 Professional or Max chips to function two exterior screens in prolonged mode. Sadly, MacBooks with commonplace M1 or M2 chips, can natively solely energy a second exterior show in mirrored mode. The brand new MacBook Air with the M3 chip can solely energy two shows in prolonged mode with the laptop computer lid closed. If in case you have a Mac with a regular chip and want two screens, you will want a docking station that helps DisplayLink {hardware} and software program, such because the Kensington SD4780P, which is our prime choose for Chromebooks.

For the reason that Twin Dock works with out energy, it’s loads simpler to arrange than different docks with transformer containers and DC cables. I discovered it made probably the most sense to only use the MagSafe connector on the laptop computer, however you too can provide energy to the dock utilizing the non-data USB-C port and it’ll move 75 watts to your machine.

Each the 4K and HD screens I examined regarded nice and labored properly in prolonged mode. There are two USB-Cs for a webcam and mic, plus two USB-As which may very well be used for a dongle mouse and a streaming mild — that’s doubtless sufficient ports for conferencing or perhaps a fundamental video creator setup. The dock is in the end restricted by the truth that not one of the USB-C connections are Thunderbolt and there are solely two USB-A sockets to work with. Nevertheless it’s an amazing selection for extending productiveness in a approach that tucks beneath a MacBook, neatly shifting the cords to the again of the machine and out of the best way.

Execs

  • Distinctive design enhances MacBooks
  • Can energy two screens on Macs with M1 Professional or M2 Professional chips
  • Good number of ports
Cons

  • Simply two USB-A ports
  • No Thunderbolt ports

$130 at Adorama

Picture by Amy Skorheim / Engadget

Host connection: Thunderbolt 4 | Max energy supply to host: 96W (DC) | USB-C: 1 x TB4, 1 x 3.2 | USB-A: 4 | Monitor: 2 x HDMI 2.0 | Aux 3.5mm: Sure | SD Card: SD and microSD

For many who need the additional pace and connectivity of the newest Thunderbolt interface, I like to recommend Kensington’s AD2010T4 Thunderbolt 4 Twin 4K Docking Station. Of all of the TB4 docking stations examined, the AD2010 is the one one underneath $300, but it carried out on par with and even supplied a greater number of ports than a number of the others I examined. It provides you two Thunderbolt 4 connections, one for the host and one for equipment, plus an extra 3.2 USB-C. Twin HDMI 2.0 sockets can deal with two exterior screens with as much as 4K decision (at 60Hz). However in case you want three further screens or have an 8K display screen, you may faucet into the Thunderbolt port.

There’s a complete of 4 USB-As, which is sufficient for a wired mouse or keyboard and a pair different peripherals. It has an SD and a microSD card slot, a 3.5mm audio combo jack and an Ethernet jack. There are even two Kensington lock slots that allow you to bodily safe your dock with a cable.

The system itself has a stable really feel and a gorgeous metallic design. My solely gripe is with the lay-flat orientation and that almost half of the ports are on the entrance edge — I feel upright docks that hold most connections round again have an total neater look on a desk. Nonetheless, I ought to level out that Kensington sells mounts for its docks, which may assist with aesthetics. 

Execs

  • Competitively priced
  • Highly effective downstream TB4 port
  • Loads of USB-A connections
Cons

  • Most ports are up entrance
  • Lay-flat design could be a area hog with no mount

$200 at Amazon

Picture by Amy Skorheim / Engadget

Host connection: Thunderbolt 4 | Energy supply to host: 98W (DC) | USB-C: 2 x TB4, 3 x 3.2 | USB-A: 5 | Monitor: 1 x DisplayPort 1.4 | Aux 3.5mm: 1 x audio combo, 1 x audio in, 1 x audio out | SD Card: SD and microSD

There’s loads to understand about CalDigit’s TS4 docking station: It has a sturdy, upright design with a bunch connection on the rear and a whopping 5 downstream USB-C ports, two of that are Thunderbolt 4. Up entrance, you get an SD and a microSD card slot together with a headphone jack, two USB-C and a USB-A connector. In again, there’s room for 4 extra USB-A gadgets and two 3.5mm jacks, one for audio in and one for audio out. One space the place the dock might really feel missing is in show inputs. It solely has one DisplayPort 1.4, however it has loads of TB4 ports, which you’ll simply use to outfit a full command heart (in case you don’t have a USB-C monitor, there are many adapters).

The multi-gig Ethernet jack can deal with as much as 2.5Gbps, so in case you’re paying for a screaming-fast web plan, this dock can assist you make the most of it. The TS4 can ship as much as 98W of energy to your laptop computer, although like all docking station, the wattage goes down when different objects are additionally drawing energy.

The TS4 labored equally properly with my MacBook Professional and the Dell XPS13 Plus and was even suitable with a Chromebook. I examined learn/write speeds on a Samsung T7 SSD by way of a Thunderbolt port and obtained 734 MB/s learn and 655 MB/s write speeds on the Mac and 1048/994 on the Dell. In comparison with the opposite docks, that was within the lower-middle vary for the Mac and the quickest total for the PC. On PC, it additionally dealt with a 1GB folder switch to a flash drive sooner than some other dock and delivered the quickest connection speeds over the Ethernet. It’s the one unit that permit me plug in each single peripheral I had readily available without delay. When you’ve obtained numerous tech you wish to use concurrently (and cash isn’t a priority), that is the one to get.

Execs

  • An abundance of ports
  • Compact, upright design
  • 2.5Gbps Ethernet port

$400 at Amazon

Picture by Amy Skorheim / Engadget

Host connection: USB-C | Energy supply to host: 100W (DC) | USB-C: 1 x 3.1 | USB-A: 5 | Monitor: 2 x HDMI 2.0, 2 x DisplayPort 1.2 | Aux 3.5mm: 1 x audio combo | SD Card: No

The Kensington SD4780P Twin 4K sometimes requires a DisplayLink driver, however any Chromebook made after 2017 helps the connection from the soar. Discovering a docking station that works with ChromeOS is hard; of the 12 models I examined, solely 4 linked in any respect with the Acer Chromebook Spin 514, and a type of 4 couldn’t run two screens. The SD4780P makes use of a USB-C host connection, by which it affords a most energy supply of 100W and was capable of run each the 4K and HD screens cleanly.

It permits for a variety of USB-A peripherals by 5 such ports, however there’s solely a single downstream USB-C, so I wasn’t ready to make use of each a webcam and mic on the identical time. Meaning you’ll want to make use of your Chromebook’s built-in ports if you would like greater than a type of sorts of gadgets arrange. The plastic construct makes it look a bit low cost and I’m not loopy concerning the lay-flat design, however the host port is within the again, which can make your setup neater. If all you’re searching for is a solution to get a number of further screens and use your wired USB equipment, this can be a good choose for Chromebooks. 

Execs

  • Works properly with Chromebooks
  • 5 USB-A ports
Cons

  • Requires a driver for non Chromebooks
  • Only one downstream USB-C

$199 at Amazon

Different docking stations we examined

Plugable TBT4-UDZ

Once I pulled the Plugable TBT4-UDZ Thunderbolt 4 out of the field, I used to be satisfied it might make the reduce: It has a sensible upright design, a gorgeous metallic end, and the host connection is TB4. Whereas there are many USB-A and monitor ports, there’s only one downstream USB-C. A contemporary dock, significantly one which prices $300, ought to allow you to run, say, a USB-C cam and mic on the identical time. In any other case, it’s fairly limiting.

Anker 575 USB-C

At $250 (and extra typically $235), the Anker 575 USB-C may make for price range choose for Home windows. It carried out properly with the Dell XPS 13 Plus, however had hassle with the third display screen, the 4K webcam and headphone jack when linked to the MacBook Professional. It’s fairly compact, which suggests it will possibly get wobbly when a bunch of cables are plugged in, however it has a wide selection of ports and was capable of deal with my fundamental setup properly.

Belkin Join Professional Thunderbolt 4

Belkin’s Join Professional Thunderbolt 4 Dock is a contender for a Thunderbolt 4 different. It has practically the identical ports because the AD2010 (minus the microSD slot) and a gorgeous rounded design — however it’s $90 extra, so I’d solely advocate getting it in case you discover it on sale.

Acer USB Sort-C Dock

Acer’s USB Sort-C Dock D501 prices $10 greater than our Kensington choose for Chromebooks, however it performs equally and is value a point out. It has practically the identical ports (together with the quite limiting single downstream USB-C) however each the Ethernet and information switch speeds have been sooner.

FAQs

Are docking stations value it?

Docking stations are value it when you’ve got extra equipment to plug in than your laptop computer permits. Say you will have a USB-C digital camera and mic, plus a USB-A mouse, keyboard and streaming mild; only a few trendy laptops have sufficient connections to help all of that without delay. A docking station could make that setup possible whereas additionally providing you with further ports like an Ethernet connection, and supplying energy to your laptop computer. Nonetheless, in case you simply want a number of further USB sockets, you is perhaps higher off going with a hub, as these are usually cheaper.

How a lot does a laptop computer dock value?

Laptop computer docking stations are usually greater and costlier than easy USB-A or USB-C hubs, due to the broader array of connections. You could find them as little as $50 and so they can get as costly as $450. An inexpensive worth for a dock with a wide selection of ports from a good model will common round $200.

How do I arrange my laptop computer dock?

Most docking stations are plug and play. First, join the DC energy cable to the dock and a wall outlet. Then search for the “host” or upstream port on the dock — it’s nearly at all times a USB-C/Thunderbolt port and sometimes branded with an icon of a laptop computer. Use the supplied cable to hook up with your pc. After that, you may join your peripherals to the dock and they need to be prepared to make use of together with your laptop computer. A couple of docking stations, significantly those who deal with extra advanced monitor setups, require a driver. The directions that include your dock will level you to an internet site the place you may obtain that companion software program.

Does a laptop computer cost on a docking station?

Practically all docking stations mean you can cost your laptop computer by the host connection (the cable operating from the dock to your pc). That functionality, plus the upper variety of ports is what separates a docking station from a hub. Docks can move on between 65W and 100W of energy to laptops, and practically all embody a DC adapter.

Are all docking stations suitable with all laptops?

No, not all docking stations are suitable with each laptop computer. In our exams, the Chromebook had the most important compatibility points, the Dell PC had the least, and the MacBook fell someplace in between. All docks will checklist which manufacturers and fashions they work with on the net product web page — make sure to additionally examine the era of your laptop computer as some docks can’t help sure chips.

What are some standard docking station manufacturers?

Kensington, Anker, Pluggable and Belkin are respected and well-known manufacturers making docking stations for all laptops. Lenovo, Dell and HP all make docks that may work with their very own computer systems in addition to different manufacturers.



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