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As laptops are getting thinner, the standards are slowly but surely shifting toward USB-C. That said, the day when everything will be USB-C is still far away. For now, you might have to deal with converter dongles for every port you need.
Docking stations are an efficient solution to this overly complicated problem. They condense all the ports you need into a single high-quality unit. Here is a complete buyer’s guide on how to choose the right one for your needs.
This is the first and arguably most important question to ask before buying a docking station. Your answer to this will send you on drastically different paths in terms of attributes to look for.
For example, say you need a dock for your thin and light laptop with limited USB-C ports. In this case, your first point of focus should be the size. The docking station of choice needs to be portable. Then comes the lookout for essential expansion ports like USB-A, ethernet, and HDMI.
Alternatively, if you need a docking station for your desktop gaming setup, it needs high-speed USB 3.0 on the front as well as the back. A separate headphone jack and mic port on the side would be great as well. Size won’t be that big of an issue here as long as the dock has every port you need. Also, the external power requirement is a non-issue as well.
These are the ports you will usually find on docking stations and why they’re needed.
The most obvious answer for must-have ports on a docking station is plain old USB-A ports. While stuff is getting updated to USB-C, the large majority of devices are still on the USB-A standard.
As for the speed, having a mix of both 2.0 and 3.0 ports would be the best choice to keep costs low. Slower 2.0 ports might be useless for data transfer, but they work fine for headphones, mice, keyboards, and other such low bandwidth devices.
This is only applicable for docking stations meant for thin and light notebooks with USB-C charging. These ports pass the current through to the laptop without any noticeable drop in power. This feature can also come in handy for applications like driving three 4K monitors or other tasks that draw more power than the laptop can provide from one USB-C port.
Be it HDMI, DP, DVI, or VGA, having at least a couple of display driving ports on the dock is necessary. The ideal dock will have at least one of each, but that may not be practical. If you only deal with modern displays and projectors, HDMI is more than enough. DP might be needed if you want to run a 4K monitor at over 30Hz. As for VGA and DVI, they’re only needed for legacy compatibility, which could be important depending on your situation.
Laptop WiFi has improved a lot over the years, but it is still a wireless connection that doesn’t have the raw reliability of a wired connection. That’s why having an ethernet port on your docking station is so crucial, giving your computer access to fast, wired internet without any complications.
This is totally optional and only applicable to folks who work with cameras and video footage. While you can carry a dedicated USB-C card reader, having it built into a docking station is just more convenient. If your choice comes down to two stations, one with and one without a card reader, choose the one that has the reader just for future-proofing your investment.
This laptop docking station from Hiearcool sets a high bar for what these hubs should be. Everything about this dock is exceptional, from its performance to overall build quality. The number and variety of ports on the dock are impressive as well. It converts a single USB-C connection into five USB ports total: two 3.0, two 2.0, and one USB-C passthrough (so you won’t even lose the original USB-C port). Then there are the two HDMI ports, an SD card reader, an ethernet port for more stable internet, and a VGA port for legacy monitors.
In other words, you can use this dock to turn your laptop into a full desktop experience with up to three monitors. Put together all of these high-performance ports into one solid and long-lasting unit — and you’ve got the No. 1 docking station on this list.
Turn your laptop into a desktop powerhouse with this ultimate 12-port docking station by Ivanky. All ports on the dock share a maximum power supply of 180W thanks to the independent 180W PD 3.0 power adapter included in the package, assuring secure and steady performance while you use it. It has a diverse range of possibilities with its dual USB-C and 4 USB-A ports, ensuring your data is transferred 10x faster so you never have to waste time again. This state-of-the-art docking station is compatible with your Macbook Air/Pro, allowing you to work flawlessly with excellent performance throughout the day.
The Plugable Universal Docking Station is a near-perfect match for desktop setups. While it works with laptops as well, its true potential is unleashed when you use it as a port extension for your PC. Most useful ports on desktops are on the back, which can be a hassle to get to. This dock will bring all of them to an easily accessible place anywhere on your desk.
Its key ports include six USB-A ports (two of which are 3.0) as well as HDMI, DVI, and ethernet ports. These are all fairly useful, especially the USB ports. But, the most noticeable port on this dock is the dual headphone jack on the side. It connects to the host system via a USB 3.0 uplink cable, making it perfectly compatible with older systems as well that don’t have a Type-C port.
Display expansion is one of the primary reasons to invest in docking stations, and this one from Dell is the top choice for that. It includes two HDMI and one DP port on the back that can drive Ultra HD/4K monitors with ease. Other notable ports on this dock include USB-A on both back and front, audio in and out, and ethernet. All it requires for access to all of these is a single USB 3.0 uplink cable alongside external power.
Another great attribute of this dock is how professional and minimalist it looks. It’ll work just as well with a sleek gaming setup as it will on a professional office desk. It even includes a Kensington lock, which further increases its usability in an office environment.
This universal docking station from Wavlink is built to last you a long time. This is not just about durability either, even if that is a large part of it. The other key reason why this docking station will work even after years is that it includes every port you could need. This model features six USB ports, allowing you to attach all your devices and still have room for more. That’s not all, though — the HDMI and DVI combo lets this dock drive two displays at once.
Getting back to durability, this docking station is built to withstand years of regular day-to-day use without causing a single issue. Its plastic exterior is durable enough to absorb a few drops without letting out a single creak. Then there is the matter of the longevity of the ports; fortunately, all of them are as durable as it gets.
Docking stations that work off of a single USB-C connection are known for their super high prices. Zmuipng goes against that notion with this dock that has everything you need while still being very affordable. The inclusion of five USB-A ports and one USB-C passthrough is plenty for external devices. Its two HDMI ports can drive any modern display, while the included VGA port will get the job done for older monitors. It even has an ethernet connection for a more stable internet connection.
All of these benefits are wrapped up in a docking station that costs noticeably less, even half, of most other options. The best part about this less expensive dock is that the overall quality is still on par with premium docking stations. As long as you use it properly, it won’t cause connection issues or stop working anytime soon.
No, they do not. The only issue you can expect is a slow transfer, but even that can be prevented by picking a high-quality station in the first place.
Most USB-C powered docks have a hard limit of three displays at a time. A few might offer more options, but that limit belongs to the underlying computer. Keep the type of port on your displays in mind before purchasing.
For regular day-to-day headphones, yes, they are perfectly fine. But they will not work well for high impedance headphones that require a proper amplifier.