Laptops are great for convenience, but desktops are the preferred option in the office domain. However. with docking stations, you can have the best of both worlds.
You’re able to chuck your laptop in a bag for meetings and other outings, but connect it up to a dock to turn it into a desktop computer setup back at the office (or indeed at home). That way, you can easily link the notebook to a monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer and so forth.
Searching for the perfect docking station isn’t easy, though. There are so many to choose from, serving different laptops and purposes. In this feature, we’re going to look at the best models that’ll give you everything you need to stay productive.
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1. StarTech Thunderbolt 3 Dual-4K Docking Station
The most advanced docking station ever?
Ports: 2 Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, DisplayPort, USB Type A, 2 3.5mm mini jack
StarTech claims its Thunderbolt 3 docking station is the most advanced dock ever. Often, docking stations require multiple leads, but StarTech’s latest offering avoids that. The device has been designed to work with thinner notebooks and uses only one cord.
As the name suggests, it supports dual 4K displays (at 60Hz) and harnesses the raw power of Thunderbolt 3, offering 40Gbps bandwidth while keeping portability in mind. That’s not all, though. It can be used with up to three USB 3.0 devices and you also get Gigabit Ethernet capability. There’s also the ability to charge mobile devices, and you benefit from Direct DisplayPort integration. This accessory will set you back £312, which is a hefty whack, but not a bad investment if you’re in the market for a powerful dock.
2. Targus USB 3.0 Dual Video Docking Station with Power
Dock and charge
Ports: USB 3.0, HDMI, DVI, USB 2.0, 2 3.5mm mini jack
Targus offers this Dual Video Docking Station which won’t break the bank, and comes with integrated laptop recharging facilities that are compatible with most 90W notebooks. So even if you’ve forgotten your charger, you’ll be good to go with this nifty device.
You can hook up two displays to this dock, and in terms of ports, you get a pair of USB 3.0 ports, alongside a pair of USB 2.0 connectors, plus two powered USB 2.0 ports, and Gigabit Ethernet. Targus also offers a Multiplexer Adaptor which makes this docking station USB-C compatible.
3. Anker USB 3.0 Docking Station
Ports: 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, DVI, 4 x USB 2.0, Ethernet port
Anker also makes a range of affordable laptop docking stations – and its USB 3.0 dual display model is one of them. You can connect up all your peripherals via six USB ports, and use two displays simultaneously. That’s certainly handy if you need multiple displays for work purposes.
Four of the USB ports are version 2.0, while two are USB 3.0 – and they give you access to transfer speeds of 5Gbps. The dock has built-in automatic bandwidth prioritisation too, aiming for smooth, stable performance when all the ports are being used. This dock has been built for Windows devices.
4. Kensington USB 3.0 Docking Station
Well known brand
Ports: USB 3.0, HDMI, DVI, USB 2.0, Ethernet port
Kensington is a well-known and respected brand which has developed a reputation for its docking stations. Its latest USB 3.0 model can be used with MacBook or Windows laptops.
The device lets you turn one USB port into six (it sports four USB 2.0 ports around the back, and a pair of USB 3.0 affairs on the front). You also get a DVI connector and adapters to use it with either HDMI or VGA leads, and there’s an optional multi-display adapter for hooking up more than one monitor. You also get an Ethernet port.
The dock will sit next to your laptop nicely and is placed in the midrange bracket in terms of pricing.
5. Toshiba Dynadock V3.0+
Another big-name dock
Ports: USB 3.0, DVI, Ethernet port
Toshiba is another big tech name that makes laptop docking stations. The Dynadock V3.0 is one of the firm’s most popular offerings, and is targeted at Windows laptop users who want to benefit from expanded capabilities.
Like most docking stations nowadays, the Dynadock offers USB 3.0 ports, although more than many as you get four of these here. There is also a DVI connector (with adapters for HDMI or VGA) along with an Ethernet port, and the dock uses one cable connection for ease-of-use and portability. And because the Dynadock sports an upright design, it’ll fit nicely on even the most cramped desk environment.
6. Microsoft Surface Dock
Microsoft's accomplished dock
Ports: 2 x Mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, 4 x USB 3.0, audio-out jack
Microsoft is a company known primarily for its software prowess, but in recent years, it has been increasingly working on the hardware front. The Surface line-up of tablet hybrids demonstrates this perfectly. If you own one, you’ll be happy to learn that you can also reap the rewards offered by a docking station.
The Surface Dock will let you turn your Surface convertible into a fully-fledged desktop PC. It’s compatible with the Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. Connectivity-wise, there are two Mini DisplayPorts, one Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 3.0 ports and an audio-out jack. This dock doesn’t come particularly cheap, though.
7. J5Create JUD500 USB 3.0 Ultra Station
Neat and compact
Ports: 2x USB 3.0, USB 2.0, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, 2 x audio jack
The J5Create Ultra Station is a neat and compact dock indeed, being a thin bar which you can attach to the back of your notebook. It provides a variety of connectivity options for Windows laptops and MacBooks: you get a pair of USB 3.0 ports (one of which has power for charging) and a USB 2.0 port, along with VGA and HDMI ports, Ethernet, plus speaker and mic jacks.
However, that’s not all. There’s also a nifty ‘wormhole’ USB connection that allows you to hook up another computer – as well as your initial laptop – and do things like share files by simply dragging and dropping them across from machine to machine. This can also be used to share your keyboard and mouse between devices, and works cross-platform (i.e. you can hook up and share things between a Windows notebook and MacBook).
8. Dell USB 3.0 UHD Triple Video Docking Station
A dock for Dell's own
Ports: 3x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, DisplayPort, 2x HDMI, Ethernet, 2 x audio jack
Although there are universal laptop docking stations out there, of course, many models are built by manufacturers for their own notebooks. Dell’s USB 3.0 dock exemplifies this. It works with most of the company’s latest laptops in the Inspiron series and, like much of the competition, uses USB 3.0 as the prevalent port – it has three USB 3.0 connectors, along with two USB 2.0 ports.
As the name suggests, 4K screens are catered for, and you get a DisplayPort along with a pair of HDMI ports, meaning you can hook up a total of three external monitors (one of them 4K) if you wish. Dell bundles an HDMI to DVI adapter, to support older displays still using DVI, and this dock also boasts an Ethernet port along with audio/headphone jacks.