While laptops and notebooks offer fabulous mobility and allow you to work on the go, they have some distinct weaknesses. One of them is flexibility. Sometimes, a desktop is best.
Laptop docking stations, however, help to bridge the gap. With them, you easily connect peripheral devices like keyboards, printers, and scanners, helping them to double up as regular computers.
WAVLINK Docking Station
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock with Charging
Plugable USB 3.0 Dual 4K Display Docking Station
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Certified Cable Matters Aluminum Thunderbolt 3 Dock
When Cable Matters were designing the Thunderbolt, it is clear that they had one thing in mind – to create the best laptop docking station in the world.
The unit features a range of connectivity options, including the ability to hook your laptop up to dual monitor setups. And it is compatible with a variety of Macs, including the Macbook Mini.
The Docking station is remarkably simple, however, given the range of features that it offers. Single-cable docking allows you to quickly hook up your laptop, regardless of the mess of cables coming out of the device. There’s also a 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cable that charges your laptop up to 60 W.
Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the brushed aluminium finish. This dock looks great – but you’d expect that given the price point.
WAVLINK USB 3.0 Universal Laptop Docking Station Dual Display
The Wavlink might not offer the beauty of the Cable Matters, but it does provide great value at the price point. The white-lacquered block features a large number of ports for practically every peripheral. It effectively replicates a traditional desktop motherboard I/O.
The dock comes with HDMI and DVI/VGA ports for both newer and older styles of monitors. There’s also a gigabit ethernet RJ-45 power and a flurry of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 and an earphone and mic combo socket for listening to music or recording.
It’s not all good news, though. While the docking station features practically every port you need for day to day computing essentials, there’s no mini-USB or sockets for memory cards.
StarTech Dual 4K Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock with DisplayPort
While the StarTech might not be the most affordable docking station in the world, it does offer a host of features that make it more desirable than many of its competitors.
For one, it comes with DisplayPort – something you need if you want to run high resolutions and framerates. This feature makes it ideal for people who want to hook powerful gaming laptops or workstations up to dynamic refresh rate monitors.
StarTech also offers powerful charging, delivering up to 85W for notebooks that will accept it – more than the majority of docks on the market. Thus, you can effectively charge your laptop and your peripherals at the same time.
Of course, it is not all good news. While StarTech looks excellent on paper, there are issues. The main problems are driver-related. You often find that the dock will fail to detect certain types of peripherals, including monitors, which make it challenging to use as the manufacturer intended. And even if you do manage to connect, the monitors will randomly flicker from time to time making it unsuitable for either work or gaming.
Semoic 11 in 1 HUB
Semoic is a relatively low-profile brand in the business of offering quality electronics to professionals. The company’s docking station is no exception, providing a range of connection options; some modern, some retro.
Aside from all the usual USB and video output options, you also get card readers, an audio interface and a network interface. No – it doesn’t have Thunderbolt for super-rapid transfer, but you do get 5 Gbps which is plenty fast enough for all but the most heavy-duty users.
For the audio users among you, the Semoic comes with independent audio and mic ports. Thus, you don’t have to choose between whether you want to listen or record. You’re free to do both.
The downside to this device is that it is relatively unknown. We simply don’t know much about how it will perform in the consumer setting or how much support the company is willing to bring to the table.
Heheda 3 in 1 USB C Hub
Heheda takes an entirely different approach to the docking stations that we’ve seen so far. Instead of offering every type of port in existence, the company provides a slimmed-down version with only the critical connection options it thinks that customers will actually use.
The first is the USB 3.1 type C interface, offering transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps – about double the rate of a standard USB. Second, there’s full HDMI support, meaning that you can connect a regular 12-inch Apple notebook to a 4K TV.
There’s also a C-USB charging port for Google Chromebook or Macbook, and compatibility with a range of other third-party laptop vendors, including HP and Samsung.
There are, however, two distinct downsides to this device which immediately jump out at you. First, it uses a micro-USB connector as standard, limiting the number of devices that you can connect to it. And second, there are comparatively few connection options, making dual monitor setups impossible and rendering it impractical for the majority of work settings.
iBesi USB C Hub, 11 in 1 USB-C Laptop Docking Station with Gigabit Ethernet
The iBesi is an exciting device. It keeps all of the style cues of the Heheda but extends the number of port options, dramatically enhancing its capabilities.
The most interesting practical feature of the device is how you position it. You can either use it as a standard dock connected to your laptop beside your computer. Or you can take advantage of the non-slip rubber stickers and place your notebook on top of it to give you an angled typing platform.
Because of its large size, the iBesi comes with practically every connection option you could imagine. It does not, however, offer display port technology. Thus, while you can connect HDMI to a 4K monitor, you’ll have to put up with 30 frames per second.
Hiearcool USB C Hub, USB-C Laptop Docking Station,11 in 1 Triple Display
Hiearcool believes that it is possible to cram practically every connection option onto a device smaller than a pack of playing cards – and do so at an affordable price.
So far, the majority of docking stations that we have discussed are premium models. You get a lot, but at the expense of a decent chunk out of your wallet. Hiearcool, however, takes a different approach. It believes that it is possible to cram every conceivable connection option onto a miniature device, even smaller than a pack of playing cards. Furthermore, it does it all at an affordable price.
The standout feature of the Hiearcool is the fact that it supports triple display setups. You can enjoy multi-monitor gaming and applications, directly from your laptop. The dock will support resolutions up to 1920 x 1080 on the VGA connection and dual 4K 3840 x 2160 on the unit’s two HDMI ports.
YXwin 11 in 1 USB C Hub Triple Display for Multiple devices
YXwin also goes down the 11 in 1 route, offering customers the standard array of connection options for them to plug into their devices. Here, you get four USB ports, including a USB 3.1 connector, an RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet connector, a VGA adaptor, space for SD cards, two HDMI ports and an external mini-USB.
Like the Hiearcool, the YXWIN will support three monitors via USB and is compatible with a wide range of laptop vendors.
The most exciting thing about this docking station is the quality of the engineering that has gone into it. YXwin has invested in antistatic, anti-fall and current overload protection, as well as interference shielding that prevents things like speakers interrupting electrical signals in the unit. It even offers anti-fingerprint technology to prevent you from having to rid the chassis of greasy marks continually.
Plugable USB 3.0 Dual 4K Display Horizontal Docking Station
While there are a lot of cheap, knock-off docking stations out there using last-gen connectivity options, the Plugable USB 3.0 helps to bring you right up to date. Not only does it do away with USB 2.0 entirely, but it also provides display port technology. That’s something you need if you want to play video games at a high refresh rate.
Plugable has worked hard on the compatibility issue which dogs the industry. The company invested an enormous sum of money into its firmware and onboard chipset to ensure that it will work with a wide variety of laptops at the most basic level. It is also backwards compatible, meaning that you don’t have to upgrade to Windows 10. Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users will also benefit.
The main downside is that your multi-monitor displays via USB will never perform quite as well as a single DisplayPort.
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock with Charging
Plugable’s other major offering is their Thunderbolt 3 dock with charging. Unlike every other dock in this list, the Plugable with Thunderbolt stands upright on your desk. While some users might like this feature, others may disagree.
The plus is that it makes it easier to see the ports and plug in the relevant cables. The downside, though, is that it is more conspicuous. Unlike a regular dock, it won’t just blend into the rest of your desk.
For those of you with high data throughput needs, the Thunderbolt 3 port will be most welcome. Plugable claims that you can achieve astonishing speeds of up to 40 Gbps which is enough to saturate the bandwidth on a regular SATA controller.
The best laptop docking stations are those that offer customers two things: plenty of options and reliability. While most of the docking stations in this review do well on the first front, only a few succeed on the second. When choosing one for your setup, consider how you’ll use it and which environments. Multi-monitor setups are always the hardest to get right, so it may be worth spending more if you need a dock for that reason.