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The 7 Best Laptop Docking Stations of 2022

We tested laptop docking stations from CalDigit, Anker, Plugable, and others to discover the best options
Best Laptop Docking Station of 2022
Docking stations come in all different shapes and sizes; some with power and some with out.
Credit: Laura Casner

Our Top Picks

By Nick Miley and Austin Palmer  ⋅  Nov 18, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

This hands-on review of today's 12 best laptop docking stations can get you hooked up in a hurry. We pored over product specs, consumer reviews, and the marketing claims made by manufacturers, eventually settling on top-tier products that work with the most common computers and peripheral hardware. We also cataloged common characteristics such as product size and orientation, port types, and location, as well as the power supply and monitor resolution. This system of analysis all but ensures that one will select the best possible product for their needs and budget.

Efficiency starts with a proper office set-up. So if you're looking to streamline your home office, take a look at our top-ranked wifi extenders, or the best wireless keyboards, laptop stands, office chairs, and ergonomic keyboards. Our extensive list of the best electronics and office furniture write-ups can help you deck out your space for maximum productivity.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on November 18, 2022, to add four new products to better represent the current laptop docking station market.


1

Best Overall Docking Station


Anker 777 Thunderbolt Docking Station


Dimensions: 7 3/8" x 2 7/8" x 1 3/8" | Laptop Connection Type: Thunderbolt 4
REASONS TO BUY
40 Gbps data transfer
Supports 3 monitors (4K @ 60Hz)
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Designed for the newest computers

The Anker 777 Thunderbolt Docking Station is an exceedingly well-designed device. While the horizontally oriented silver unit is sleek and unobtrusive on a desktop, its compactness belies the plethora of ports packed into this powerful machine. The 777 connects to the laptop via a Thunderbolt 4 cable allowing 40 Gbps data transfer speed and 90 watts of power to charge the computer. The downstream Thunderbolt port supports 8k resolution at 30Hz or 5K @ 60Hz. However, the dock can accommodate three monitors with its HDMI ports. When running three monitors, the 777 still supports an astounding 4k at 60 Hz across all screens. An SD card reader, audio in/out, upstream and downstream Thunderbolt ports, and an on/off button are conveniently located on the front of the unit. On the back are ports that tend to be related to peripheries that stay attached to the dock. These are the 2 HDMI 2.0 ports, the 4 USB ports (two 3.1, two 2.0), as well as the Gigabit Ethernet port and another downstream Thunderbolt port.

We have few criticisms with the Anker 777, but we should acknowledge that this device will be overkill for many folks. The monitor refresh rate and resolution it supports are quite high, and if you don't have a 4K or 8K monitor, there's no point in paying the high price for this device. Additionally, the dock is for late-model computers. If you don't have a computer that supports Thunderbolt 4, you may not want to make this investment. However, if you plan to buy a new computer in the near future, this would be a great investment as it will remain current for quite some time.

laptop docking station - best overall docking station
The 777 is a sleek machine that packs a lot of high-end hardware into a simple-looking silver bar.
Credit: Nick Miley

2

Best Laptop Docking Station for Multiple Screens


Plugable 4K USB C Docking Station


Dimensions: 2 7/8" x 5 3/8" x 7 3/4" | Laptop Connection Type: USB-C
REASONS TO BUY
Independent audio in and out ports
Minimal footprint
REASONS TO AVOID
No upstream Thunderbolt connection
Only 10 Gbps data transfer rate

The Plugable 4K USB C Docking Station is a vertically oriented device that hosts a variety of ports supporting a wide range of peripherals, including 3 monitors with resolutions of 4K @ 60Hz. The unit has both HDMI and display ports for each screen and an alternate USB-C downstream port. Finally, there are 4 USB 3.0 ports supporting 5 Gbps and a Gigabit Ethernet port. These ports are most commonly used by fixed peripherals and, as such, are located on the back of the device. This design helps to keep the desktop tidy. However, there are 4 ports on the front of the device that are associated with devices that will be regularly unplugged. These are headphone and microphone jacks, as well as USB-C and SD card ports.

The main issue with the Plugable is that it has USB-C ports where we would have liked to see Thunderbolt ports. This is what keeps this otherwise high-end device a bit less expensive. As the Plugable's upstream USB-C port is limited to 10 Gbps, there could be some data bottlenecking issues for those pushing this device to its maximum capability. However, this likely will not be the case for most users. Aside from this minor issue, this slender device is one of our favorites — especially when desktop space is at a premium.

best laptop docking station for multiple screens
The Portable is a great tool for managing multiple peripherals while keeping a slim profile on the desktop.
Credit: Nick Miley

3

A Great Thunderbolt 3 Dock


CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock


Dimensions: 5.1" x 3.8" x 1.6" | Laptop Connection Type: Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C style)
REASONS TO BUY
Supports hi-res dual monitors
Charges laptop
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Industrial look

The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a veritable Swiss Army Knife of a docking station. For starters, the dock supports both macOS and Windows via a high-speed Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C style) connection. It's also compact, with rubber feet that support both a vertical and horizontal orientation, depending on which fits your needs. This unit will fit all but the tightest spaces while keeping the commonly needed inputs like the SD card port on the front for easy access. Further increasing its usefulness is the 87-watt charging capacity which allows users to work on their machine hour after hour without depleting the batteries. Finally, the CalDigit supports dual monitors at 5120 x 2280 60Hz for the first screen and 4096 x 2160 60Hz for the second.

When connected to the CalDigit TS3, the user has no less than 15 ports — ranging from Thunderbolt 3 to analog audio in/out — to which almost every conceivable peripheral can be connected. Want to run dual monitors? No problem. Ethernet? Yup, it has that port, too. The unit also boasts a variety of USB-A and USB-C ports. So, what's the catch? Well, the TS3 is expensive, it can only support one laptop at a time, and it sports an industrial look that might not be to everyone's liking. However, we think that if you need a high-performance docking platform for your laptop, it's well worth the money as it's easy to use, lacks operating system restrictions, and the plain exterior speaks to its sturdy build.

laptop docking station - a great thunderbolt 3 dock
This docking unit is all business and no frills. Here we see the backside of the unit. Commonly accessed ports such as SD and headphone ports are on the front side.
Credit: Laura Casner

4

Best for USB-A Connection


StarTech.com Triple Monitor USB 3.0 Docking Station


Dimensions: 10.1" x 3.25" x 1.25" | Laptop Connection Type: USB-A 3.0
REASONS TO BUY
Supports 3 monitors
International power adapters
REASONS TO AVOID
Does not charge laptop
Expensive

The StarTech.com Triple Monitor USB 3.0 Docking Station connects seamlessly to both Windows and macOS machines via a USB-B to USB-A adapter cable (included). This slim unit houses 5 USB 3.0 ports (one of which is a 2.1 amp port for high-speed device charging), 2 Display Ports, and 1 HDMI. The StarTech also has Ethernet, microphone, and headset ports to round out the dock's peripheral device accommodations. Finally, the unit can manage up to 3 displays simultaneously — pretty impressive, in our minds.

While there is much to like about the StarTech dock, it is not without its shortcomings. Our main criticism is that the device will not charge the laptop when connected — though this may appeal to the consummate traveler as it eliminates an additional power adapter for the dock. As it is, the user must charge their laptop with a separate cord. Also, the max resolution of the display connected drops with each additional monitor added. For example, if running three monitors, the first will be 3840 x 2160p, while the other two will be just 2048 x 1152p. Regardless of these limitations (and the high cost), this unit will be a go-to for jet-setters as the power cord comes standard with common international power plug adaptors.

laptop docking station - best for usb-a connection
The slender StarTech dock is a great choice for those running multiple monitors and those who frequently travel abroad.
Credit: Laura Casner

5

Best Bang for Your Buck


VAVA USB C Docking Station, 12-in-1 Type C Hub


Dimensions: 9" x 1.7" x .6" | Laptop Connection Type: USB-C
REASONS TO BUY
Charges docked laptop
Long USB-C cable
REASONS TO AVOID
Some macOS restrictions
Bulky charger

The VAVA USB C Docking Station, 12-in-1 Type C Hub is a fantastic deal, balancing high-end features with a manageable price tag. The unit comes with a built-in USB-C cable to connect to your computer, which means that it'll charge your battery (with 65 watts of power) as you work with devices attached to the laptop docking station. The myriad of ports on the VAVA will accommodate up to three screens at a time (with some limitations) while managing devices connected via USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI, and audio ports.

While the VAVA certainly has much to offer users, its low cost comes with some performance issues. First off, there are some limitations when using this dock with Macs. Only newer MacBooks will support 4K resolution at 60Hz when using both HDMI ports — anything older than 2019 will go down to 4K resolution at 30Hz. Additionally, the dock will not support 3 independent displays with any macOS platform. As far as portability goes, the dock itself is sleek and slim. However, the AC/DC converter on the power cord is quite large, thus offsetting the dock's convenience for travel. However, we think that consumers on a budget will be willing to tolerate these limitations as the 15-inch USB-C cable connecting the dock to the laptop allows one to push the dock, and its mess of wires, out of the working area.

laptop docking station - best bang for your buck
This unit is slim and well-designed. However, the charging cord is bulky, thus off-setting the tidy portability of the dock.
Credit: Laura Casner

6

A Great Budget Dock


ikling USB C Hub


Dimensions: 5.4" x 2.4" x .75" | Laptop Connection Type: USB-C
REASONS TO BUY
Doubles as wireless charging pad
Charges connected computer
REASONS TO AVOID
So-so display resolution
Shoddy port layout

The economic ikling USB C Hub supports both Windows and macOS laptops, and, as the name suggests, it connects via a built-in USB-C cable. This connection type allows the station to charge (up to 87 watts) the computer's battery while connected. The laptop docking station supports wireless charging for a phone, too. Thus, the ikling makes the most of the desktop real estate and the often limited time to charge one's devices. Given that this device also has an impressive array of ports ranging from USB 3.0 to VGA, it might seem odd that it didn't rate higher in our estimation.

On the surface, the ikling has all the trappings of the higher-rated devices reviewed here. However, our investigation shows that this device does not have the same attention to detail and quality components. For example, the port layout encompasses the perimeter of the unit, producing a mess of wires when many devices are attached. Additionally, the monitor ports (VGA and HDMI) have a lower resolution which drop-off even further when more than one screen is in use. While we won't claim that this machine is of a superior design and construction, we do think it offers good value to those who can't afford a high-end docking station.

laptop docking station - a great budget dock
This economic USB-C connected dock boasts 15 ports plus it has wireless charging for phones resting on its top.
Credit: Laura Casner

7

Best for Multiple Connection Types


Plugable USB 3.0 and USB-C Universal Laptop Docking Station for Windows


Dimensions: 7.4" x 5.25" x 2.75" | Laptop Connection Type: USB-C and -A 3.0
REASONS TO BUY
Heavy-use ports on front
Vertical orientation
REASONS TO AVOID
Windows compatibility only
Requires driver download

The Plugable USB 3.0 and USB-C Universal Laptop Docking Station for Windows would just be an average docking port if it weren't for its unique ability to accommodate laptops with both a USB-C and USB-A 3.0 cable (both included with purchase). Its vertical orientation is great for those working off the dock because the ports are easy to access, and the connected cables are all oriented in the same plane. All in all, the unit facilitates a shipshape workspace which is needed because it will support dual monitors at 1920 x 1200p with its 2 HDMI ports and a variety of other devices ranging from headsets to printers.

The gamers digesting the Plugable's list of features might be thinking that they've discovered a cheap way to get a gaming-quality dock. Unfortunately, they will be disappointed because this model is designed for office-type work like accessing the web and using productivity software. Additional performance shortfalls include an inability to charge the connected laptops and an inability to play HDCP video. While these are not insignificant shortcomings, we think that its competitive price tag earns it a spot on a thrifty consumer's shortlist.

laptop docking station - best for multiple connection types
This unit will accommodate two laptops at a time though the bandwidth best suits office work and web surfing.
Credit: Laura Casner

8

A Simple USB-C Dock


Accell Air USB-C Docking Station


Dimensions: 4 3/8" x 3 9/16" x 1 3/8" | Laptop Connection Type: USB-C
REASONS TO BUY
100W upstream charging
Kensington lock slot
REASONS TO AVOID
No Thunderbolt ports
Limited number of ports

The Accell Air USB-C Docking Station is a simple, reasonably affordable docking station best suited to users with more modest desktop demands. However, that is not to say that the Air isn't a fully capable machine. On the contrary, it can accommodate two monitors with a resolution of 4K at 60Hz with its 2 HDMI ports. The dock attaches to the laptop via a fixed USB-C cable that allows a 5 Gbps data transfer rate and 100W charging. Additionally, the unit hosts 5 USB-A ports (two 3.1 Gen 1, two 3.1 Gen 2, and one 3.1 Gen 2 with battery charging). The ports are dispersed on the device's front and back for convenience. The upstream USB-C port is on the side, making connections to the laptop as clean as possible.

While there is much to like about the Accell Air, it is a simple device that lacks the most cutting-edge hardware. For example, both USB-C and Thunderbolt ports are absent. The absence of these ports means the device will have a shorter life span than others with more modern hardware. However, the connection port is a USB-C, which will keep the laptop docking station in the game for the time being. Our final critique of the Air is the length of its upstream USB-C cable. While its 3 feet will be adequate for most desktop set-ups, the fact that it is fixed and cannot be replaced with a longer cord may be an issue for some. That said, this decent docking station will satisfy most users outside the high-demand gaming or video editing world.

laptop docking station - the accell air is a simple port that helps keep the desktop...
The Accell Air is a simple port that helps keep the desktop well-organized. However, it lacks the newest ports, which limits its capabilities.
Credit: Nick Miley

9

A High-End Dock for Shared Workspaces


Kensington Thunderbolt 3 SD5300t


Dimensions: 9" x 3.4" x 1" | Laptop Connection Type: Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C style)
REASONS TO BUY
High dual monitor resolution
Charges laptop
REASONS TO AVOID
Only one USB 3.0 port
Expensive

The Kensington Thunderbolt 3 SD5300t is a premium laptop docking station made for heavy use with both Windows and macOS laptops. Its low profile and unassuming flat gray exterior houses 14 ports that support, among many other devices, dual monitors, Ethernet, and audio. Frequently accessed ports, like an SD drive, are placed on the front. This unit weighs enough to stay in place when adding and removing items. Speaking of staying in place, it also has the Kensington security slot that allows the owner to tether it to a workstation — a great feature for shared workspaces. Furthermore, it charges the docked computer (up to 60 Watts) to keep cords to a minimum.

Although this Kensington device certainly possesses many features to be proud of, it comes at a premium price. Given the high cost, it's surprising there is only one USB 3.0 port, and its laptop charging capacity is quite low compared to similarly priced models. That said, this laptop docking station has some unique features, including the security slot. This attribute makes it worth the money in the right context. Further sweetening the deal is the USB-C to HDMI adapter that is included with the purchase.

laptop docking station - this sleek, well-designed unit is built for heavy use, high-demand...
This sleek, well-designed unit is built for heavy use, high-demand situations such as are found in shared workspaces.
Credit: Laura Casner

10

A Great Dock for Itinerant Workers


Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini


Dimensions: 5.1" x 2.75" x .75" | Laptop Connection Type: Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C style)
REASONS TO BUY
Compact
High monitor resolution
REASONS TO AVOID
Few ports
Doesn't charge laptop

For those constantly on the move, the pared-down, sleek design of the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini will be appealing. The unit has just 5 ports (2 x HDMI, and 1 x USB 3.0, USB 2.0, and Ethernet) and connects to the computer via a Thunderbolt 3 cable. Unlike other models using this connection type, this laptop docking station lacks an independent power source, so it draws power from your computer. This last feature can be positive or negative depending on the availability of power to charge your computer. However, it certainly reduces the cables one has to carry with the dock. Additionally, the Belkin doesn't suffer from compatibility issues as it plays well with macOS, Windows, and Chrome machines.

While the Belkin is great for traveling with a laptop, its value and appeal will decrease if used as a permanent desktop docking station device. The main reason is that it has few ports — audio and headset ports are noticeably absent. Also, as a desktop device, it needs an independent power source that would charge it and the attached computer. Despite these desktop deficiencies, we think travelers, college students, and freewheelin' freelancers will appreciate this dock's small size and quality.

laptop docking station - this compact dock is great for those on the move but shows faults...
This compact dock is great for those on the move but shows faults when used at a fixed work station.
Credit: Laura Casner

11

A Great Budget Dock for Macs


Hiearcool MacBook Pro Docking station


Dimensions: 5.1" x 1.75" x .6" | Laptop Connection Type: 2 USB-C slots
REASONS TO BUY
Inexpensive
100-watt passthrough charging
REASONS TO AVOID
Limited to Macbook Air/Pro 2016 and newer
Uses two USB-C ports

The Hiearcool MacBook Pro Docking station meets Apple's standard for thoughtful designs that look sharp and function smoothly. It makes use of the two USB-C slots on contemporary Macbook Air and Pro models. This design allows the dock to "pass through" power by plugging the laptop's power cord into the device while still maintaining plenty of bandwidth to operate peripheral devices such as monitors. Speaking of monitors, this unit has 2 HDMI ports that support a resolution of 4k at 60Hz for HDMI-1 and 4k at 30Hz for HDMI-2. The dock has 9 ports in all, including an SD and TF card reader, Ethernet, and 2 USB-A 3.0.

While we definitely like the Hiearcool's design, the cable that connects to the laptop is a little awkward to get hooked up as it must connect to two ports simultaneously. This also means that the device is limited to Mac models with the matching USB-C port configuration. Another drawback is that adding a second monitor to the dock comes with a corresponding decrease in the frame rate from the first screen to the second. Finally, this device lacks a headset and audio port. Despite these criticisms, we still believe that this dock is a great deal if it matches your laptop.

laptop docking station - while this dock's double usb-c connection limits it to macbook pro...
While this dock's double USB-C connection limits it to Macbook Pro and Air models 2016 and newer, it is a great deal for those who have these machines.
Credit: Laura Casner

12

A Great Dock for Keeping Your Old PC Humming


Targus Universal USB 3.0 Dual Video Laptop Docking Station


Dimensions: 8 3/8" x 4 3/8" x 2 1/8"| Laptop Connection Type: USB-A
REASONS TO BUY
Charges many different laptops
Serves as a laptop stand
REASONS TO AVOID
Relatively expensive
Poor construction quality

The Targus Universal USB 3.0 Dual Video Laptop Docking Station was designed for those with older or lower-quality laptops. As such, the device has a variety of proprietary power cord adaptors as opposed to the USB-C of late-model machines. The unit has just 3 USB-A ports (one with battery charging capabilities) and a single USB-C port. Additionally, the device hosts a Gigabit Ethernet jack and Audio in/out port. Finally, the device supports two monitors with resolutions of 4K with its twin HDMI ports.

The main problem with the Targus Universal is that it connects to the laptop with a USB-A cable, greatly limiting the data transfer rates, and the machines it can connect to — late model Mac don't even have USB-A ports. Additionally, the connection lacks passthrough charging. So, one must either use the power cable that comes with the dock or, if the dock lacks the proper adaptor, use the laptop's charging cable. Finally, the Targus Universal isn't what we'd describe as inexpensive, though the construction quality certainly feels cheap.

laptop docking station - the targus is great for those trying to limp along an old laptop and...
The Targus is great for those trying to limp along an old laptop and periphery devices. However, we were not impressed with its quality.
Credit: Nick Miley

Why You Should Trust Us


Our analysis of laptop docking stations is organized along four lines of investigation that collectively cover every aspect of laptop docking station use and functionality. The compatibility metric looks at laptop operating system compatibility and limitations. The dock physicalities metric looks at dock dimensions, orientation, and port locations. The port type metric catalogs the various port types housed in the units, laptop connection type, and power source. Finally, the displays metric investigates the number of monitors the units support, the connection type, and resolution.

We carefully inspected each machine for cord orientation, port...
We carefully inspected each machine for cord orientation, port location and resistance to movement when pulling cords from ports.
We took stock of all the convenience features of the docks here...
We took stock of all the convenience features of the docks here reviewed. This unit comes standard with international power plugs thus making is a go-to for those traveling for work.
We research, buy, and test ever single product that we review. Here...
We research, buy, and test ever single product that we review. Here we see this years class of high performance machines that will turn a laptop into a desktop just by plugging in a few cables.

Senior Research Analyst Austin Palmer and Senior Review Editor Nick Miley have been working together, testing and writing reviews for computer-related devices for the last several years. They have diverse but complementary backgrounds that make them uniquely suited to provide accurate and pertinent information to laypersons and experts. Specifically, Nick draws on years of scientific research where a laptop and a docking port are the indispensable tools of the trade for hooking into various devices of various vintages ranging from digital microscopes to AV systems. Conversely, Austin is a mega gamer who is constantly updating both his professional and private rigs to keep him at the cutting edge of the industry.

Analysis and Test Results


The laptop docking market is saturated, and as a result, picking the right device to meet your needs can be challenging. That's where we can lend a helping hand. This review of docking stations is an in-depth analysis of the leading devices on the market. We researched, bought, and tested each unit. Our evaluation included the range of functionality, including port types, charging method, as well as dock size and orientation. Additionally, we evaluated the number of displays supported and the corresponding resolution and refresh rate. Read on for the details of our analysis, including which models performed the best and why.

Compatibility


The first thing to do when shopping for a docking station is to ensure it meets the requirements of one's laptop operating system. The most common operating systems used today are Windows and macOS. Most docking stations reviewed here support both of these operating systems. However, the Plugable USB 3.0 and USB-C Universal is limited to Windows machines.

laptop docking station - the hiearcool is only compatible with modern mac laptops. few other...
The Hiearcool is only compatible with modern mac laptops. Few other units impose such strict restrictions on hardware and operating systems.
Credit: Laura Casner

On the other hand, the Hiearcool MacBook Pro Docking station is limited to Macbook Air and Pro models 2016 or later. The VAVA USB C Docking Station supports both operating systems but provides better monitor connection options if using a Windows machine. The Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini supports not only macOS and Windows but also Chrome OS. Finally, the Targus purportedly supports macOS and Windows but lacks the appropriate hardware to hook up to late-model Macs.

Displays


Connecting one's laptop to a monitor is perhaps the most common cause for purchasing a docking station. As such, we evaluated the connection ports supporting these devices, the number of monitors the docks can accommodate, and the resolution that the docks will maintain when one or more monitors are in use. As a general rule, the resolution goes down with each additional monitor added. With few exceptions, these docks max out at two monitors. Common connection ports are DVI, HDMI, VGA, DP, USB-C, and Thunderbolt.

laptop docking station - the 777 has the ports and the bandwidth to run three monitors.
The 777 has the ports and the bandwidth to run three monitors.
Credit: Nick Miley

We recommend that one check their monitor(s) for connection type before deciding on a dock, as this will narrow the list of candidates. However, if high resolution over multiple screens is what you're after, the Plugable 4K USB C Docking Station and Anker 777 are the go-to devices. The Plugable 4K USB C has three DisplayPort 1.2 or three HDMI 2.0 (DisplayLink) as well as a USB-C supporting 4K resolution at 60Hz across three screens. The Anker 777 also supports three screens with 4K resolution at 60Hz using both HDMI and Thunderbolt ports.

laptop docking station - the caldigit's displayport and thunderbolt ports provide superior...
The CalDigit's DisplayPort and Thunderbolt ports provide superior monitor resolution to a dual-monitor system.
Credit: Laura Casner

The CalDigit TS3 Plus has two display ports — Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort. The prior supports 5120 x 2280 and the latter 4096 x 2160; both maintain a refresh rate of 60Hz. The Kensington Thunderbolt 3 SD5300t also supports a dual monitor set-up and maintains the same resolution and refresh rate as the CalDigit. However, the Kensington connects via HDMI and USB-C ports. While these units are the leaders in resolution and refresh for dual monitor set-up, many other docks have high resolution and refresh rates for single monitor systems. The VAVA USB C Docking Station and Hiearcool MacBook Pro Docking station maintain 4K resolution at 60Hz, which is plenty good for common computer applications.

laptop docking station - the vava supports a resolution of 4k at 60hz on macos machine 2016...
The VAVA supports a resolution of 4K at 60Hz on macOS machine 2016 and new but drops to 30K on other machines. Nonetheless, this refresh rate is more than good enough for common applications.
Credit: Laura Casner

Port Types


In this metric, we look at how the dock is connected to the laptop and the ports housed in the dock. The docks in this review connect to laptops with one of three cables: USB-A, USB-C, or Thunderbolt. While Thunderbolt and USB-C ports are physically identical, the latter does not meet the top performance standard set by the prior. Once the connection between the laptop and dock is established, consider what peripheral devices will be connected to the dock. Peripherals could be anything from a printer to a couple of monitors or even a headset for video conferencing. Knowing at least some of the devices that will be used with the dock will make the specs discussed below much more valuable to the reader.

laptop docking station - here we see an array of the common ports found on many devices. from...
Here we see an array of the common ports found on many devices. From left to right: DC input, USB 3.0 Type-A (x4), USB 3.0 Type-B, DisplayPort, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet input, microphone (red), headphones (green).
Credit: Laura Casner

If your laptop and peripheries are fairly modern, then the Plugable 4K USB C and Anker 777 are great choices. USB-C, and particularly Thunderbolt ports, offer great bandwidth. Alternately, if your laptop lacks this hardware, the StarTech.com Triple Monitor USB 3.0 Docking Station connects via a USB-A 3.0 port. All three of these docks offer a wide range of common ports, including USB ports, headset input, Ethernet, and HDMI, to name just a few.

Photographers and videographers will be happy to know that many docks have SD card readers for uploading visual media. As SD cards are rarely left in the dock when not in active use, we preferred models such as the CalDigit TS3 Plus and the Kensington Thunderbolt 3 SD5300t that have located this port on the front of the dock as it provides easy access.

laptop docking station - the caldigit houses many of the common modern ports, however, the...
The CalDigit houses many of the common modern ports, however, the most frequently accessed ports such as the SD card input, head and microphone jacks as well as USB ports are conveniently located on the front of the unit.
Credit: Laura Casner

A final but important consideration is whether the dock has a charging port or if it will draw power from the laptop. Some might not find passthrough charging inconsequential as they always carry a charger. However, we found it annoying to plug into a "convenient" docking station and then get down on our hands and knees to plug our laptops into an electrical outlet. As such, we favored machines like the CalDigit TS3 Plus, Anker 777, and ikling because they have their own power source and charge the laptop when connected.

Dock Physicalities


At their best, docking stations provide all the connectivity required to turn a laptop into a desktop while largely going unnoticed. We took stock of the physical dimensions of each unit, the orientation of the device (vertical or horizontal), and the location of the ports — particularly those ports that one will frequently access. The Anker 777 is a good example of a well-organized flat unit, while the Plugable 4K USB C is a thoughtfully designed vertical unit. For those that want options, the CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock can be oriented either way. Regardless of orientation, we favored units like the CalDigit TS3 Plus and Plugable 4K USB C that placed SD card ports and headphone jacks on the front, facing the user, while the ports for printers and keyboards were on the back.

laptop docking station - one can hardly go wrong with a streamlined flat unit that gets the...
One can hardly go wrong with a streamlined flat unit that gets the job done while largely going unnoticed.
Credit: Laura Casner

Unfortunately, horizontal docks are often the largest and take up the most space. If desktop space is at a premium, the Plugable 4K USB C is a good pick. If the Plugable is still just a little too big, check out the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini. This device is small enough to easily carry in a laptop case.

laptop docking station - the narrow dimensions of the plugable make it a good choice of those...
The narrow dimensions of the Plugable make it a good choice of those with limited desk space.
Credit: Nick Miley

While some shoppers may want a compact device, a dock with larger dimensions is not always bad. For example, if you need a dock that can support more than one user, the Plugable USB 3.0 and USB-C Universal Laptop Docking Station for Windows is the ticket. This unit is large for the class at 7.4 x 5.25 x 2.75 inches, but the size and vertical orientation make it ideal for placement in the middle of a large workspace so that it can be accessed without having to pick up or move the device.

laptop docking station - for some, minimalism is key. here we see a unit that sources power...
For some, minimalism is key. Here we see a unit that sources power from the computer and keeps the ports to the most regularly needed.
Credit: Laura Casner

Conclusion


This hands-on review of laptop docking stations makes possible head-to-head comparisons of the products. We achieve this by analyzing the product's features and performance in a series of metrics, including compatibility with computer operating systems, port types, display/monitor capabilities, and physical characteristics. Despite the breadth of our investigation, this review's purpose and design are aimed at making the selection of the best docking station for your needs and budget a breeze. With that, let's get to work!

Nick Miley and Austin Palmer


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