Laptops come in all shapes and sizes, from full-size models through to convertible one with detachable LCD flat panel screens and minimal port access. Whether using a desktop replacement laptop or one designed for portability, it is often the case that the user needs to be able to gain access to external peripherals like hard drives, optical drives, card readers, and other technology tools to extend what they can get done.

A laptop docking station is a product that adds to the options available to the owner of a laptop computer. Most laptops come with only three USB ports, one or two of which commonly being USB 2.0 versions with less power output. It can be a constant battle to find a way to plug in all the USB devices and an underpowered USB hub often makes for a temporary solution to the problem. However, when wishing to improve connectivity, storage capability, USB access and external single or dual monitor display in a single piece of technology, nothing beats a docking station for multi-functional access.

Docking stations fall into two broad categories. The first is a brand specific model that will work with their flagship portable or laptop devices. The second is a universal docking station designed to augment the peripherals usable with any laptop. The latest generation of docking stations also sometimes connect through a smaller, more powerful Type-C USB connector that a few devices now support. Some brands of laptop makers are now moving to a design model offering fewer external ports on their devices to reduce its thickness and bulkiness, which makes the purchase of a docking station even more necessary to provide full functionality either on-the-go, in a home office or when relaxing in the den.

Depending on the laptop dock, there may be native video or audio/video ports provided via VGA, DVI or HDMI ports. The VGA port only supports low-res imagery, while the DVI port supports digital video but no sound and HDMI supports full HD video and sound. Different HDMI ports deliver various levels of HD picture, frames per second, and sound quality. Some offer a 2048 x 1152 resolution, whereas others offer Full HD or better, such as 1920 x 1200.

A separate headset and microphone input are often provided. Support for 5.1 Channel surround sound is possible with many DMI interfaces and audio equipment with channel splitting technologies.

Gigabit Ethernet will be relevant to business users to speed up the transfer of data within an intranet. A Gigabit Ethernet network port is a useful inclusion supporting multiple IEEE 802.3 standards and full duplex operation for faster data throughput.

USB ports is a central part of the wealth of connectivity options with many laptop docking stations. The mix of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports varies from product to product. The USB 3.0 ports support data speeds up to 5 Gbps and have greater power output to support peripherals. Some USB 3.0 ports support charging a mobile device too. USB 2.0 ports allow for the connectivity of older devices like external keyboards, mice, digital cameras, and smartphones, though the power requirements are less, and speed is slower.

Each laptop docking station plugs into a mains power using a supplied AC power adapter. Depending on the watts supported, a docking station is capable of delivering a range of powered ports to extend considerably what devices and peripherals it’s possible to use with a laptop or portable computing device. A USB plug is used to connect the docking station to the laptop.

What’s Included with The Best Laptop Docking Station

A laptop docking station is a self-contained piece of equipment that comes with all the ports provided. An AC adapter plugs into the station and then into the wall. A USB cable usually supplied plugs into the laptop and the docking station to support the various mix of ports.

What to Know Before Making a Purchase

Some docking stations support plugging in more than one external monitor, whereas others do not. The support depends on the mix of VGA, DVI and HDMI ports native to the docking station. Specialist advice is often needed to verify that the graphic card installed in the laptop supports multiple display technologies and how to connect up the monitors correctly to get it all working properly.

Other Considerations

Check the display options thoroughly before choosing a docking station. Some products support dual monitor displays, but not all do.

Also, consider the amount of power fed to the station by the AC adapter plugged into the wall. The power input needs to be sufficient to run everything that is connected to the docking station.

Device drivers are necessary for the laptop to work correctly with a docking station. Some products work only with certain Windows versions, but others are Mac or Linux compatible as well. Buyers need to take care to purchase the right product for their current computing setup.

Best Brands

Microsoft has a dock for their Surface Book Pro line of laptops. Their product offers several USB ports and other connectivity options not present in the primary product.

Anker makes a broad range of add-ons for PCs and other computing devices. Founded in 2009 by a group of former Google employees, the company is trying to lead the world in mobile power and connectivity options.

Plugable makes Bluetooth, USB, and power-distributing devices. Computer docking stations, including USB Type-C connector ones, is one of their specialties in the market.

Liztek manufacturer docking stations, USB charging stations, Bluetooth speaker systems, and hard drive docks to deliver extendibility to end users.

Dell Computers offer their docking station to enable multiple display options for their users who like to work from more than one flat panel screen.

What Consumers Say

Taking a look at consumers’ reviews, these are a few of the opinions most often voiced by buyers:

Operating System: Make sure that the station will run on the current operating system as most do not work with all of them. For computer owners, this reduces the number of docking station choices open to them.

Device Drivers: The manufacturer will provide a link to a set of device drivers to allow the laptop to work properly with the docking station.