If you don’t have the money to buy a glamorous desktop PC, a laptop dock is the way to go. With a dock, you can use your laptop as the brain for a desk setup with multiple monitors, a microphone, headphones and more. And it will be a lot cheaper than if you were to buy or build a good desktop Pc
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What to look for in a laptop docking station
There are so many technical terms that are difficult to decipher when looking for a good laptop docking station. Here’s a simple overview of the factors to keep in mind when making your purchase.
- Connectivity: You need to think about what to include in your configuration. Do you only want to connect an external monitor, a keyboard and a mouse? Or do you want a larger setup with which you can connect a microphone and multiple monitors? Think of everything you want to include in your workspace. Next, pay attention to what kind of connections they need and buy a laptop dock that supports your devices.
- Power: Most docks will charge your laptop while you are using it. Power output varies, with some docks up to 100W. Most USB accessories don’t draw too much power, but if your laptop needs a lot of charging power, you should pay attention to the dock’s maximum output.
- Dock size: None of the docks on this list are insanely big, but some are smaller than others. Think about where you want to place the dock and how it will fit into your setup. Do you want something more compact and easy to carry? Or would you be fine with a larger dock if it means more connectivity and power?
- Compatibility: This is insanely important to remember. Make sure the dock you choose is compatible with your laptop. Nothing is worse than buying a product and realizing it won’t work with what you have. We’ve made sure to include operating system compatibility and any caveats to look out for in each choice.
- USB-C vs USB 3.0: Most of the options on this list offer both USB-C ports and USB 3.0 ports. Some even have USB 2.0 ports for your mouse or keyboard. If you have an older laptop, it may not be able to connect via USB-C. If you only need USB 3.0 ports, the last option on this list is the one for you.
- Resolution and frame rate: Pay close attention to which devices promise 4K output with a frame rate of 60Hz, if this is something important to you. Also keep in mind that many docks split the frame rate when adding multiple monitors; For example, a dock can support one 4K monitor at 60Hz OR two 4K monitors at 30Hz at the same time.
- For M1 Macbook Users: For anyone who owns an M1 Macbook, you can only output to one display, even if a dock supports multiple displays. However, if you want to run multiple monitors from your M1 MacBook, there are solutions.
Best Overall: Pluggable USB-C 4K Docking Station
For most people, this laptop docking station from Plugable is the best choice. Plugable is one of the most renowned brands in the laptop dock industry. It’s a bit more expensive, but you get what you pay for. There are three video outputs: one HDMI output that supports 4K resolution at 30Hz, and two DisplayPort outputs that support two 4K displays at 60Hz. If one of the monitors you want to connect does not have a DisplayPort connector, you may need one DisplayPort to HDMI adapter.
Plus, there are also audio in / out ports for a microphone and headphones, an Ethernet port for faster internet speeds, and multiple USB ports for your keyboard, mouse or other accessories. You can also charge your laptop via the dock at up to 60W, so you don’t have to worry about unpacking your bulky laptop charger.
This dock supports devices with Windows 10, 8.X and 7 or macOS 10.14, 10.15 and 11.X (with downloaded drivers required). Chromebooks and Linux devices are not supported.
Best Budget: Tobenone USB-C Dock
You get great bang for your buck in this laptop docking station from Tobenone at a fraction of the cost of the other options on this list. It is compatible with devices with Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C connections, including the MacBook Pro and the Microsoft Surface 3 / Pro 7, although MacOS systems only support mirror mode, meaning you can just switch your laptop screen to an external display cast. The Tobenone dock also doesn’t require downloaded drivers, so it’s ready to go and connect right out of the box.
There are two HDMI ports and one VGA port to which you can connect your displays. If your device supports it, you can connect up to two HDMI monitors and get 1080p at 60 Hz on both or 4K at 30 Hz. The monitor connected via the VGA port is displayed at 1080p at 60Hz. Then you can connect external devices such as headphones, microphone, keyboard and mouse to complete your desk setup. The great thing about this laptop dock is that, while a budget option, it offers up to 100W of charging power for your laptop.
Best Premium Option: CalDigit Dock
If you have the money to spend on a laptop dock, this one from CalDigit is so worth the investment. It comes with 15 different connectivity ports, while the maximum number of ports on many other options on this list is 9. You can of course connect all basic functions, such as your microphone, keyboard, headphones and Ethernet. But where this dock really shines is the display connections.
You can connect up to two 4K monitors at 60Hz each through your DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port. Or you can connect a single 5K monitor at 60Hz to the Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port. So if you’re looking for great resolution with a high refresh rate, get this dock from CalDigital. Since it has so much connectivity potential, it is a fairly compact device. Charge your laptop while using the dock with up to 87W output power and it stays cool with an integrated heat sink.
This laptop docking station is compatible with devices running Windows 8, 8.1, 10 or higher and macOS 10.12 or higher.
Best for Apple Laptops: Hiearcool MacBook Pro / Air Docking Station
If you have a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, this laptop dock from Hiearcool offers you everything you need for a complete desk setup. And it is actually quite affordable.
While many docks only allow mirror mode for devices running MacOS, Hiearcool’s docking station lets you expand your laptop screen, meaning you can use your laptop screen independently while adding extra screen space to one or two monitors. You can connect one monitor via an HDMI port for 4K resolution at 60Hz, or you can connect two monitors via HDMI ports for 4K resolution at 30Hz.
The Hiearcool dock is plug and play, so once you’ve got things plugged in, it’s good to go. It is compatible with 13 and 15 ″ MacBook Pros from 2016-2019, 16 ″ MacBook Pro from 2019, and the retina 13 ″ MacBook Air. And the dock can transmit up to 100W of charging power while plugged in.
Best for Travel: Satechi On-the-Go Multiport Adapter
If you travel a lot and need a portable dock, buy it from Satechi. It’s an affordable option that has everything you need without taking up too much space. You have a total of nine different ports, including HDMI and VGA screen outputs, a port for Ethernet, a slot for a micro / SD card reader and multiple USB ports (USB-C and USB-A). This dock supports a 4K monitor at 60Hz via the HDMI port and an additional 1080p monitor at 60Hz via the VGA port.
What makes this dock great for traveling is its compact size, all available USB ports and the card reader. Satechi’s laptop dock also comes with travel-friendly cable options. There is a long one meter cable that you can use in your home office, but there is also a shorter cable that can be stored in the adapter for portability.
Satechi’s adapter is compatible with most devices, including devices with Windows and Mac operating systems and Chromebooks.
Best External GPU Dock: Razer External GPU
This external GPU from Razer will cost you a bit, but if you want excellent gaming performance then this is the way to go. Depending on your device, Razer’s external GPU will enhance your laptop’s visuals by adding NVIDIA GeForce, NVIDIA Quadro, or AMD Radeon graphics to your screen. It also comes with a massive 650W power supply that supports demanding games. Plus, it provides 100W of charging power for your laptop while you’re gaming.
To use Razer’s external GPU with a Windows laptop, you need Thunderbolt 3 external graphics support with RS45 or higher, as well as a compatible NVIDIA or AMD graphics card. If you have a device with macOS, you need a Thunderbolt 3 port and High Sierra 10.13.4 or higher and a compatible AMD graphics card; NVIDIA graphics cards are not supported with macOS devices.
Best USB 3.0 Option: Dell USB 3.0 Ultra HD / 4K Docking Station
This dock from Dell is a great option if you can’t or don’t want to use USB-C connectors and want to use USB 3.0 connectors instead. There are three USB 3.0 ports, two USB Type-A ports, and jacks for your headphones and microphone. And you can still have a triple monitor setup!
You can connect one monitor via a DisplayPort and two monitors via HDMI. Dell provides an HDMI DVI adapter in case you need it. Only the monitor connected via the DisplayPort is displayed in 4K at 30Hz. The other two monitors support Full HD 1080p. Depending on how many monitors you use at the same time and which monitors you use, the frame rate can fluctuate between 30Hz and 60Hz.
To check if your laptop is compatible with this docking station, Dell lets you easily enter and verify your model number via Amazon.