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Compared to PCs, laptops have fewer ports, smaller screens, and compact keyboards. If you want all the fixings of a PC with the convenience of a laptop, get a docking station. When you’re at your desk, hook up your laptop. When you aren’t, take your laptop with you.
Is a laptop docking station worth it? It depends on your usage. If you usually take your laptop from home to the office and back, then setting up a docking station at work might be great.
Otherwise, a home docking station can let you do more than what your work laptop offers, like adding an external graphics card for gaming or act as a USB hub. The convenience is all about docking your laptop or connecting a single cable, and it’s ready to do everything.
The best Windows laptop docking station for most people.
Plugable is the premier third-party brand for laptop docking stations, saving you from the over-priced docks that laptop manufacturers try to sell. There are two variations in this model, based on their ports for external displays:
Pick the one you want and connect all the ports accordingly. It is also among the few docks that add a second USB-C port since it uses the one already on your laptop.
The big advantage of a docking station based on USB-C is that it can charge your laptop while still transferring data to and from it. For most people, the Plugable USB-C 4K Triple Display Docking Station is a fantastic way to convert a Windows laptop into a desktop. It works with Thunderbolt 3 too, but does not support Macs.
Plugable has a separate variant of this model for Mac users. It’s called the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock, and it’s great. But there’s a slightly better option available.
The best MacBook docking station.
The CalDigit TS3+ adds two extra 4K displays, not three like the Plugable. It can even take push your MacBook’s display to a single 5K monitor. And yes, it charges your MacBook the whole time.
CalDigit’s Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus (TS3+) has an incredible 15 ports on it, including seven USB ports. It’s also among the few docks with an SD card reader and can be kept horizontal or vertical. There’s nothing missing in this one, and if you’re on a MacBook, it’s a no-brainer purchase.
The best budget Windows laptop docking station.
If you don’t have a USB-C port on the laptop or you’re on a budget, your search ends here. Buy the Plugable USB 3.0 Dual Monitor Docking Station and don’t even look at anything else.
It supports two external displays, one via HDMI and another via DVI. It has all the ports you might want. And it connects to the laptop via a regular USB port.
However, unlike the other Plugable docks above, this one won’t charge your laptop while you use it. You will need to connect your laptop’s power cable separately. Hey, you knew there would be some compromises when you’re trying to save a few bucks.
The best external GPU enclosure and laptop gaming dock.
The best part about the Omen Accelerator is the additional slot for a hard drive or an SSD. That’s right, you don’t need to clutter up your laptop’s hard drive with the games. You can store them separately in this dock, and play them only when connected. The connection is over Thunderbolt 3, so it’s fast enough that you won’t realize it’s not your internal drive.
Apart from that feature, most external GPUs are similar, with the power supply, port design, and cooling systems being their only differentiators. The Omen Accelerator is larger than its competitors, but the fans are quiet and the 500W Bronze power supply is good enough for any graphics card.
It doesn’t come with a GPU or hard drive built in, so you’ll need to buy a new graphics card.
The best portable travel dock for laptops with USB-C.
Laptop docking stations are usually not portable, but the Lenovo USB-C Travel Hub is an exception. As long as you have a laptop with an USB-C port, you can plug in the dock and get a host of other ports.
Specifically, the Lenovo USB-C Travel Hub adds ports for standard USB, HDMI, VGA, and Ethernet cables. Of course, you will use up the laptop’s USB-C port in the process, and there is no substitute for that.
The best portable travel dock for laptops without USB-C.
If your laptop doesn’t have a USB-C port, go with the Targus Versalink Travel Dock. It’s not as highly rated as the Lenovo one, but it gets the job done for simple tasks like connecting an external display if your laptop doesn’t have an HDMI or VGA port. Like the Lenovo model, it also gives additional ports for USB and Ethernet.
The best HP Elitebook laptop docking station.
HP has its own laptop docking station for its range of high-end notebooks and ultrabooks. The HP Ultra Slim is compatible with very HP Elitebook and will also work with several other HP notebooks.
The best Dell XPS, Inspiron, and Latitude laptop docking station.
If you’ve got a Dell laptop, Chromebook, or tablet, then Dell has its own docking station for that. The Dell D6000 Universal Doc is a USB-C dock like any other, but it’s sleek and matches the design with your Dell laptop.
The best Lenovo ThinkPad laptop docking station.
Those who swear by their Lenovo ThinkPad will want a dock that matches it. And Lenovo has you covered with the ThinkPad Ultra Docking Station. There are plenty of ports, a mechanical lock, laptop charging, and other tidbits that make it the perfect office tech accessory. But before you buy, please check the Lenovo Docking Station Finder to get the right dock for your ThinkPad.
One More Thing Before You Buy a Laptop Dock
Before you click that purchase button, there’s one important step:
Find your laptop’s specific model, and run a Google search for it with the dock you like. For example, “Dell XPS 13 Pluggable USB-C dock.” While a laptop should work, these are usually third-party developers, so double-check before you buy it.
Finally, no matter which laptop docking station you go with, pay attention to the cables you use with it. USB-C has had some problems in the past, so buy the right USB-C cables before something damages your device.