If you don’t have the money to shell out for a glamorous desktop PC, a laptop docking station is your best bet. With a dock, you can use your laptop as the brains for a desk setup with multiple monitors, a microphone, headphones, and more. And it’ll be a heck of a lot cheaper than if you were to buy or build yourself a good desktop PC.
Then when you’re ready to leave the house, you can easily disconnect your laptop from the dock and head out.
There are so many technical terms that can be hard to decipher when trying to find a good laptop docking station. Here’s a simple breakdown of what factors you need to think about when making your purchase.
- Connectivity: You need to think about what you want to include in your setup. Do you want to connect just an external monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse? Or do you want a bigger setup that allows you to connect a microphone and multiple monitors? Think of everything you want to include in your workspace. Then pay attention to what kind of connections they need and buy a laptop dock that’ll support your devices.
- Power: Most docks will charge your laptop while you’re using it. The power output ranges, with some docks putting out up to 100W. Most USB accessories won’t suck up too much power, but if your laptop demands a lot of charging power, you’ll want to pay attention to the max output of the dock.
- Dock Size: None of the docks on this list are insanely massive, but some are smaller than others. Think about where you’ll want to place the dock and how it’ll fit into your setup. Do you want something that’s more compact and easy to take with you? Or, are you okay with a larger dock if it means more connectivity and power?
- Compatibility: This is insanely important to remember. Make sure whichever dock you choose is compatible with your laptop. Nothing is worse than getting a product and realizing it won’t work with what you have. We made sure to mention OS compatibility and any caveats you should be aware of with each pick.
- USB-C vs. USB 3.0: Most of the options on this list will provide both USB-C ports and USB 3.0 ports. Some even come with USB 2.0 ports for your mouse or keyboard. If you have an older laptop, it might 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 a 4K output with a 60Hz frame rate, if this is something important to you. Also, keep in mind, a lot of docks will split the frame rate when you add multiple monitors; for example, a dock might support either one 4K monitor at 60Hz OR two 4K monitors at 30Hz at a time.
- For M1 Macbook Users: For anyone who owns an M1 Macbook, you will only be able to output to a single display even if a dock supports multiple displays. If you want to run multiple monitors from your M1 MacBook, however, there are workarounds.
For most people, this laptop docking station from Plugable will be your best bet. Plugable is one of the most reputable 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 capable of supporting a 4K resolution at 30Hz, and two DisplayPort outputs capable of supporting dual 4K displays at 60Hz. If one of the monitors you want to connect doesn’t have a DisplayPort connection, you might need to purchase a DisplayPort to HDMI adapter.
Plus, there’s 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 through the dock up to 60W, so you won’t have to worry about unraveling 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.
You get a lot of great value in this laptop docking station from Tobenone at a fraction of the cost of the other options on this list. It’s compatible with devices with Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C connections, including the MacBook Pro and the Microsoft Surface 3/Pro 7, though MacOS systems only support mirror mode, meaning you can just cast your laptop screen to an external display. The Tobenone dock also doesn’t require any downloaded drivers, so it’s ready to go and start connecting right out of the box.
There are two HDMI ports and one VGA port for you to connect your displays. If your device supports it, you can connect up to two HDMI monitors and get 1080p at 60Hz on both or 4K at 30Hz. The monitor connected through the VGA port will display at 1080p at 60Hz. Then, you can connect externals like headphones, a microphone, keyboard, and mouse to complete your desk setup. What’s awesome about this laptop dock is that even though it’s a budget option, it offers up to 100W of charging power for your laptop.
If you have the money to splurge on a laptop dock, this one from CalDigit is so worth the investment. It comes with 15 different connectivity ports, whereas the max number of ports on many other options on this list is 9. You can, of course, connect all the basics like your microphone, keyboard, headphones, and Ethernet. But where this dock really shines is in its display connections.
You can connect up to two 4K monitors at 60Hz each via your DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port. Or, you can connect a single 5K monitor at 60Hz with the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port. So if you’re looking to get awesome resolution with a high refresh rate, get this dock from CalDigital. For having so much connectivity potential, it’s a fairly compact device. You can charge your laptop while using the dock with a power output of up to 87W, and it’ll stay cool with an integrated heat sink.
This laptop docking station is compatible with devices with Windows 8, 8.1, 10 or later, and macOS 10.12 or later.
If you have a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, this laptop dock from Hiearcool will give you everything you need for a full desk setup. And it’s actually pretty affordable, too.
While a lot of docks only allow mirror mode for devices with macOS, Hiearcool’s docking station will allow you to extend your laptop display, meaning you can use your laptop screen independently while adding extra screen space on one or two monitors. You can connect one monitor through an HDMI port for 4K resolution at 60Hz, or you can connect two monitors through HDMI ports for 4K resolution at 30Hz.
The Hiearcool dock is plug-and-play, so once you have stuff plugged in, it’s good to go. It’s 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 send up to 100W of charging power while it’s plugged in.
If you travel a lot and need a portable dock, buy this one from Satechi. It’s an affordable option that has everything you need without taking up too much space. You have nine different ports in total, including HDMI and VGA display outputs, a port for Ethernet, a micro/SD card reader slot, and multiple USB ports (USB-C and USB-A). This dock can support a 4K monitor at 60Hz using the HDMI port and an additional 1080p monitor at 60Hz using the VGA port.
What makes this dock so great for travel is its compact size, all the available USB ports, and the card reader. Satechi’s laptop dock also comes with travel-friendly cable options. There’s a long one-meter cable that you can use in your home office, but there’s also a shorter cord that tucks into the adapter for portability.
Satechi’s adapter is compatible with most devices, including devices with Windows and Mac operating systems and Chromebooks.
This external GPU from Razer will cost you but if you want excellent gaming performance, this is the way to go. Depending on your device, Razer’s external GPU will boost your laptop’s visuals by adding NVIDIA GeForce, NVIDIA Quadro, or AMD Radeon graphics to your display. It also comes with a huge 650W power supply that will help support demanding games. Plus, it’ll put out 100W charging power for your laptop while you’re gaming.
In order for you to use Razer’s external GPU with a Windows laptop, you’ll need Thunderbolt 3 external graphics support with RS45 or later, as well as a compatible graphics card from NVIDIA or AMD. If you have a device with macOS, you’ll need a Thunderbolt 3 port and High Sierra 10.13.4 or later and a compatible AMD graphics card; NVIDIA graphics cards are not supported with macOS devices.
This dock from Dell is a great option if you can’t or don’t want to use any USB-C connections, and instead want to use USB 3.0 connections. There are three USB 3.0 ports, two USB Type-A ports, and connections for your headphones and microphone. And you can still have a triple monitor setup, too!
You can connect one monitor through a DisplayPort and two monitors through HDMI. Dell includes one HDMI DVI adapter just in case you need it. Only the monitor connected through the DisplayPort will present in 4K at 30Hz. The other two monitors will support Full HD 1080p. Depending on how many monitors you use at a time and which monitors you use, the frame rate can fluctuate between 30Hz and 60Hz.
To check whether your laptop is compatible with this docking station, Dell conveniently allows you to run your model number and check through Amazon.