Plugable Universal Laptop Docking Station
Last updated date: October 24, 2019
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We looked at the top Thunderbolt Docking Stations and dug through the reviews from some of the most popular review sites. Through this analysis, we've determined the best Thunderbolt Docking Station you should buy.
In our analysis of 69 expert reviews, the Plugable Plugable Universal Laptop Docking Station placed 6th when we looked at the top 10 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.
Editor's Note November 21, 2019:
Checkout The Best Thunderbolt Docking Station for a detailed review of all the top thunderbolt docking stations.
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From The Manufacturer
One-stop upgrade for your Windows tablet, laptop, or desktop. Connect up to two additional monitors and nine accessories through a single USB cable. Includes the latest drivers and firmware for compatibility with Windows 10 and earlier. Backward compatible with most USB 2.0 PCs. Features two graphics ports: an HDMI port and a DVI-I port with VGA adapter for mirroring/extending your Windows desktop to external monitors, a Gigabit Ethernet port, audio input/output, two USB 3.0 ports, and four USB 2.0 ports. With graphics, networking, and USB hub chipsets that have been selected and tested together to ensure maximum quality, the UD-3900 provides: An HDMI and a DVI port for connecting two external monitors and support for resolutions up to 2560×1440* (HDMI only) and DVI / VGA up to 1920×1200 (DVI-to-VGA adapter also included) An RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet network port (also supports 10/100 Ethernet) External headphone/speaker output jack and a microphone line-in Two USB 3.0 ports for accessories (such as an external hard drive or another USB graphics adapter) Four USB 2.0 ports (great for legacy devices such as keyboards, mice and printers) Note: *2560×1440 output only available when using a single HDMI display connected through the dock. If dual displays are connected, each will be limited to a maximum resolution of 1920x1200. 2560x1440 output requires a "High Speed" HDMI cable. 2560x1440 mode will operate at a 50Hz refresh rate; all lower modes support 60Hz refresh. 2560x1440 output requires current DisplayLink drivers and attached monitor must natively support 2560x1440 via HDMI input (most 2560x1600 monitors do not support 2560x1440). Compatible Systems Windows 10, 8.1, 7, and XP drivers can be automatically installed by Windows Update (with an existing Internet connection) or can be downloaded from Plugable. USB graphics require dual-core 2GHz+ CPU and 2GB RAM for best performance. Requires supported Intel / AMD / NVIDIA main GPU and WDDM compatible driver (most recent systems meet this requirement). Ethernet port requires full-duplex network infrastructure. Updated USB 3.0 host controller drivers and graphics drivers suggested for best performance and compatibility. Monitor Compatibility Supports a single HDMI display up to 2560x1440@50Hz, or dual 1920x1080 displays @60Hz DVI dual-link connection not supported. 2560x1440 (1440P) resolution only available with native HDMI monitor. 1440P not supported when using HDMI-to-DVI adapter/cable or DVI monitor. Non-Compatible Systems Cannot be mixed with non-DisplayLink USB graphics adapters and drivers (e.g. MCT, j5, or SMSC). Mac OS X, ARM-based versions of Windows (Surface RT) and Linux/Unix are not supported. Application Compatibility Does not support HDCP, and will not allow for playback of encrypted Bluray disks or copy-protected content. Suggested for web/productivity software; not recommended for gaming. Power Functions as a USB hub only; may not provide sufficient power for tablets and smartphone devices. Does not provide power to attached host laptop or tablet; the host system will still require its power cable. In the Box UL certified 5V/4A (20W) power adapter (US AC Wall Outlet Plug, 100-240V 50/60Hz) USB 3.0 Type-A male to Type-B male cable (USB 2.0 compatible) Passive DVI-to-VGA port adapter Quick-install guide Please note that a drivers CD is not included; driver is available by download.
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An Overview On Thunderbolt Docking Stations
Workers are more mobile than ever. Whether you report to an office 40 hours a week or not, chances are you have a need to take your computer with you when you leave. Docking stations have long been a convenient way for workers to enjoy the mobility of a laptop while still having access to the screen, mouse and keyboard they prefer when they’re seated at a desk.
With a Thunderbolt, you get the benefits of speedy technology to charge compatible devices quickly. But as technology and parenting blogger Molly Thornberg explains, Thunderbolt docking stations come in a variety of options.
“Each Thunderbolt Docking Station has its own unique set of ports and features,” says Thornberg, the brains behind the Digital Mom Blog. “Research before buying a docking station to ensure that all of your needs are covered. Some commonly found ports and features include: additional Thunderbolt ports, USB-A ports, USB-C ports, computer charging, displays, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an SD reader and an audio port.”
But there are several things to consider before you choose a docking station. The first is compatibility with the devices you use every day. With some docking stations, you can plug in multiple electronic items, which means you can charge your mobile devices while using your laptop. You’ll need to check to make sure your docking station has ports that will work with the cables that connect to your devices.
When it comes to ports, advances in technology have made things a little complicated. You’ll see both USB-A and USB-C ports advertised, as well as the rating of USB 3 and USB 2. These are standards applied to data transfers, and both USB-C and USB 3 are newer. You’ll recognize USB-C by its smaller port size, as seen on newer computers and mobile devices. USB-A is the type you’ve seen for years, with a larger port on both the devices and the cables you plug into them.
When looking at ports, consider all the things you’ll need to plug in. If you prefer to have two monitors, make sure your docking station will support that and check how much the video quality will degrade when the signal is split between two monitors. Also keep in mind whether the ports are in the back or front of the docking station, as that will influence how far your cable will have to reach.
There are some cosmetic considerations, as well. You probably have limited space on your desk, so a docking station that sits vertically rather than horizontally can provide some relief. You should also take a look at the basic design of your docking station, as it will become an important part of your office aesthetic.
For many people, it may not matter, but for photographers and videographers, an SD card reader is essential. These professionals often need to quickly offload photos or videos to a memory card at the end of each day. If they’re in a rush, the process of transferring the data can be cumbersome. With a good SD card reader, you can get the high-speed transfer you need, allowing you to spend less time waiting and more time working.
DWYM Fun Fact
At one time, workers reported to an office and sat in a designated workstation all day. As remote work and mobile devices have become more popular, though, a trend called hotdesking has emerged. This setup involves allowing personnel to choose where they work each day. This type of environment is typically seen in an open-plan layout, where workstations aren’t sectioned off by walls and desks may be a combination of tables, benches, booths and sofas. Hotdesking makes it essential for workers to bring in their own electronic equipment every day, with each workstation typically equipped with power outlets and possibly even docking stations and peripherals.
The Thunderbolt Docking Station Buying Guide
- You likely already know what devices you want to dock. If you need your docking station to power a MacBook Pro or PC, you’ll want a unit with plenty of power. The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock, gofanco Mini DisplayPort, StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock and Plugable Triple Display Docking Station are all compatible with the Apple MacBook Pro, although the gofanco Mini DisplayPort won’t work with 2015 MacBooks.
- The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock and StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock provide 85 watts of power, which is plenty to charge a 15-inch MacBook Pro at full speed.
- An 85-watt docking station will also provide enough power for you to set up a compatible host to serve as a charging station.
- For compatibility, you’ll need to make sure your chosen Thunderbolt will work with the devices you have.
“Using just one Thunderbolt port on your computer, a docking station expands that to however many ports your particular docking station offers,” Thornberg says. “These additional ports come in handy when your computer or laptop does not have the ports you need built-in, if you are out of ports or want additional functionality.”
- The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock, StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock and Plugable Triple Display Docking Station can connect to any Windows or Apple device that has a Thunderbolt 3 port on board. Thunderbolt 3 was released in 2015 and designed to provide fast connections to docks.
- The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock promises to offer the most ports, and it doesn’t disappoint. You’ll get 5 USB-A ports, ideal for plugging in hard drives, mice and keyboards. You’ll also get two USB-C ports for devices that support that. The gofanco Mini DisplayPort has two USB-A ports, while the StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock has two USB-A ports and one USB-C port. The Plugable Triple Display Docking Station has four USB-A ports and one USB-C.
- If you’re limited on desk space, look for a docking station with a smaller footprint. The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock and Plugable Triple Display Docking Station stand upright to minimize the real estate they consume.
- Those who need to transport the dock from home to work and back again may want to look for a lightweight model. The gofanco Mini DisplayPort is the lightest at only 6.4 ounces, but both the StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock and CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock measure around one pound. The Plugable Triple Display Docking Station is 3.25 pounds, making it best for those who plan to keep the docking station in one place for the duration.
- Whether you’re regularly moving your docking station or not, you’ll likely want a unit that’s built to last. The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock has a strong aluminum case that should hold up against anything that might fall on it. It also comes with a one-year warranty for added peace of mind. The StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock comes with a three-year warranty, as well as lifetime technical support at no charge. You’ll get a one-year limited warranty and local tech support with the gofanco Mini DisplayPort and the Plugable Triple Display Docking Station.
- As you’re looking at ports, pay close attention to which docking stations have easy-to-access connections on the front of the device. Since your docking station will most likely be on your desk, not having to reach around to plug in those often-used items will come in handy. Your keyboard and mouse may be fine to stay plugged in permanently, for instance, but you’ll be connecting and disconnecting items like your laptop and headphones on a daily basis.
- Some consumers use mobile storage solutions regularly. If you’re a professional photographer or videographer, for instance, you may need to quickly download your footage for safekeeping when you return home at the end of each day’s work. The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock has an Ultra High Speed II (UHS-II) SD card reader to transfer your data at lightning-fast speeds.
- If you prefer to use multiple monitors, consider the CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock, StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock or Plugable Triple Display Docking Station. The Plugable Triple Display Docking Station supports up to three monitors, while the CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock and StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock can handle up to two monitors along with the usual peripherals. However, if you’re going for the highest resolution possible, you may notice resolution starts to degrade once you’ve split the connection between multiple monitors.
- For those on a budget, the gofanco Mini DisplayPort will be the most affordable choice, but beyond that extremely low cost, you’ll find most other options are similarly priced.
- Resolution can be an important feature, especially if you’re a gamer or you watch video on your monitor. The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock and Plugable Triple Display Docking Station let you connect two 4K monitors or one 5K monitor. The StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Doc gives you 4K resolution on up to two monitors, and the gofanco Mini DisplayPort gives you 1080p resolution.
- The overall design of your docking station may come into play, particularly since it will become a prominent part of your office environment. The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock looks similar to a router, but you’ll find the gofanco Mini DisplayPort has a much lower profile, coming in the form of a small box. The StarTech Monitor Thunderbolt 3 Dock is perhaps the most attractive of the options, with a horizontal design that can easily tuck behind other items on your desk.