Designed to turn laptops, tablets and ultrabooks into more viable desktop replacements, docking stations come in a variety of styles & specifications, being available from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) - as proprietary docks - or, from third-party brands, as laptop-agnostic devices. Docking stations provide the benefit of an ergonomic desktop interface, a charging station for your mobile device and additional connectivity options.
A good example is the docking station for Microsoft’s Surface family of tablet products. Here, a fully-fledged docking station connects a Surface to a full-size monitor, ethernet, external speakers, and more. The docking station also charges the device, with products from other manufacturers for similar devices offering extra storage and more port options (particularly when it comes to video options like HDMI).
A replicator is a docking station typically used for ultrabooks and entry-level laptops with limited port availability. It provides the popular ports of desktop PCs (for your mouse, keyboard, external hard drive, etc.) and grants them to the mobile device.
For instance, Microsoft’s “Surface Dock” would fall under the description of this category, being of a compact design that doesn’t require the user to dock their device, but instead connects the Surface to the dock using a single cable.
Typically, peripherals are permanently plugged into the port replicator, which connects to the tablet / laptop via a cable / single USB port.
While regular stations are becoming slimmer and more travel-friendly, portable docking versions are designed especially for business travellers who need extra computing power and versatility on the go.
A display stand consists of an elevated platform for your laptop. The latest versions allow multiple external high-resolution displays to be added, as well as multiple peripherals (via a single USB 3.0 Port). Such docking stations, apart from having the ability to charge your device quickly, represent an ergonomic solution that makes it feel like a desktop when docked.
Especially in an office environment, allowing your wireless device to be docked to a wired ethernet connection will provide a desktop-like sense of speed and improved connection reliability.
As mentioned, a docking station with USB 3.0 ports is well-worth a price premium, not least as a single hot swappable connection can be turned into six - supporting all of your peripherals like a printer, external drive, scanner, keyboard & mouse, speakers and multiple HD video monitors.
4K support: The very latest docks also feature Thunderbolt 2 connections offering speeds up to 20 Gbps throughput. With this type of docking station, a single Thunderbolt cable can support a 4K Ultra HD workstation or hot desk, connecting up to 11 devices to a MacBook or laptop.
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