Transform your laptop into a desktop with docks

Transform your laptop into a desktop with docks

External monitors connected to a laptop via a dock. Picture credit: Plugable

Ever run out of USB ports on a laptop? Or did you want to connect external displays to the laptop and have the convenience of a desktop? A docking station can be a great solution.

If it is just a matter of expanding the number of ports available to connect more peripherals, a simple USB hub will do the trick. But if multiple/ 4K displays need to be connected or computers need to be powered from the USB Type-C port, a port replicator, docking station or simply dock is a very useful gadget.

Another advantage in using a docking station is that just one wire needs to be connected to the computer or laptop. The dock takes all the peripherals. The dock can be neatly tucked away and with proper cable management, it will not look cluttered. If a laptop is being used, just one USB cable needs to be disconnected and mobility remains. Moreover, this is far more convenient than unplugging mice, keyboards, external monitors and such peripherals each time. Effectively, a dock makes the laptop as good as a desktop.

Older docks were large and chunky devices with multiple pin connectors. Some of them were as big as laptops in size because the whole machine needed to be placed on the dock. USB changed all that and today’s docks are just small boxes and can even be carried around in a backpack. The bigger docks are still available and with USB 3.0 ports, but they are still big.

Older dock. Picture credit: Ximeg

Latest docks typically have USB Type A or C or Thunderbolt input interface, which is to be plugged into the computer. This is the only connection that needs to be made to the computer or laptop.

The other typical connectors/ ports will be the audio output socket, USB Type-A 2.0 and 3.0, USB Type-C, Ethernet, VGA/ DVI port, HDMI, DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort.

The USB ports can be used to connect computer peripherals or charge phones and other small devices. The VGA/ DVI ports are for connecting external monitors. HDMI ports can also be used to connect external monitors.

The DisplayPort (DP) and mini DisplayPort (mini DP) are advanced connectors that can be used to connect to external monitors, but can also be used to carry audio and data. They were meant to replace VGA and DVI.

There is another advantage with DP/ mini DP ports. They can be used for ‘daisy chaining’ (or connecting) peripherals. If a user wants to connect three external monitors and there are just two DP/ mini DP ports on the dock, it is a problem. With daisy chaining, just one DP/ mini DP port is used on the dock and the video signal is sent from one display to another in series.

Of course, the number of external displays that can be connected depends on the model of the dock. The more expensive ones can support high definition and 4K monitors.

While DP and mini DP are physical connection interfaces developed by a consortium of hardware companies, DisplayLink technology allows connection of multiple external displays. So, if there is a requirement of using multiple external monitors, buying a dock with DP/ mini DP and DisplayLink is recommended. Of course, docks with these technologies will be more expensive.

Also, buying a dock with USB Type-C or Thunderbolt connectors is a good idea to ensure future-proofing.

Wavlink, Dell, Targus, HP, Honeywell, Lenovo, Microsoft, Kensington, Plugable and Fujitsu are some companies that manufacture docks and incorporate DisplayLink and DP/ mini DP technologies in their products. Prices can vary from about Rs 5,000 to 25,000.