A hybrid docking station is a great way to improve the connectivity of your laptop – especially some of the most contemporary options, which feature comparatively few ports to make them as slim as possible. Hybrid docks add a wide range of port options, making it possible to connect even more devices of different types to your laptop, and expanding options for charging and connecting to external displays.
Hybrid docking stations are a great way to provide employees with a slim and light device for traveling or occasionally working from home, whilst still making sure they have the connectivity they need for demanding office tasks when at work.
There is a wide range of hybrid docking stations available, though, so to help you pick the right one for you, here's everything you need to know about hybrid docking stations.
Docking Stations: Why You Need One
Docking stations are the solution to a growing problem in modern laptops: they just don’t have the space for the ports workers need. Casual web browsers and online shoppers might not need more than a couple of Thunderbolt 4 ports, but office and home office workers need more than that. They need an Ethernet port, SD card readers, multiple USB-A ports for legacy accessories and peripherals, and ideally, the ability to send video to external displays for improved work efficiency.
Docking stations give those ports and more to any device they connect to, as well as opening up the option for charging connected devices and adding back in fan favorites like headphone jacks. The only issue is, that traditional docks don’t have all the ports you need on a single device, which can result in multiple adapters and docks being needed for a complete solution.
That’s where hybrid docking stations come in.
What are Hybrid Docking Stations?
Hybrid docking stations are the modern solution to a growing problem: traditional docks can't do it all. Where you might have bought an OEM or universal docking station for your laptop before, it likely didn't have every port you needed. Some come with the ability to connect a display, some have USB ports, or charging ports for devices, but they typically don't have a wide range of ports.
Hybrid docking stations are designed to be the new generation of docks that do have it all. The latest hybrid docking stations can have support for USB4, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, Ethernet networking connectivity, USB-C ports with USB Power Delivery for charging your laptop and any other connected devices, and more besides.
This kind of docking station can offer high power and high bandwidth connections, with USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 offering up to 40 Gbps data transfer speeds, and up to 100W of USB Power Delivery for charging. They can connect external displays that run at up to 4K 120Hz, and support multiple operating systems, including Windows and MacOS. Some even have built-in card readers of various shapes and sizes.
Thunderbolt 3 vs. Standard USB-C Docking Stations
Thunderbolt 3 docking stations and USB-C docking stations aren't too different from one another, but like the difference between Thunderbolt 3 (or Thunderbolt 4) and any other USB-C connection, there is a greater likelihood of high-end performance with Thunderbolt docking stations.
Technically, USB-C is the name of the reversible, symmetrical USB connection that is used for a range of connective technologies. USB-C is the connector of choice for USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, USB4, Thunderbolt 3, and Thunderbolt 4 connections, so a Thunderbolt 3 hybrid docking station is likely to have more impressive specifications than a standard USB-C docking station, but that's not a guarantee.
Thunderbolt 3 as a connection standard has a maximum throughput of 40 Gbps, but it is not its minimum speed. While Thunderbolt 4 mandates 40 Gbps, Thunderbolt 3 only has a minimum total data throughput of 16 Gbps. That's still much more than the 5 Gbps minimum for USB 3.2 2x2 Type-C connections, however, so in almost all cases Thunderbolt 3 is likely to be faster.
However, more modern USB4 connections can offer up to 80 Gbps on high-end USB4 cables, so it is possible that some USB4 hybrid docking stations could have more potential bandwidth than Thunderbolt 3 docking stations. That said, USB4 docks are relatively rare, and while some will support 40 Gbps, and even 80 Gbps in the future, Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 docking stations will give you a greater guarantee of performance.
Hybrid Docking stations: The Best of Both Worlds
Where more traditional docking stations might give you a singular function, or if you’re lucky, dual functions with a couple of ports, the latest generations of hybrid docking stations go above and beyond anything their predecessors made possible. With the latest solutions, you not only get a wide array of ports, but you have the high bandwidth from USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 and 4 to use multiple ports at once, and expect a reasonable data rate on all of them, even when using them simultaneously.
They can take a modern slimline laptop with one or two Thunderbolt 4 ports, and give it the ability to support just about anything.
With a combination of USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, DisplayPort, 3.5mm headphone jacks, SD card readers of different sizes, Ethernet connections, and even high-power USB charge ports, the latest and greatest hybrid docking stations turn any laptop into a connectivity powerhouse.
This means that workers don’t need to travel with multiple adapters and there’s no need for various office gadgets; just give each worker who needs it a hybrid docking station, and no that they have every connector they need, regardless of the laptop they’re working from.
Docking stations are also a great way to ensure that employee hardware is always charged and ready for use. No need to wait around for a smartphone, tablet, or laptop to be ready to use for an important job, if you know that they always have a high-power connection available for charging within the hybrid docking station.
Hybrid docking stations are typically more expensive than their traditional dock counterparts, running into the hundreds of dollars for high-end solutions, but the advantages are well worth it and with the lack of any need to buy adapters, you could save money long term.
Best Hybrid Docking Stations: Features & Benefits
As hybrid docking stations have proved to be so useful for, and popular among, office and home workers alike, Cable Matters has developed several capable solutions that could fulfill your every need.
The Hybrid 14-port Thunderbolt 3 dock is one such example, giving you just about every connection option you could hope for. In its sleek silver chassis, it has five USB-A 3.0 ports, offering up to 5Gbps data rates; a Gigabit Ethernet connection for high-speed, reliable networking; four video outputs, including two HDMI and two DisplayPort, for up to two 4K 60Hz displays running simultaneously; a USB-C charging port with up to 96W of USB Power Delivery, and a K-Lock port.
That’s just on the back, though! On the front, you also have quick access to an additional USB-C 3.1 port with a 10Gbps data rate, a USB-A 3.1 port with 10 Gbps data transfer speed, an SD and microSD card slot with support for up to 300 MBps read and write speed and a 3.5mm audio in/out port for headphones and microphones.
One of the most important features of this hybrid docking station is its Thunderbolt 3 host port. It uses the USB-C connector, as all Thunderbolt 3 and 4 connections do, which means it also supports more traditional USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 and USB-C 3.2 Gen 2x2 cables and connections. Depending on which cable you use and what your host device supports, the capabilities of the docking station change, slightly.
With the oldest and slowest USB-C connections, it can output to only one 4K display at a time, at up to 30Hz, or up to two 1080p displays at a time, at up to 60Hz. Use a more capable, USB-C 3.2 Gen 2x2 cable and supporting device, then you can enjoy support for a single 4K 60Hz display, or two 1440p displays at 60Hz. Alternatively, enable Display Stream Compression (DSC) and you can manage two 4K displays at 60Hz.
Use a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 cable, however, and you can have dual 4K 60Hz displays without the need for any kind of compression. That improves visual quality during scenes with fast motion and improves latency slightly too.
With hybrid docking stations, though, often the power they provide is just as important as the ports they give access to. The hybrid 14-port Thunderbolt 3 dock is powered by a mains connection but can deliver up to 96W to any connected device over its USB-C host port – assuming you use a Thunderbolt 3 or high-power USB-C cable and connection on the host device.
Additionally, the front-mounted USB-A 3.1 port has enough power to charge up smaller devices, like smartphones and tablets – albeit at a slower speed than the USB-C host port.
This hybrid docking station can do it all, but it’s not alone, there are many great solutions if you’re looking for a powerful dock, and Cable Matters has a number of great options available.