A docking station can completely change your overall workflow. From increasing the connectivity options available to you to making it easier to connect to all your devices and accessories with a laptop, docking stations are well worth buying. But, of course, you might be wondering exactly how to use a docking station.
Depending on your setup, the way to use a docking station may vary. That’s why we’ve put together this guide – here’s how to use a docking station.
How to use a docking station with a laptop
While there are some good reasons to use a docking station with a desktop computer, most people probably use them with laptops – and depending on the laptop you use, the setup process may vary.
If you have a relatively modern laptop with USB-C ports or Thunderbolt 3 ports, along with a relatively modern docking station, then the setup process should be easy. To set up a docking station in this case, you’ll connect one end of the cable to your laptop’s USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 port, and the other side to the USB-C input on your docking station. You’ll need to make sure to connect the cable to the docking station’s input, not another USB-C port. The input should be labeled as such. For example, some docks have USB-C ports labeled “dock in” or “host”; the other USB-C ports are downstream ports used to connect monitors or other devices.
You may also need to make sure that the USB-C cable is long enough for your needs. Because of the bandwidth demands of USB-C and especially Thunderbolt 3 docking stations, the supplied cables are often very short. Longer ones are more expensive. If the cable that comes with the docking station isn’t long enough, consider buying a longer one, like Cable Matters’ 2-meter active Thunderbolt 3 cable or active USB-C cable.
If you don’t have USB-C ports or your dock is a little older, you might need to buy some adapters to make everything work. For example, if you have a Thunderbolt 2 dock, but Thunderbolt 3 ports on your laptop, you’ll need to consider a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. Using a docking station without a USB-C is trickier mostly because older versions of USB don’t support video natively. Therefore, regular USB-A docks often need software or drivers to function and can slow down your computer.
Once your laptop is connected to your dock, you’ll want to plug in all your peripherals and devices. This should be a relatively straightforward process. For example, you can connect an external monitor to the dock’s DisplayPort or HDMI port. You can connect wired mice and keyboards to USB inputs. And so on. Most USB-C docking stations allow you to power your laptop through the dock, as well. The docking station power may range all the way up to 100W.
Many USB-C docking stations allow you to connect a second monitor of your choice via USB-C with a USB-C to video adapter or cable. You can commonly find USB-C to HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, or VGA cables and adapters online.
Through most USB-C docking stations, you’ll be able to achieve a single 4K monitor at 60Hz or two 4K monitors at 30Hz. Lower resolution monitors will be able to run at 60Hz, even with two of them. Thunderbolt 3 docking stations typically have enough bandwidth to support dual 4K 60Hz monitors.
Most USB-C computers support dual monitors through a USB-C docking station, though you’ll still want to check your computer’s specifications. One notable exception is Apple computers. They can’t output two display streams through one USB-C port (unless it is Thunderbolt 3) because of a lack of support for a protocol called MST. A dual-input dock that uses two USB-C ports may offer a workaround. If you want a dock that is cheaper than most Thunderbolt 3 docks and is compatible with both USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 computers, it’s worth checking out the Cable Matters USB-C dual-monitor docking station.
How to use a docking station with a desktop
Using a docking station with a desktop computer is pretty much the same process as with a laptop, however, you might have other things to consider. For example, considering using it with a desktop may be slightly more permanent, you might want to think about where you’re going to place the docking station on your desk. Most desktop computers offer a wide range of ports so docking stations are less often necessary. As such, many users can get away with simply using a cheaper adapter to get the specific extra port they need. A USB hub for extra USB ports, or an SD card adapter, for example.
How to Choose a Docking Station
Cable Matters offers a large line of docking stations, portable docking stations, and multiport adapters. Choose between different display connections – DisplayPort, HDMI, and older standards – peripheral support, and support for advanced features like Power Delivery.
USB-C Docking Station with Dual 4K HDMI (Cable Matters also sells a model with Dual 4K DisplayPort)
Aluminum Thunderbolt 3 Dock with Dual 4K Video
USB-C Multiport Adapter with 4K HDMI