The concept of the “connected desk” has been around for a while. Essentially it’s a workstation with all of your technology needs at hand. Over the years the tools required to stay productive have changed along with the number of options available.
Dual displays can now be triple or quad, and connectivity includes various versions of USB and Thunderbolt. While preferences and protocols might change, one thing stays consistent. It all connects to a docking station.
The dock serves as a central hub. It has to connect multiple laptop brands to any number of peripherals. There’s probably one on your desk right now.
Despite its simple promise to connect this with that, designing a quality docking station that can stand up to the demands of business users involves a lot of engineering.
In this article, we’ll delve into the decision-making process behind designing top-tier docking stations. We’ll also uncover the hidden factors that influence their quality and cost
Building the Best Docking Station for Business
At its core, a docking station exists to add ports to a laptop. It seems like a problem with an easy solution. So why are there so many different docking stations? They all meet different needs.
The Plugable approach to designing business-class docking stations starts with in-depth market research. Then we collaborate with IT professionals and analyze user feedback to find insights into workplace use cases and pain points.
A Thunderbolt quad display dock, for instance, is designed to address the needs of IT departments and power users who digest dashboards full of data. A dual display dock that connects via USB 3.0, on the other hand, will be more suited to mundane office tasks that require less computing power.
In a perfect world, every office would standardize on one laptop, and every desk would be equipped with identical peripherals. In practice, though, our IT departments juggle a mixed fleet of laptops running at least two different operating systems.
So, when broad compatibility is paramount—think hot desking and hotelling environments—look for docking stations that pair with the widest selection of computers. Generally, that means going with a universal docking station with built-in DisplayLink or MST technology.
Of course, Universal Docks come with their own set of pros and cons. They work with a wide range of computers and operating systems. They even allow you to add two or more external displays to laptops that otherwise wouldn’t support more than one, like M1 and M2-powered MacBooks. But they also require a driver download, so you don’t get plug-and-play functionality.
People need ports. It’s why businesses invest in docking stations in the first place.
Just remember, those ports add up. Do you need an Ethernet port or can you get by with Wi-Fi? How many HDMI ports do you really need?
What about your connectivity standard? From the outside, a USB-C port and a Thunderbolt port might look the same, but their functionality and cost to implement can vary greatly. When considering a laptop docking station, consider the features you need to achieve your task as the minimum requirement.
In many cases, you can save money by going with a generic USB-C connection. But if you need higher charging rates, faster data transfer, and an extended 8k display, you’ll appreciate the performance boost you get by paying extra for Thunderbolt.
It’s no great surprise that the number of ports and how you connect to the host factor heavily into the final cost of a docking station. If you aren’t sure exactly what you need, consider using a Dock Finder Tool to help narrow down the options.
High-Speed Data Transfer
We tend to accept that new technology is going to be better so we’re willing to pay more. It makes sense that adding a USB 3.0 port to a docking station doesn’t raise the cost significantly. The technology has been around for a while, and compared to newer protocols, its functionality is limited.
But when you consider a Thunderbolt 4 port and a USB4 port, the cost disparity is a little harder to spot. Both ports are technically capable of transmitting data at 40Gbps, delivering power, audio, and video. The difference comes down to deployment.
Adding Thunderbolt functionality to a dock costs more because Thunderbolt requires more in-depth certifications. But that certification guarantees your Thunderbolt port is fully featured. USB4, on the other hand, allows for variations in deployment. That means users might not be sure of their exact transfer speed or charging rate.
Powerful Power Delivery
For many, the appeal of a docking station comes down to connecting multiple screens, peripherals, and power through a single cord. But that single cord comes at a cost. To ensure a consistent power supply, optimized charging, and protection against power surges, a lot of extra technology needs to be engineered into the dock.
Users who don’t mind the added hassle of plugging in their laptop’s native power supply can often save a little money. Those savings can really add up when outfitting an entire office.
We’ve looked at how different features like port selection and power delivery impact the cost of a docking station, but what about the less tangible factors that can be the cause of a myriad of user issues from minor to major?
The manufacturing process forms the foundation of the dock’s quality and price. Factors such as the manufacturer's reputation, experience, location, environmental considerations, component sourcing, and storage conditions all contribute to the overall outcome.
The Final Product
Docking stations encompass a variety of intricate components and chips. Like any other electronic product, a wide range of options exist in terms of price, functionality, and quality.
Hopefully, with this peek behind the curtain, you have a better understanding of what goes into making a business-grade docking station. And, armed with the tools to make an informed decision, you know how to find the dock that works for your office.
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