Docking stations and port replicators both add connections and/or ports your laptop may not have built-in or have few of. They connect via USB or a special docking connection at the bottom or back of your laptop.
Common features may include:
- Extra USB, Firewire, eSATA, and Ethernet connections
- VGA or DVI output to use larger screens
- Audio connections (in/out/mic)
- PS/2 for older mice and keyboards
A full featured docking station may:
- act as a stand to provide better cooling and screen height
- charge the battery
- include bays to accommodate extra CD, DVD, or hard drives
- have built-in speakers
They both allow you to use many more peripherals and accessories without having to deal with the cable spaghetti you get when connecting so many devices at once to the laptop itself.
You just have to place the laptop into the dock and connect via a single connection to get all the functionality of your peripherals and accessories. To disconnect you just unplug the cable or pop a latch/press a button to release and off you go while leaving everything in place for when you come back.
Docking Station Cost vs Convenience
Do you already own a really nice monitor and prefer using a full size keyboard? Ever have the touch pad get in the way? Perhaps hitting it with your thumb or rest your palm on it and inadvertently start typing in the wrong spot of your spreadsheet or document?
These days you may be wondering if you need a docking station or port replicator since many laptops today already have the same functionality built-in. The exception may be for small laptops or sub-notebooks which do not have room for many ports or lack optical drives and an extra internal bay for another hard drive. Maybe 4 USB ports isn’t enough or you need a port you don’t have built in such as Firewire or eSATA.
When considering a docking station or port replicator there are two main types available:
- universal – which connects via USB
- price and features vary widely so there is an option for everyone
- manufacturer/model specific – available for HP, Compaq, Dell, IBM, Toshiba, etc which may have a proprietary connection slot.
- becoming rare or only for older laptops with the special docking connection. Many of the newer branded stations are USB anyway.
- Can be more expensive.
They all do pretty much the same thing and differ mainly how they look or how many features they offer. Manufacturer specific models may blend well aesthetically when connected to a laptop it was designed for but may not be useful if you have more than one laptop from more than one manufacturer.
There is also the option of going wireless for many of your laptop accessories so you end up plugging in only a few cables directly to the laptop anyway.