Laptop Docking Station vs USB Hub: Which One Should You Buy

A laptop’s limited number of ports and the small screen can barely help you boost your productivity beyond a limit. If you wish to open a couple of windows parallel or connect peripherals like keyboards, mice, or monitors, these limitations pose a big obstruction. And in a time where laptops come with just a couple of ports, the USB hubs laptop docking station save the day. They let you connect more peripherals and a couple of monitors by sacrificing just a single port on your laptop.

But when you look at the prices, the difference is steep. While most USB hubs are available in the $50-$70 price tag, the prices of laptop docking stations are south of $100. And the purpose of both these peripherals is the same—increasing connectivity.

So this brings us to an important question—which one should you pick? Should you buy an expensive laptop dock over a simple USB hub? Or is it the other way around?

Well, that’s what we’ll be exploring in this post today as we dive into the specifics of both of these laptop accessories to see which one suits your needs more.

Let’s get going, shall we? But first,

Primary Differences

One of the primary differences between laptop docks and USB hubs is the amount of power associated. A connected dock drives multiple monitors and powers the connected laptop along with a slew of peripherals. Docks usually come with a heavy power adapter designed for a permanent setup.

As long as it gets the power from the wall adapter, the laptop dock will do the job of expanding the functionality of your humble laptop.

The associated power also means docks like the Wavlink USB 3.0 Universal Laptop Docking Station or the Dell USB 3.0 Triple Display Docking Station can run 4K displays at 60Hz. The latter can expand your display into three monitors. So, if your work involves switching between multiple monitors, docks are what you should invest in.

Wavlink USB 3.0 Universal Laptop Docking Station

Another significant difference is the speed. With Thunderbolt docks around, you can get around 40Gbps, making it ideal for you if you want high-speed connectivity. The massive speed lets you hook several peripherals at once and helps you get the most out of your Thunderbolt laptop. This is especially important if you have a MacBook or a Thunderbolt 3 laptop like the Dell XPS 13.

The compact form factor also makes them great alternatives to desktops. All you need to do is manage the cable clutter, and you will have a clear work desk.

On the other hand, USB hubs are a mere extension of your laptop’s ports. Sure, they let you connect to an external monitor (or two at max), but the power is not enough to run them at their maximum resolution. If you have 4K monitors, most USB-C hubs will get you 30Hz (and not 60Hz). Thankfully, the issue is not that prominent if you have FHD monitors or the like.

The good thing is that some USB-C hubs also come with USB-C Power Delivery ports. So if you have a compatible USB-C laptop, you can connect the power cable directly to the hub to charge your laptop.

Number of Ports and Power Delivery

Docking stations come with a wide variety of ports, you can connect peripherals like keyboards, mice, SD cards, monitors, and still have room for more. So if you have a couple of flash drives to connect, you do not have to unplug the ones already connected to make room for the new ones.

And it’s not the number of ports. The associated power means that the dock runs without breaking a sweat, lags, or running hot.

While it’s true that USB hubs, especially USB-C hubs, bundle several ports, they are severely limited when compared to docks. For example, you can find a maximum of one USB-C port, an HDMI port, or an SD card reader. Even if you upgrade to the expensive Anker USB-C hub, you get just a duo of USB-A ports and a single USB-C data port. And that’s about it.

Anker USB-C hub

If you have to connect a USB-A thumb drive, you’ll need to disconnect some of the connected peripherals to make room. On the upside, several USB-C hubs today support USB-C Power Delivery, which means you will have to connect one less cable to your laptop.

Unlike it, docks like the Cable Matters Aluminum Thunderbolt 3 Dock bundle 5 USB-A ports apart from Thunderbolt and Ethernet port. Moreover, the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro ups the game by several folds. Not only does it come with several USB-A and USB-C ports, but it pushes the video output options to DisplayPort.

Ease of Use & Portability

But at the end of the day, most things boil down to ease of use and portability. After all, you are on your laptop.

USB hubs win the game hands down when it comes to portability. They are lightweight and slim, which makes them easy to carry around. You simply need to unplug the cables and throw them in your laptop bag, along with your laptop, keyboard, and mouse. Lastly, these are simple plug-and-play devices and don’t need special installation processes.

As long as you do not overwhelm the USB hub, you should be in the clear.

As you may have guessed, laptop docks are not the easiest devices to lug around. The popular ones are big and heavy. And as noted earlier, they are meant more for permanent setups. There are exceptions, though. For example, the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini is sleek and slim. However, you will have to sacrifice the number of ports if you go for this one.

Pricing

Another major difference between USB hubs and laptop docks is the pricing. As noted earlier, USB hubs are inexpensive and are available in the $50-$70 price bracket. As you may have guessed, laptop docks are priced well above $150, and the price goes up if you are looking for top-of-the-line USB-C or Thunderbolt docking stations.

Laptop Docking Station vs. USB Hub

So, which one should you buy? Well, if you are a professional and are planning an elaborate setup with your laptop, with 2-3 monitors, then a docking station makes more sense. The sheer number of ports and the overall power will let you glide through your work seamlessly.

But if you are looking to increase the number of ports on your laptop, and if the quality of the display is not much of a priority, then a USB hub makes more sense. However, you will have to compromise on the speed. Just remember not to overwhelm the ports.

 

Last updated on 02 May, 2022

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