Surface Book 1/2, Surface Go, and Surface Pro 6 multi-monitor docking (2018/2019 update)

Also check out our older write-up on docking options specific to Surface Pro.


Several customers asked about building multi-monitor workstations around various Surface Models including the flagship Surface Book 2 with the NVIDIA GTX 1050/1060 GPU. We investigated a few approaches that work across the Surface Book, Surface Go and Surface Pro lineup. There are unique trade-offs that are not easy to discern from manufacturer marketing materials. Common questions from customers regard:

  1. Power supplies, USB type-C power delivery, charging ,and potential battery drain issues
  2. How to connect 4K monitors and ensure they run at 60Hz refresh rate rather than 30Hz for a lag-free experience
  3. Monitor performance on DisplayPort vs DisplayLink connections
  4. Availability of fully-featured USB-C docks vs Thunderbolt 3 docks
    • Thunderbolt 3 docks won’t work properly on laptops that only feature USB-C support even though the physical connector is the same – so don’t buy a Thunderbolt 3 dock for your Surface!
  5. Cost-effective approaches to connect 3 or 4 external monitors

Hopefully this mini guide with several approaches will help our customers and the broader Surface community in choosing the right workstation components. If you’ve had good results with other approaches, please share in the comments.

 

1. Microsoft OEM Surface docking station for 1-4 external monitors

This approach uses the Microsoft OEM dock. On initial release, these docking stations were rather buggy but with firmware updates they provide excellent docking capabilities and are powering workstations for our customers in 30 countries worldwide. These docks provide a few key advantages but have disadvantages too so are not for everybody.

Advantages:

  • Single cable for connectivity and power
  • Zero-insertion-force magnetically-aligned connector which is easy-to-use especially for folks with disabilities
  • Adaptable to seamless ergonomic drop-in vertical docking off the side of your monitor
  • Adds 4 USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, audio, and two mini-DisplayPort receptacles
  • Able to drive [1x 4k@60Hz + 1x 4k@30Hz] or [2x 4k@30Hz] or [2x 1440p@60Hz] monitors directly via mini DisplayPort
    • Both monitors suitable for gaming since they are run directly with zero lag
    • Additional 4k@60Hz monitors can be connected via add-on DisplayLink chipset devices using a USB 3.0 port however monitors connected this way may have a 3-6 frame lag (~50-100ms) and will not be suitable for gaming

Disadvantages:

  • Provides the SB2 Core i7 and SB1 Performance base models with 60 watts while the standalone OEM charger provides up to 95 watts (other models receive the same power as the OEM charger)
    • For office and creative workloads like Photoshop, Premiere, SolidWorks, and ProTools, these docks work fine for the Core i7 Surface Book 2 models except for non-interactive batch rendering workloads or gaming where the battery may gradually discharge over ~5-6 hours. For more info see the power supply FAQ.
  • While one 4k monitor can connect at 60Hz and will work great for gaming, a second 4k monitor will only connect at 30Hz via a direct connection. An addon DisplayLink USB device (see below) is required to use two or more 4k@60Hz monitors; monitors on DisplayLink connections won’t work well for gaming due to a 3-6 frame latency.
  • A proprietary connector means the dock can only be used on Surface Surface.

Works with:

  • Surface Pro 3 / Pro 4 / Pro 2017 / Pro 6
  • Surface Book 1 / Surface Book 2
  • Surface Laptop 1 / Surface Laptop 2
  • Surface Go

Recommended products:

 

2. Universal USB-C and USB 3.0 docking stations for 1-4 external monitors

USB-C and USB 3.0 based docks are convenient but do not have a magnetically aligned zero-insertion-force connection so are more difficult to use. Many models may not be suitable for gaming since monitors are driven by DisplayLink chipsets or are limited to 30Hz at high resolutions.

Advantages:

  • Single cable for connectivity and power (USB-C models only)
  • Adds 4+ USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, audio, and 2 or more display outputs
  • Able to drive [1x 4k@30Hz] or [1x 1440p@60Hz] monitor natively via USB type-C alt-mode (USB-C models only)
  • Additional displays supported by built-in DisplayLink chipset or add-on dongle; monitors on these connections won’t work well for gaming due to a 3-6 frame latency and minor CPU-usage penalty.

Disadvantages:

  • Some not suitable for high-resolution gaming since monitors may be refresh-rate limited or may have lag during game-play due to being connected via a DisplayLink chipset; other workloads will work OK.
  • Many 3rd-party USB-C-based docks provide the SB2 Core i7 with NVIDIA GPU models with only 60 watts (the MS standalone OEM charger provides up to 95 watts)
    • For office and creative workloads like Photoshop, Premiere, SolidWorks, and Protools, these docks may work fine except for non-interactive batch rendering workloads and gaming where the battery will gradually discharge over ~5-6 hours. For more info see the power supply FAQ.
    • If you plug in the MS OEM power supply alongside the USB-type-C dock, charging via the USB-C dock will be disabled and full charge rate will be available on the MS SurfConnect proprietary port. However this eliminates the advantage of having a single cable for both power and connectivity.
  • Multi-cable solution for USB 3.0 docks (need to plug in power supply separately)
  • More expensive than MS OEM dock if you want 4k display capabilities or high power USB-C

Works with:

Recommended products:

How to use with 3 or 4 external monitors:

 

3. USB-C portable un-powered hub (Surface Book 2 & Surface Go only)

Portable USB type-C hubs are a good option for folks on the go. But unlike Thunderbolt 3 hubs connected to Thunderbolt-capable laptops, most are unable to display 4k monitors at 60Hz. This is due to the inherent bandwidth limitation of USB type-C where you can either consume all the bandwidth with a single 4k@60Hz monitor or get 4k@30Hz and use the remaining bandwidth for USB ports, Ethernet etc. The exception are hubs designed to work with USB 2.0 devices rather than USB 3.0 devices. For these hubs, the USB devices run slower, but the monitor can run at full 4K@60Hz.

Advantages:

  • Portable
  • Inexpensive
  • Some feature optional 100w charging via USB type-C power delivery
  • Adds 3 USB 3.0 ports + Ethernet
  • Able to drive [1x 4K@30Hz] or [1x 1440p@60Hz] monitor natively via USB type-C alt-mode (up to 4K@60Hz on some hubs when used with USB 2.0-only devices)

Disadvantages:

  • 4k monitor only runs at 30Hz (for USB 3.0 enabled hubs)
  • hubs running at 4K@60Hz can only run USB devices at USB 2.0 speed
  • Requires purchase of separate USB-C power supply for power delivery

Works with:

  • Any laptop with a USB-C port including Surface Book 2 and Surface Go

Recommended products:

  • Hootoo USB-C hub – dozens of other made-in-China brands appear to use the same circuit board layout as this model although most other brands do not advertise  100W charging
  • Cable matters hub – if used exclusively with USB 2.0 devices, then this hub will run a monitor at 4k@60Hz

 

4. USB-C and USB 3.0 un-powered dongles for 2 monitors + Ethernet

For customers that just need to add monitors, a simple dongle will suffice. Models are available that connect via USB 3.0, USB-C with no difference in functionality.

Advantages:

  • Compact and simple to setup
  • Runs [2x 4k@60Hz] independent monitors via DisplayLink chipset
  • Has Ethernet

Disadvantages:

  • Multi-cable solution (need to plug in power supply separately)
  • Separate USB hub needed to add USB ports
  • Monitors connected via DisplayLink chipset based devices won’t work well for gaming due to a 3-6 frame latency and minor CPU-usage penalty.

Works with:

  • Any laptop or 2-in-1 with a USB 3.0 or USB-C port

Recommended products:

 

5. DisplayPort MST hubs

MST hubs are available which separate a single DisplayPort connection into two distinct DisplayPort connections supporting distinct images. Note that cheaper DisplayPort “splitters” will only mirror the same image on multiple screens.

Advantages:

  • Screens are run natively so there is no lag/latency compared to DisplayLink-based solutions

Disadvantages:

  • screen resolutions and refresh rates are often limited to 1920×1200 @60Hz
  • can only run a total of 3 screens (3 external or 2 external +  Surface)
  • potential compatibility issues on older devices
  • high cost
  • No USB ports

Recommended products:

 

6. USB or mini-DisplayPort adapter for 1 monitor

For customers that just need to connect a single monitor, the best approach is a simple adapter.

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

  • Multi-cable solution (need to plug in power supply separately)
  • Need additional hardware to connect additional monitors and devices
  • Does not allow the USB-C port to be used for any other devices

Works with:

  • Any laptop or 2-in-1 with a USB or miniDisplayPort receptacle

Recommended products:

6. Kensington Dock for Surface Pro

Advantages:

  • security lock
  • ability to change angle of Surface
  • HDMI and DisplayPort outputs

Disadvantages:

  • High price
  • need to remove keyboard before docking

Works with:

  • Surface Pro 4, Surface Pro 2017, Surface Pro 6

 

7. Other Surface Specific Docks supporting multiple Monitors?

Let me know in the comments if you find any good alternates. Surface-specific Docks from Sabrent, ICZI, eTauro, Juiced, SurfaceKit, etc. only support a single monitor output and aside from their compact size, don’t seem any more capable than universal docks that work with other PC brands.

 


Notes:

  • It is important to note that Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C are not equivalent. While these two technologies share the same physical connector, Thunderbolt 3 has a specification for more data bandwidth and is able to support more features like multiple 4k@60Hz monitors natively. Some products may be advertised as supporting both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C. Before purchasing, be certain which features are available on devices that only have USB-C like the Surface Book 2 rather than devices that have Thunderbolt 3 like the 2017 MacBook Pro.

16 Comments

  1. Great article, thank you!

    I’m planning a external monitor setup with the Surface Book 2 15-inch, however this seems a bit complicated. I would like to run only a single 3440×1440 monitor and keep the internal surface book 2 display turned off.
    What’s the best solution on this case? I’d think it’s the Surface Dock, however since it’s limited to 60W, isn’t the Plugable USB-C 4K Triple Display Docking Station better? Both only supply 60W, however if I see that the battery is draining, it’s possible to plug in the stock charger aswell, which isn’t possible if the surface dock is aleady using that port.

    I’d hope there’s a dock which is capable of delivering 90~100W to the Surfacebook thru usb-c, but I’m yet to find it…

    Thank you again!

    Like

  2. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed!
    Very useful information particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such information much.
    I was looking for this certain information for a long time.
    Thank you and good luck.

    Like

  3. Am i reading this correct?

    I have Surface Book 2
    I have Microsoft Surface Dock
    I have 2x 4k displays (DisplayPort)

    In order to connect 2x 4k Monitors (60htz) I need to buy the “Plugable USB 3.0 Dual 4K DisplayPort” for 1x 4k monitor (60htz), and plug the other 4k monitor (60htz) into the dock.

    Like

  4. Question, if I may – That Targus Universal Docking station w/ 100W power – will it provide as much power to a SB2 via USB as the in-box charging cable? Am about to get a SB2, and am looking for a single-cable docking solution to drive 2 x 2560×1440 or 1 x 3440 x 1440. Since I will use it for occasional gaming, I want to be able to deliver the max possible wattage to the SB2. Thx!

    Like

    1. Hi I have not yet gotten a chance to try the Targus 100W dock, but yes the idea is that it will charge at the same maximum rate as the OEM power supply and provide multi-monitor connectivity.

      Like

  5. Does the Microsoft USB C dongle change any of this advise? Can you run two 4k 60 hz monitors on the Surface Book 2 with this dongle and the native USB c port?

    Like

  6. Thank you for all of this advice! I was lost as to why it wasnt working for me.

    Prior to updating the surface dock firmware I could only run one at 4k 60 hz and the other at 1080 60 hz. Now that I have updated, I can run both at 4k but it is forcing one at 29 hz and the otehr at 30 hz. Any idea of how to fix this?

    Additionally, the microsoft USB-C HDMI dongle definitely works with my surface book 2, however, I have only tested it for presentations and not to power one of my 4k monitors. Maybe I will try that if I cant get at least one at 60 hz (one is in portrait mode for writing/reading so 30hz would be fine)

    Like

    1. Hi Veronica, that OWC dock looks decent. Most of the ports ought to work on Surface although Display will be limited to 1 x 4k@30Hz rather than the advertised 2 x 4k@60Hz or 1 x 5k@60Hz due to lack of TB3 support on the Surface. Unless you are sharing this dock with a TB3-compatible system like a MacBook Pro, I would opt for a less-expensive dock.

      Like

  7. Thanks for this detailed analysis. Like some of the others, I have had this problem for over a year with my Surface Book 2 and an MS Surface Dock. It’s been incredibly frustrating and I just gave up, but this article gives me hope. Very specifically I’m not a gamer, but use it for software development, mainly embedded.

    I have a sub-optimal setup at work with 1080p monitors.

    Will the Targus Universal Docking Station w/ 100 W connected to my SB2 be able to drive two 4K monitors at 60 Hz. If not, would you recommend using the MS Dock and the Plugable USB 3.0 4K@60 Hz dongle?

    Like

  8. Hello there,

    I’m trying to connect a single LG 32UL950-W monitor through direct USB-C cable from the Surface Book 2 (15″/i7/16/1tb/dGPU) USB-C port to the monitor USB-C port with no success: getting only NO SIGNAL message 😦

    Surface book powered by the official Surface Dock.

    Any suggestion??

    Ambrogio – Switzerland

    Like

  9. I encountered this site while looking up on why my USB-C dongles can’t output to two external monitors although stated. Is it a Surface Book 2 issue? I have a USB-C dongle with VGA and HDMI but the external screen are showing the same. Are there actually USB-C dongles with dual HDMI output independently? I tried three dongles, all show duplicated or no signal on the second external display, real shame. MS Surface Dock is underpowered for me. Do 100W USB-C dongles really deliver that amount to a Surface Book 2? I think internal circuitry will prevent this.

    Like

    1. Hi,

      With a simple USB-C dongle, you can only run one distinct monitor output at a time. To run multiple monitors off the usb-c port, you’ll need a hub/dock like the plugable or cable matters models listed above that are more expensive. These hubs/docks allow a second distinct monitor output via DisplayPort-MST or Displaylink tech and many need a external power supply to run. The generic dongles just don’t have the right circuitry.

      Surface Book 2 with Core i7 can accept up to 90 watts over usb-c which is quite a bit more than the 60-Watts delivered by the MS dock.

      Here is a dual output dongle btw. Works great but not much cheaper than a full dock. https://amzn.to/2HycoWC

      Dan

      Like

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