The perfect USB-C laptop dock?

I’ve written about many docking stations in the past. The ideal non-Thunderbolt dock for me supports three key features:

  • 100 watt USB-C power delivery to charge even the beefiest laptop
  • Ability to run dual 4K monitors at 60Hz natively via USB-C DP 1.4 Alt mode for lag-free gaming
  • Plenty of full-featured ports on the front and back

Here is my take on what would make the most flexible USB-C docking station:

  • Rear connectors:
    • Multi-function-preferred switch
      • ability to switch between full bandwidth on DisplayPort Alt-mode with USB 2.0 vs half bandwidth with USB 3.0
    • 2 DisplayPort receptacles (3 simultaneous display outputs)
      • 2 DisplayPort receptacles operating via USB-C DP 1.4 alt-mode supporting 4K @ 60Hz (best for gaming)
    • USB-C receptacle for Host PC with:
      • 100W power delivery to the host PC (20V @ 5 amps)
      • USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gb/s) data bandwidth
    • 4 USB A downstream receptacles with USB 3.1 Gen 2 bandwidth
    • 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
    • Physical on-off power switch
    • 3.5mm audio line out
  • Front connectors:
    • 3.5mm stereo microphone input
    • 3.5mm stereo headset output
    • Full size UHS-II MicroSD card reader
    • 2 USB 3.0 type A receptacles with USB 3.1 Gen2 data and 2.4 amp quick charging
    • 1 USB-C type C downstream receptacle with USB 3.1 Gen2 data 30-watt power delivery for charging a tablet

Does such a product exist?

No.

But the new 201054-SIL model from Cable Matters comes pretty close and seems to be the best all-around docking station based on its available features. Rather than use DisplayLink technology, it appears to use DisplayPort MST to run a second monitor and is one of the few Docks on the market with a physical switch for the multi-function-preferred bit or as Cable Matters calls it “dynamic bandwidth switch”. This allows switching between full bandwidth support on the DisplayPort with low bandwidth on USB vs Full bandwidth on USB and half bandwidth on DisplayPort which makes it great for both gaming and office applications. It claims support for 80W power delivery rather than 100W, but that will still charge most laptops quickly. USB docking is not right for everyone, but this looks like a good bet.

One thought on “The perfect USB-C laptop dock?

  1. Sure, it’s an ad. But that does look like a pretty capable dock. One minor annoyance is that it doesn’t have an HDMI port, so many people will need a DisplayPort to HDMI adapter to connect their monitor. It also doesn’t have a VGA output, but this is a home base solution rather than a road warrior product so that’s not a major shortcoming. (Traveling presenters will want something with both HDMI and VGA outputs because some venues will still offer a VGA connection to their projector.)

    The specs suggest that it can’t supply maximum power to all ports simultaneously. It has a 120W input: 24V at 5A. it can supply 80W USB-PD to the host computer, 18W to the USB-C charging port (according to the Amazon page), and 10.5W (2.1A) to the four USB-A ports. It also needs some power to run its own circuitry and the DC/DC converter is not 100% efficient.

    Add up the numbers: 80W to the host, 18W to the USB-C PD, and even just one USB-A at 10.5W adds up to 108.5W, plus the dock’s own power needs and conversion loss. It won’t be able to do all of that with 120W in. Trying to supply 10.5W to all four USB-A ports is even more hopeless. So plan accordingly. One hopes that the dock negotiates lesser amounts of power to each port rather than crashing or failing completely.

    This sort of power limitation is not uncommon. There are many multiport USB chargers on the market, for example, and most of them cannot charge a device on each port at maximum power. They are still very useful, but you have to be a bit more patient if you’re actually going to plug in a full set of modern phones or tablets.

    Like

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