Whether you take your laptop everywhere or always leave it in the house, you want to have the best possible experience when your machine is sitting on your desk. With a universal dock, you can attach your system to multiple monitors and a wide variety of peripherals with extra USB ports. Depending on your needs, you can find budget docks that will output to dual HD monitors over standard USB, or more expensive docks that have support for USB Type-C and for 4K monitors that will work not only with your current laptop, but also your next one.
Best Cheap Dock - Plugable UD-3900 Dual Display Universal Docking Station
They say you get what you pay for, but Plugable's UD-3900 gives you a lot of performance for under $100. It supplies full-HD support to two monitors, and has all the ports that the vast majority of users need. If you don't have a 4K monitor on your desk or a USB Type-C port on your laptop, this will support everything you have today at a low price.
Top Dock Overall - Plugable USB-C Triple Display Dock
Using the Plugable USB-C Triple Display Dock (UD-ULTCD) feels a bit like living in the future. It works with all of the newest standards, including USB Type-C for charging and external displays, along with support for a 4K monitor. It's oriented in a vertical position, so you can't keep the dock under your laptop or monitors, but its performance and support for three displays simultaneously makes the Triple Display Dock our top choice.
The HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock is the most handsome dock on the market. Its modern, two-toned color scheme is subtle but eye-catching, while its chassis is small enough to file away under a monitor if you need more room on your desk. The dock’s non-slip bottom will prevent it from sliding around your desk. While it’s limited to just DisplayPort and VGA for video output, the Elite’s support for USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 make it fairly future proof. That is, as long as you have a compatible laptop. Though the dock should work with any Thunderbolt 3-enabled computer, we couldn’t use it with a couple of non-HP laptops we tested. It's also a bit more expensive than some of the competition.
The one downside to a dock is that it takes up space on your desk, but Targus' DV1K-4K docking station is easy to tuck away. The small, well-built dock is designed to fit under your laptop, sporting a nonslip surface to keep your system from sliding down. The dock is also small enough to fit under your monitors, if you prefer. The DV1K-4K supports one 4K monitor and has a ton of USB 3.0 ports, making it a strong choice for power users.
Dell's WD15 docking station looks good and performs well once you've figured out its quirks. The station offers a plethora of display options, including VGA, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort, and has a wide variety of other ports. Operating over USB Type-C's new "alternative mode," Dell's dock was a strong performer with no lag, but the DisplayPort couldn't output at the full 4K (while HDMI could) or work when any of the other ports were active. To make it sweeter, the price has dropped $20 since we first reviewed it, making it a better value.
Plugable’s first Thunderbolt 3 dock, the TBT3-UDV, is ready for dual 4K monitors. If you have the latest Thunderbolt port, you’ll be able to transfer up to 40GBps or power resolutions up to 4096 x 2160 on two displays. The new model includes an anodized aluminum body with black bezel and can daisy chain up to five other Thunderbolt 3 devices. These have been postponed slightly, so enterprise users will have to wait until early 2017 to get their hands on these docks.
Andrew joined Laptopmag.com in 2015, reviewing computers and keeping up with the latest news. He holds a M.S. in Journalism (Digital Media) from Columbia University. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Twitter @FreedmanAE.