Help Me, Laptop: Can I Use a Docking Station for Gaming?

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I'll be the first to say it: Business laptops have their advantages. Compatible docking stations make it ridiculously easy to add all of your peripherals when you get back to your desk from a meeting. But I've rarely seen anyone ask for business features on gaming notebooks.


But that's what forum reader mrgridlox is looking for. After years of gaming on a desktop, they're looking to move to a laptop. They used their previous laptop, a college-era Dell Latitude, with a docking station. That way, they could clip the laptop into the dock when at their desk to connect to a monitor, keyboard and mouse instantly. How come, mrgridlox wants to know, they can't find something similar for a gaming laptop?

It's far from impossible to find a dock for a home system. While docks are more common in office settings, and while the likes of Lenovo and Dell do make docks customized for their own systems, you can also get a number of docks that plug in over either USB Type-A (with a DisplayLink driver) or USB Type-C.

But here's a big difference with gaming notebooks: They have lots of ports. Most have more than enough ports for a keyboard, a mouse, at least one display (sometimes two) and a headset, without the need for a dock. Everything can be plugged in to the laptop directly.

Now, I see where mrgridlox is coming from. Fine, a gaming laptop will likely have the ports you need, but this reader wants to easily connect to all of their peripherals with a single connector, rather than attaching and detaching them. But there's also a performance issue to worry about. Just to demonstrate this, I took the Asus TUF Gaming FX504 I've been reviewing, made sure it had the latest DisplayLink drivers and plugged it into my external monitor with a dock.

MORE: Thunderbolt 3 Docks Ranked From Best to Worst

Then, I tried to run Rise of the Tomb Raider to see how the dock (in this case, a Humanscale M/Connect 2) affected performance. But I couldn't get that far. Why? Because the dock has its own graphics chip, and the monitor, connected to the laptop through the dock and a USB 3.0 cable, couldn't utilize the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU in the notebook. To make that work, the best thing to do would be to plug the monitor directly into the notebook's HDMI output.

But I wasn't done yet. My work-issued Dell XPS 15 has a GTX 1050 as well, and I used it with a dock that had USB Type-C. USB Type-C had the same limitation, though.

Yet, I couldn't give up. So I grabbed a Thunderbolt 3 dock (which my XPS 15 is compatible with) and tried that. In that case, the PC could use the discrete graphics with an external monitor, but performance wasn't great, as our budget gaming benchmark ran at just 12 frames per second.

The one alternative I could give mrgridlox is to try an eGPU. But that would involve a significant extra expense, as you'd have to pay for both the enclosure and a new graphics card, which together can easily go over $1,000. But the eGPUs usually have video outputs and a few USB ports, so you could use one like a dock.

Otherwise, though, a dock isn't really a gaming device. If you can even get a dock to work, the performance benefits aren't worth it. Consider using a dock just for productivity tasks, perhaps. But otherwise, it may be time for mrgridlox to use a new gaming laptop with the ports it comes with.

Credit: Laptop Mag

Author Bio
Andrew E. Freedman
Andrew E. Freedman,
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.
Andrew E. Freedman, on
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1 comment
  • Ira Blumberg Says:

    There are a few issues and a few choices here. For a real gaming notebook, no Thunderbolt docking station can supply enough power. Thus, the notebook will always require a separate power connection in addition to the dock connection. Second, to avoid the bottle neck for video through the dock, connect the video directly to the gaming notebook. With such a set up at least 3 separate connections are required (power, dock, video). With this, all the other peripherals (keyboard, mouse, ethernet, etc.) can connect to the dock. Not the simple, in and out of a dedicated business dock, but better than connecting and disconnecting every peripheral.

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