If you use your laptop on a desk, particularly with multiple monitors and peripherals, you need a dock. And if your current laptop has a USB Type-C port, or you want something future-proof, you'll benefit from Plugable's USB-C Triple Docking Station (UD-ULTCDL). This $179 dock is one of the first to offer USB Type-C connectivity, which allows you to charge your laptop and pair it with up to three high-res monitors -- one of which can be 4K -- over a single wire. A great choice for any PC notebook, the Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station can also connect to a traditional USB Type-A port, if you have an inexpensive adapter cable.
The Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station (UD-ULTCDL) takes its design cues from its little brother, the $95 UD-3900. The UD-ULTCDL is a black plastic monolith that stands vertically on your desk, with its ports packed into a 6.9-inch tall column that sits on the dock's 4.7 x 2.5-inch base. The base isn't removable, so you can't rest your laptop on top of it or keep it under your monitors, which is how several of my colleagues and I keep our docks.
Both sides of the dock are plastered with the Plugable logo and DisplayLink Certification, as well as vents. The black plastic is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but this isn't a device you'll be touching much. A couple of the ports are on the front (see below), but the majority are on the back, lending to its clean design.
The ports are where the UD-ULTCDL differs from the UD-3900, which itself has all of the basics. The high-end dock has two HDMI ports (one for 4K video and one for 2K video), a DVI port, an Ethernet jack, a power port, three USB 3.0 ports, and a USB Type-C port to connect to your laptop. That last port is the most important one -- it won't only send data back and forth, but will also charge your USB Type-C-enabled notebook.
While only a handful of laptops and 2-in-1s, including the Dell XPS 13, the Google Chromebook Pixel 2 and the Lenovo ThinkPad 3, have the ability to charge over Type-C today, many more will have this capability in the near future.
The front of this dock includes a USB Type-C port and a USB 3.0 port, which you could use for charging your phone or holding a dongle for your mouse. The microphone and headphone jacks are there, too.
Strangely, the UD-ULTCDL model doesn't have as many ports as its cheaper sibling, the UD-3900, which features an extra USB port on the back. That's one more peripheral, hard drive, dongle or flash drive that could be plugged in.
The docking station includes a USB Type-C cable, DVI-to-VGA adapter and power adapter.
To test USB Type-C compatibility, I hooked up the Dell XPS 13 Gold Edition to the dock and a set of external monitors. The XPS 13 Gold Edition boasts an Intel Core i7-6560U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe SSD, which is on the high end for a consumer laptop. Using two HDMI cables and a DVI cable, I managed to get a TV and two external monitors running off the dock. One monitor outputted at 4K, while another maxed out at 2048 x 1152. The TV reached its capacity of 1080p.
When I played a local 4K video, streamed from YouTube and took the 10fastfingers.com typing test simultaneously on the monitors, I noticed only the tiniest bit of lag, which didn't throw off my average typing score. With two monitors, the dock output video to one at 4K and another at a 2560 x 1440. I noticed no lag at all.
If you're buying this dock to futureproof your setup, you don't need a laptop with a USB Type-C port with it. We bought an $11 USB 3.0 to USB-C adapter and managed to run two screens -- both at 2048 x 1152 -- from the Dell Inspiron 17 5000, a much weaker notebook with a Core i3-5010 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. With the adapter, the dock's highest resolution for a single monitor is 2560 x 1440. 4K doesn't work through the adapter because the dock uses DisplayPort Alternate Mode, which can only be carried over USB Type-C.
The effect that running the dock and monitors has on the laptop varied widely. On the XPS 13, it ranged between 10 and 35 percent of the CPU, and up to 2.8 GB of the 8GB available (with Windows 10 taking up much of it). On the Inspiron, it stayed consistently closer to using 10 percent of the CPU and 2.3GB of the available 4GB of RAM.
The company claims that the dock is also compatible with MacBooks and machines running Linux.
The Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station is the futureproof dock that you have been waiting for. Between its support for both charging and video over USB Type-C, along with its ability to output at 4K, you won't need to replace this peripheral for a long time. Only the heaviest activity caused any lag, even when outputting at 4K.
If you don't need 4K output and your laptop doesn't support USB Type-C, Plugable's $95 UD-3900 has everything you'll need for today's technology for a great price. For those who want their dock to support not just their current laptop, but their next one, the extra money makes the USB-C Triple Display Docking Station worth the premium.