Since 2015, we've seen a few laptops and tablets that can charge over USB Type-C, and we expect that number to grow exponentially in the coming months and years. The $199.99 Dell WD15 is one of the first universal docking stations to provide power, 4K video output and a host of connectivity options over USB Type-C. Unlike competitors such as the Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station, which uses DisplayLink compression technology, Dell's dock takes advantage of USB Type-C's new Alt Mode to send video directly from your laptop's GPU. The WD15 offers a solid dual 1080p monitor (or single 4K monitor) experience at your desk, but you can't pair it with a non-USB Type-C laptop, and its DisplayPort connector won't output at the highest resolution.
The Dell WD15 Docking Station doesn't want to be noticed. It's a rounded black rectangle that sits horizontally on your desk. At 6.1 x 4.3 x 0.83 inches, it takes up a bit of space, but unlike Plugable's USB-C Triple Display Docking Station, which only stands vertically, you can keep the WD15 under your monitors or below your laptop.
The solid-black top of the dock is adorned only with a reflective black Dell logo. A button on the top corner turns your laptop on and off, but it seems unnecessary because you can already do that from the laptop itself. The bottom features nonslip material to keep the WD15 from sliding around your desk when you plug peripherals into it. The laptop's built-in DisplayPort over USB Type-C cable juts out of the left to plug into (and charge) your laptop. You'll have to supply the rest of your own cables.
The 130-watt power brick is sizable and almost two-thirds the size of the dock itself. Comparatively, Plugable's brick is about the size of your average laptop charger. If you keep it behind or under your desk, though, you won't even notice it. If your laptop requires more power than the brick provides, you'll need to plug your laptop into both the wall and the dock.
The WD15 has a lot of ports, but it's still missing a few of our favorites. On the back of the dock, you'll find an HDMI port, a mini DisplayPort, a VGA port, an Ethernet jack, two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm audio jack and the power port. A Kensington lock slot is on the side, and two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone/mic combination jack are on the front.
I wish that the mini DisplayPort were a full-size DisplayPort jack that didn't require an adapter, and I would have preferred having a DVI port to a VGA one, like Plugable's USB-C dock has. Most odd, though, is the decision to attach the DisplayPort over USB-C cable to the dock, which won't let users replace it if something happens to it. I would have preferred a USB-C port and cable, like what Plugable offers. Without the USB-C port, I was unable to try using a USB Type-C-to-USB-Type-A adapter with an older laptop. If your laptop doesn't have a USB Type-C port, you're out of luck.
When the WD15 worked, it worked well, but setup was finicky. The dock can support either one 4K monitor or two full-HD monitors. We usually try our docks on dual 4K monitors, which downscale to a resolution supported by the dock. However, the WD15 couldn't support two 4K monitors, even at lower resolutions. Unlike most other universal docking stations, Dell's dock doesn't use DisplayLink technology. Instead, it employs USB Type-C's alternate mode to send a video signal directly from your GPU to the dock.
We hooked up the WD15 to a Dell XPS 13 Gold Edition, a 1080p TV via HDMI and a 4K monitor via VGA at a resolution of 2048 x 1152. Supporting the dock and monitors took just 3 percent of the CPU and 2.5GB of RAM with no programs running.
I played some 4K video on the display while taking the 10fastfingers.com typing test on the TV, and found that performance didn't stutter at all. The video was smooth, and I managed to type at my average rate of 100 wpm with a 2 percent error rate, and experienced no lag.
I tried swapping out the VGA for a mini DisplayPort cable and found that it didn't play nice. No matter how I hooked up the monitors, the DisplayPort would only work on its own. It powered monitors at 2560 x 1440, but not in tandem with either VGA or HDMI cables. That isn't something consumers should have to think about with their dock; it should be plug and play.
The alternative is to use just one display at 4K with the HDMI cable. In this setup, we had similar experiences with typing and video watching.
Due out later this spring, Plugable's $179 USB-C Triple Display Docking Station was far less fussy in our tests. The DisplayLink chip inside handled three monitors at once (via two HDMI cables and DVI), one of which output at full 4K.
The Dell WD15 Docking Station is a strong performer, once you get the right combination of monitors to get it up and running. Its issue with balancing 4K monitors and lack of a USB Type-C port for adapters to use with older laptops mean that, while the dock is aiming to be future-proof, it's still a little hard to use today. Plugable's upcoming USB-C Triple Display Docking Station offers a better and cheaper solution, powering up to three monitors, one of which can be 4K, for $20 less.