We recently moved into a new office, and our office manager really wants us to keep our desks clean. Ever since Humanscale bolted its M/Connect 2 dock and monitor arm to my desk, I've had no doubts that it's possible. The dock has not only moved bulky monitor stands off my desk but also positioned most of my cables underneath, providing a clean surface for me to work while also powering a 4K monitor and charging my laptop via a single USB Type-C cable. At a price ranging from $300 to $799, the M/Connect 2 doesn't come cheap, but it offers something no other docking station provides: additional real estate on your actual desktop.
Like the original M/Connect, the M/Connect 2 isn't an ordinary dock. It attaches to a monitor arm, making it more of an all-in-one ergonomic solution. At a glance, it hasn't changed much. The split-level dock clamps onto your desk, with a primary hub on top that rests under your monitors and even adds more ports underneath your desk.
While these parts are aesthetically similar (the top is still white, though the bottom is now black), you'll notice some changes from the original M/Connect if you look very closely. For starters, the right side of the hub now features a lock slot, USB 3.0 and USB Type-C. Here's the rub: Those ports are for charging only. Humanscale told me that this is because some corporate customers don't want employees connecting hard drives or smartphones but still want an option for charging. However, I wish it had an option to make those ports part of the hub for the many users who don't work in a locked-down environment.
In total, the M/Connect 2 has five USB 3.0 ports, one Ethernet jack, one 3.5mm audio jack, two full-size DisplayPorts and one USB Type-C port that makes the connection to your laptop. In addition, there are charging-only USB 3.0 and USB Type-C connectors on the right side.
I wish the dock came with adapters, because not every laptop works with DisplayPort. If you have HDMI monitors or, like some businesses, older DVI or VGA monitors, you'll need to buy some adapters.
The front is the same as on the prior model, with two USB 3.0 ports and a single 3.5mm audio jack, but the ports are now on the left. This doesn't have any effect on usability, though. The cord on the left, which connects to a laptop, can't be simply pulled out. Instead, it requires you to use an Allen wrench to remove it. Humanscale suggests this will keep employees in hot-desking offices from taking the cable with them. That cable now supports both USB Type-C laptops and USB 3.0 with an attached adapter, making it future-proof. If you're using a Type-C laptop, you won't need to use a power supply for the laptop, since it will charge through the dock.
The port selection on the underside of the dock, beneath the desk, includes three more USB 3.0 ports, two DisplayPorts and an Ethernet jack.
Monitor Arm and Installation
The dock keeps my desk empty and tidy. What people notice is the massive arm sticking out of the top. My test model, the M8 Crossbar, is designed for two 20-pound monitors and is made of steel and aluminum. It's the same as last year's model; only the dock has changed. You can fit two 24-inch screens but only one larger display. In my testing, though, I ended up using only one 28-inch monitor that took up the majority of the space on the bar.
There's a handle attached to the crossbar to easily adjust the monitor, but I really didn't touch it much once I found a comfortable position for the monitor. The sole exception was when I wanted to show what was on my screen to people next to me.
All of that's great, but it takes some serious setup. It requires a mix of tools, including several different Allen wrenches and some Phillips-head screwdrivers for mounting VESA plates on your monitors. You'll have to thread cables and the dock behind your desk and tighten everything properly, which means getting on your hands and knees and putting in some elbow grease. Most users will never have to worry about this, though; if the companies they work for buy these, IT departments will likely set these up.
If you have your own monitor setup that you don't want to move, you can still get a version of the M/Connect 2 without a monitor-arm attachment.
Humanscale claims that the M/Connect 2 works with dual 4K monitors, which is probably overkill for many people. At my desk, I had room for only one 28-inch 4K screen.
My current work machine is a Dell XPS 15 with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU. While people using laptops connected by USB 3.0 will use the dock's DisplayLink DL-6950 chip, I used USB Type-C over Alt Mode. I didn't notice any hiccups with my normal workload, which included multiple Google Chrome tabs, HipChat, Tweeten, Spotify and Outlook running.
The only real issue I had was the power supply. While most people with business notebooks will be fine, my Dell XPS 15's GPU needs more power than the average laptop. The 65-watt power supply wasn't enough for the XPS 15, and I was greeted by BIOS warnings that it would not charge at full speed. For normal use, that's fine, but when I booted up the video game Tacoma, I found that the laptop would lose a charge in just a few minutes with the GTX 1050 active. If you're video editing or photo editing on a workstation, you'll need to use the charger that came with your laptop.
Pricing is tough for something like the Humanscale, because it's sold more like furniture than traditional tech. The dock on its own sells for about $300, while the arms range in price. While the simplest arm, the M2, is listed as starting at $249 on the company's website, Humanscale told us that arms typically cost $130 to $275 for the double. Though you can buy it directly from the site, a representative told us that contacting the company directly to find the nearest dealer will likely get you a better price.
The Humanscale M/Connect 2 is useful, it eliminated one more cable from my life (in this case, the power cable to my XPS 15) and it keeps my desk nice and clean. Sure, it's a pain in the butt to put together, but once it's on there, it's rewarding to use. My only real gripe with it is that the two ports on the right side of the top hub -- USB 3.0 and USB Type-C -- are for charging only. I understand why some businesses might want this, but for those that don't, something feels like it's being taken away (especially when I'm using the only Type-C port on my computer to connect to the dock).
The upgrade to support 4K finally feels like it will outlast most monitors, and even if you don't have USB Type-C, it will work with USB 3.0 computers until you do. If you don't have several hundred dollars to spend on a dock and a monitor arm, consider the $179 Plugable USB-C Triple Display Dock, which gives you support for three monitors (one in 4K) and an extra USB-C port for data. My desk is clean, and any computer I could reasonably want to use works. The HR department and I are happy.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag