What are Docking Stations and Port Replicators?
What is a docking station?
A Docking Station, also called a Port Replicator, is literally a piece of kit which your laptop docks with. In practicality, it provides a single point of connection for a laptop in the office, rather than separately plugging in a power adaptor, monitor, keyboard, mouse, monitor, network cable and maybe a printer. All of these things remain plugged into the docking station permanently, and the laptop connects to it quickly and without wearing the main connectors (like power).
What’s the advantage?
Docking stations make things very convenient for the travelling worker, especially ergonomically when they are in the office and have the opportunity to work on a full-sized keyboard, mouse and monitor. This can help prevent eyestrain, back pain and various other ailments.
What’s the downside?
Not all laptops dock, and docks are not universal. Those that do tend to be ‘enterprise-class’ and therefore attract a higher price tag. In addition, there is a cost for the docking station and the associated peripherals. This can make the whole setup look rather expensive. Docking stations are specific to the laptop make and model, so don’t assume that a HP laptop will dock on a HP docking station – the connections change between laptop ‘generations’.
Is there an alternative?
There are appearing now USB docking stations. These provide a ‘cheap’ and universal alternative, since all laptops now have a USB port. They vary in quality and functionality; not all have a VGA port for a monitor, for example, and even fewer have the new digital DVI monitor ports. They do not provide power to the laptop, so you still need to plug in your power adaptor (buying a second power supply to leave at the office is a good idea), and they therefore cause wear and tear on both the power connector on the laptop, and the USB connectors. Nevertheless, they remain popular for a variety of reasons.