Difference Between Dock and Ports

The nine most common mistakes when buying a docking station

Docking stations are practically indispensable in shared desk environments and in the home office. They are essential in modern notebooks, which often only have one or two connections. Here on our blog you will find many tests and comparisons of different docking stations so that you can find the right one.

1. Fault: Notebook and docking station are not compatible

This is a very frustrating mistake, the new docking station has been received, but it doesn't work. Be it because the appropriate docking connection is not available on the notebook or, for example, the display port via USB-C function is missing on a USB-C docking station. With us you can be sure that a docking station will fit a notebook if it is listed on the notebook. There are also docking stations that have a USB-C connection, but also offer the option of being connected via USB 3.0. This also allows you to connect older devices and use the full functions of the dock. We have listed them here in our shop. Please note that the notebook can only be charged via USB-C and that even then it does not work on every notebook with a USB-C port.

2. Error: I connected my docking station, but a monitor remains black

A common problem, especially with USB-C docking stations, is that they only support multiple screens to a limited extent. This is often because the notebook only supports a limited number of external displays through one port. One example is the Lenovo USB-C Dock Gen2, which supports up to two 4k displays with the latest Lenovo notebooks. However, only one high-resolution monitor is supported by other notebooks in combination with this one. With the ThinkPad T480 or L380, for example, a maximum resolution of 1920 × 1080 is supported with two monitors, e.g. if two 4k monitors are connected, the second one remains black. The best way around this is to connect the second monitor to a second HDMI or USB-C port.

3. Error: The notebook battery is not charged

Very annoying, the new docking station connected to the monitor, mouse, keyboard, etc., the notebook plugged in and after a few hours of work you notice that the battery is almost empty. There are several reasons why the notebook's battery is not charged. First you should check whether you have connected a power supply unit to your docking station, whether it works and is sufficiently powerful. To check whether the power supply is working, you can disconnect your notebook from the dock and watch whether all status lights go out or not. If you are missing a power supply unit, you will also find the right one for your docking station in our shop.

The second reason is unfortunately less easy to fix and occurs mainly on notebooks with a USB-C port. Not all notebooks that have a USB-C port also support charging via this. So if there is a proprietary dock for your notebook, this is preferable, as there are often fewer problems here.

4. Fault: The wrong USB-C port used.

Not every notebook supports all functions of the complicated standard via every connection. Thunderbolt 3, charging via USB-C and display port via USB-C, are particularly problematic; not every notebook supports these functions on every USB-C port.

Because the physical connection supports several protocols. On the one hand, USB, as you are used to from the old, rectangular connection, and a DisplayPort signal can also be transmitted via this connection, so that monitors can be connected. There is also the so-called USB-C Power Delivery Standard, with which a notebook can be charged via the USB-C port. Finally, there is the Thunderbolt 3 standard, which also uses this connector. Thunderbolt is discussed in more detail in point six, but if the USB-C port is marked with a small lightning bolt, this is usually preferable as a connection for a docking station.

In particular, cheaper notebooks often have USB-C ports, which functionally do not differ from the old USB 3.0 in type A design. The use of docking stations and port replicators is only possible to a limited extent here. In most cases, only those can be used that can also be connected to a rectangular USB type A port.

If you are rightly confused by all of the USB specifications, we have a blog post to help you understand. Before buying a notebook, find out which protocols the ports on your notebook support.

Don't worry about compatibility, you don't have to worry if you order a docking station that is listed in our shop for your notebook model. We have checked them beforehand so that you can also buy docking stations that are not from the manufacturer of your notebook.

5. Error: Dock not working? Have you connected the power supply

Modern docking stations are very complicated and consist of many different components. Therefore it may be that you need an external power supply, even if it is connected via USB. It is therefore essential to connect the power supply unit supplied.

6. Error: Thunderbolt, USB-C, USB 3.0, ... What's the difference?

When Apple completely relied on Thunderbolt 3 for its computers in 2016 and no longer built any other connection, the popularity of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 suddenly increased. Now there are many peripherals that use one of these standards. However, it should be noted that these two protocols are very different, even if you are using the same connection.

Thunderbolt can be used to transmit so-called PCIe signals. PCIe is also used for computer internal extensions such as graphics cards, network cards, but also modern NVMe SSDs and is much faster and more versatile than USB. Since USB-C does not support this, most Thunderbolt 3 devices cannot be used on every USB-C port.

As already mentioned, Thunderbolt 3 is more versatile than USB-C and therefore also supports all USB-C devices that do not use Thunderbolt. However, there are also Thunderbolt 3 devices that also support USB-C, so make sure when buying whether this is explicitly stated. Unfortunately, it can happen that you have to make certain compromises. It is often not possible to connect multiple high-resolution monitors via USB-C or the transmission speed of e.g. external SSDs is reduced.

7. Error: Port Replicator or Docking Station? What is the difference?

In our shop we differentiate between port replicators and docking stations. What you choose depends entirely on your personal needs. In general, one can say that docking stations are only compatible with a certain series of notebooks, whereas port replicators, which are usually connected via USB-C or Thunderbolt, can be used with a variety of devices. Unfortunately, it must also be said that docking stations often function more smoothly due to the better coordination with the notebook. Unfortunately, despite being able to connect them to the notebook, there are problems with port replicators, as described in point 6. This blog post provides more information about the distinction.

You will have the fewest problems with compatibility if you buy a docking solution that is offered in our shop for your notebook model.

8. Error: Notebook configuration and driver

After you have connected your new port replicator, it does not work properly, although it is even listed as compatible on the manufacturer's website. There could possibly be a software problem here.

If you use a Thunderbolt device, you usually have to "activate" it in the operating system or BIOS of your notebook. Thunderbolt devices can access your computer's RAM directly and therefore require additional security measures.

Port replicators use different devices internally for e.g. audio and video output. Therefore, you may have to install a suitable driver for these functions, even though the e.g. USB hub function is already working.

Docking stations are often simpler in this regard. These often have less internal logic, but simply forward the connections of the notebook. They are therefore also suitable for older operating systems that cannot yet handle Thunderbolt or if you do not have the necessary authorizations on your work laptop.

9. Fault: Too many monitors

Anyone who works a lot on a computer knows that more monitors increase productivity. That's why you connected all three connections on your docking station to a display, but not all of them show an image.

The problem is that many docking stations and port replicators have more video connections than they support monitors. Many USB-C replicators offer an HDMI and VGA connection so that you can, for example, connect to a modern television and an older projector, but both connections cannot be used at the same time. Which connections can be used at the same time and which are not is usually marked on the device itself or can be found in the manual.

Please also note that many notebooks only support three displays. If you have found a docking solution that supports three displays, you have to deactivate the display of your notebook in order to be able to use three external ones. It is usually sufficient if you close it after docking.

Conclusion

We hope that this article has helped you to fix possible errors with your docking station or your port replicator. If you are still looking for a suitable docking solution, you will find it in our shop.

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