Laptop docks or docking stations were all the rage a decade or so ago. While they come in different shapes and sizes, most add standard desktop PC features to laptops.
Above all, docks add ports so you can connect large displays, network hardware, extra storage and so on while charging your computer.
As the name suggests docks connect your laptop to the hardware. In the past they would include cradles, you would literally dock your laptop into the desktop section.
Thunderbolt and USB-C
Today most docks use less elaborate connectors. The NZ$345 plus GST HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock connects to, say, the HP Elitebook Folio G1 via one of the computer’s two USB-C ports at one end and a combined Thunderbolt and power cable at the other.
The best docks are built for a fast connection, so you don’t need to fiddle with lots of awkward cables when you are in a hurry. In the case of the Elite Thunderbolt 3, that means unplugging a single connector.
Versatile Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock
Although HP sells the Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock with its own computers, the dock may work with other computer maker’s hardware if they support Thunderbolt 3.
As you can see from the photo the dock is an elegant two-tone grey oblong measuring 229 by 57 mm. It is 18 mm deep. That means it is small enough to sit under a monitor or in a draw when not in use.
A textured rubber base stops the dock from sliding across your desk. The front has a power button which lights when the dock is working. There are two USB 3.0 ports and an audio jack.
On the back you’ll find the combined Thunderbolt – power sockets. There’s also a gigabit Ethernet port, a VGA port and a cable lock socket so you can secure the dock. There are two USB 3.0 ports and two DisplayPort along with a USB Type-C port that supports Thunderbolt.
Instead of including the transformer in the dock, HP uses a separate power brick which has its own power cable.
The cables are long enough to reach a power point a couple of metres away. HP has also included a long enough lead for the brick to stay on the floor, there’s no need for it to sit next to the dock on your desk.
If you use the dock at a single desk, this arrangement is fine. If you hot desk, or move often between desks and have to move everything with you, it could be cumbersome to carry a laptop, dock, brick and power cable. There’s also more to forget.
The good news is the entire ensemble only weighs 650g. The bad news is you going to need more of a laptop bag or briefcase if you need to carry everything around town or even between cities.
HP has left off some of the possible options, there’s no HDMI or DVI. If you need these, you’ll have to find an adaptor.
According to HP the Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock can support two 4K monitors. We’ve only got one, so tested that working in tandem with the laptop’s built-in UHD display. There were no performance issues to report although the dock gets warm after a while.
Thanks to the arrival of minimalist ultraportable laptops like the HP models, Microsoft Surface Pro and MacBooks desktop docks look set for a comeback.
While Wi-fi and Bluetooth can carry a lot of the connectivity load, cables are still needed for high-definition video. Today’s lighted laptops have the bare minimum number of ports, that’s fine for some users, but many prefer more physical network or storage connections.
HP’s Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock is an elegant and straightforward way of delivering the extra ports. It looks good and doesn’t get in the way.