Technology: Laptop Docking Stations & Port Replicators - What's Best For You?
If you like the flexibility of toting your laptop with you when you visit clients or take a business trip, but also want a full size monitor and keyboard at your permanent workstation, a docking station or a port replicator will let you have the best of both worlds. Docking stations and port replicators are designed to be permanently located in your most frequently used workspace – for most people that’s their office or their home office. Both devices have ports that connect to a full-sized monitor and keyboard as well as connections for a mouse and most other peripherals. Determining which device is best for you will depend on the capabilities of your laptop and what features you need most when you’re at your desk.
Port replicators - as their name suggests - do little more than duplicate the ports your laptop features. If you have, or plan to buy, a top-of-the-line laptop with a full range of features including an optical drive, PC card slots, and plenty of ports and hard drive space, a port replicator will probably be the appropriate choice for you. The ports on a port replicator are pass-through ports only. This means they rely on the laptop for data transmission capability and they don’t add to, or enhance, the functionality or networking speed of the laptop.
Various models may offer different options but most port replicators will include ports for a PS/2 mouse and a key board, as well as ports for an external display, USB, audio and networking. Laptops made by major manufacturers frequently have proprietary ports that will require you to buy your replicator from the same source. If you are not tied to a particular brand, it pays to shop around. Port replicators range from $50 to about $150.
Docking stations work in a very similar fashion to the less expensive replicators. They offer the same pass-through ports as port replicators, but they also can add additional capabilities that the laptop lacks, and provide the user with a host of functions when he or she "docks" the portable laptop at home or at the office.
Docking stations can be a real boon to frequent business travelers. Business executives can take advantage of the convenience and portability that thin and ultra light laptops offer on the road and then plug them into a docking station at home to get the additional features and capabilities the ultra-light streamlined laptops lack.
Features vary with different models, but most docking stations offer additional bays for optical or hard drives, memory card readers, PC card slots, digital audio and display hubs, and USB hubs. Prices are higher than port replicators. Depending upon the features and capabilities you want, expect to pay from $150 to $400 for a docking station.