Review: Plugable USB-C Docking Station with Triple Display

Produced by Young Jeohn

If you're tired of plugging/unplugging your mouse, keyboard, monitor and other peripherals every time you have to take your laptop somewhere, you need to check out this docking station by Plugable Technologies.

This is Plugable's triple display docking station that let's you connect up to three monitors (four if you count your laptop's display). By using the USB-C port, you have the potential of only having to connect one cable!

It's a compact piece of gear that stands upright, saving you desk space. The front has ports for quick access, like the headphone and microphone jacks, and a USB-C and USB 3.0 ports that share 1.5A of power.

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The back has everything else:

  • 3 x USB 3.0,
  • 1 x Gigabit ethernet
  • 2 x HDMI
  • 1 x DVI
  • 1 x USB-C (to connect to your host computer)
  • 1 x power

Both sides of the docking station have slits (to presumably allow for air flow), so you shouldn't lay it on its side if you can help it. It's also pretty hefty when it comes to weight, so it won't topple over. The base plate looks removable should you want, by removing two screws.

The outer material is a shiny plastic; an easily scratchable fingerprint magnet, but otherwise a good looking piece of kit that doesn't take away from a clean and orderly looking desk.

THE POWER ISSUE

Power seems to be a strange issue where USB-C is concerned. This Plugable docking station provides 60 Watts of power delivery via the USB-C cable to your laptop - but there's a catch. Your laptop manufacturer has to have enabled this function!

It's hit or miss with the USB-C standard since it's up to the laptop makers to decide how they want to implement this feature. You'll have no idea of knowing if it'll work until you actual plug in the cable (and trust me, your instruction manual won't tell you either.)

To Plugable's credit, they show a compatibility list of known laptops on their website. So if you want to know what works and what doesn't (or if you want to share with them what you've found to (not) work on your own laptop), head on over to plugable.com and look for this triple docking station page.

SETTING UP IS A BREEZE

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The first thing to do after opening the box is to download and install the DisplayLink graphics drivers from plugable.com. It's much easier if you have a Windows machine, but if you don't, please see "Who it's not for" section below.

After that, simply plugging in the necessary cables should automagically make things work without a hitch for most peripherals.

WHO IT'S NOT FOR

For most folks the Plugable docking station works perfectly well, but it can't be all things to all people. For example, it probably won't go well for you if you happen to be one of three groups:

1. a Mac user with an OS higher than High Sierra 10.13.3
There's a known issue with newer Apple products where the graphics drivers won't work. Stick to High Sierra 10.13.3 and below for full compatibility.

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2. Gamers looking for a multi monitor setup
Want to make use of that fancy monitor with quick refresh rate? No can do - since this product is USB based, you won't have any control over any discrete GPU settings you may want to make. Changes will not have any effect on the screen's output.

3. Graphics pros who need to calibrate their monitors
Again, graphics are controlled via USB, so color calibration software will have no effect on the output to screen. One possible workaround is to plug your monitor directly into the graphics port of your laptop.

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THE TRIPLE DISPLAY MISNOMER

I think a lot of people will misunderstand what Plugable means by "triple display". Rather than three monitors being on simultaneously, it's more about having the choice between three options for getting your display to connect.

If you look on the back of the docking station, you'll see three display ports - HDMI 2K, HDMI 4K and DVI. The HDMI 2K will work with almost all computers that have an HDMI port (but I've only ever gotten Full HD - that is, 1920 x 1080 as the largest screen size option.)

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The HDMI 4K port is DisplayPort over USB-C Alternate Mode, which also must be supported by the laptop manufacturer in order for it to work. In Full HD resolution, you'll get a 60Hz refresh rate while a 4K output will result in 30Hz.

There's also a DVI to VGA adapter that comes with the package, so in effect, you can also connect via DVI and VGA type connectors, giving you the ability to choose between four kinds of displays.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In an ideal world, you'll finally be able to plug in just ONE cable to connect to everything plus charge your laptop at the same time. The problem is, it all depends on how your laptop manufacturer decided to implement USB-C. Some people will luck out and have everything work. Others will have partial success.

In my case, I have to plug in my power adapter separately because my laptop doesn't have USB-C power delivery implemented. Nor does it have DisplayPort over USB, rendering that HDMI 4K port useless (for me). Everything else is handled by the dock, removing the need for having to plug in five more peripherals. That saves me time, aggravation and wear-and-tear of having to plug/unplug so many leads.

My only gripe is lack of color calibration control. Since my work in photography, video editing and graphic design requires color accuracy, I'm forced to plug my monitor directly into the HDMI port of my laptop. But in the end, it's not a bad compromise since it allows me to use three displays should I want to.

CONCLUSION

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The Plugable Triple Display USB-C Docking Station is a great piece of gear that's certainly worth a look for people who want to save time and lifespan of their equipment. If you need color calibration, you could compromise like I did, but if you don't need that many screens and/or your laptop doesn't let you charge via USB, you're probably better off just buying a USB hub for your peripherals.

So if you're not penny pinching for the cheapest option that comes with zero support, the US $250 MSRP (under $200 if you snoop around) price is worth it considering Plugable's reputation for going above and beyond with their customer service and support. I mean, they ARE based in the United States.

More info: https://plugable.com
(Test unit provided by Plugable for this review)

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Young Jeohn

Adding creative flair to Otakus & Geeks with his videos, photos and written musings. Having lived abroad with extensive travel experience from Scandinavian ice castles to the fashionable Harajuku district in Tokyo, he carries knowledge from old-skool anime days and enjoys eating with chopsticks (with expert precision), talking shop with companies large and small and other questionable activities he can't talk about in public. His website lives at http://www.YoungFromNewYork.com