Which Surface Pro docking station is best?

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 is the latest in a line of well-engineered and highly streamlined PCs. In fact, it’s one of the extremely rare tablets that’s able to run Windows without any significant slowdowns or hiccups. Nonetheless, its compact size makes it less than ideal for getting large amounts of work done when you sit down in your home office or at your desk at work. To increase productivity and make the most of its powerful hardware, consider adding a docking station. The iVanky VCC01 Thunderbolt 3 Dock is our top pick.

What to know before you buy a Surface Pro docking station

Docking stations vs. USB hubs

When people talk about docking stations, they usually mean stationary devices that you plug your desktop peripherals into (e.g. monitor, keyboard, mouse and external storage cables) in order to quickly and easily turn your laptop or tablet into a de facto desktop PC. By contrast, a USB hub is usually thought of as a highly portable device that can often fit in a pocket and offers an expanded port selection.

In reality, the two devices are remarkably similar and in some cases nearly interchangeable. The only consistent functional difference is that docking stations usually plug into the wall via a DC barrel plug, while USB hubs almost always require a standalone USB-C charger in order to power a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

The Surface Pro 8 has two Thunderbolt 4 ports

Thunderbolt 3 and 4 aren’t significantly different, but Thunderbolt 4 does introduce minimum bandwidth specifications and increased reliability which means you can use passive cables up to 6 feet long without the speed or consistency degrading. Interestingly, it took until the 8th-generation Surface Pro tablet for Microsoft to make the jump to Thunderbolt 3 or better. One of these Thunderbolt 4 ports is where you’ll plug your tablet into a docking station.

Thunderbolt 3/4 vs. USB-C

Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4, USB 3.1 Gen2 and USB4 are examples of USB protocols that define the speed and capabilities of ports and the cables that run between them. By contrast, USB Type-C or USB-C is the actual physical connector that’s currently taking over much of the portable electronics world. It’s a small-looking distinction that actually makes a huge difference when comparing specs and features of various technologies and products.

What to look for in a quality Surface Pro docking station

Video outputs

One of the principal reasons many users need a docking station is to accommodate additional displays without using up all available USB-C ports. A majority of docking stations and hubs sport HDMI outputs and a select few boast DisplayPort connectors. Some docking stations are also equipped with Thunderbolt passthrough ports that utilize a protocol called DisplayPort over USB Alt Mode, which basically turns a USB-C port into a DisplayPort as long as you have the right USB-C to Thunderbolt adapter or cable.

SD card readers

An SD card reader (especially a full-size one) is a great way to add high-speed SSD storage to your setup without sacrificing space or needing to carry around a bulky portable hard drive.

Advanced audio outputs

If you want to get anything better than common analog stereo audio from your Surface Pro 8, you’ll need a quality docking station. Look for one with an optical audio output, which makes it easy to connect to a high-end stereo or surround-sound receiver to transmit lossless audio.

How much you can expect to spend on a Surface Pro docking station

The most affordable USB hub dongles run just under $40, while the best full-fledged high-end docking stations will set you back over $300.

Surface Pro docking station FAQ

How many monitors does the Surface Pro 8 support?

A. You can drive two monitors at once in addition to the Surface Pro 8’s main display. This is part of the Thunderbolt 4 specification. However, you can increase that number if you opt for a docking station or hub with DisplayLink video adapter chipsets inside.

Is it better to charge via USB-C or the Surface Connect port?

A. As long as your charger and cable are both rated for 100W of USB-C Power Delivery or better, charging speed and reliability should be the same for either method. Keep in mind that most USB-powered hubs use some electricity to manage their ports, so if you’re delivering 100W to, for example, an 8-in-1 hub, you’ll probably only have about 85W left for your laptop. In this example, there’s still plenty of power left over for the Surface Pro 8, which only requires 65W.

Is the official Microsoft Surface Dock 2 any good?

A. While we would love to recommend Microsoft’s own in-house laptop connectivity solution, the truth is that it’s far overpriced for its limited port selection in addition to being plagued by dropout and general reliability issues. Don’t worry, though, because there are plenty of great third-party options.

What’s the best Surface Pro docking station to buy?

Top Surface Pro docking station

iVanky VCC01 Thunderbolt 3 Dock

iVanky VCC01 Thunderbolt 3 Dock

What you need to know: It’s a full-featured laptop dock with a built-in power supply and plenty of data throughput.

What you’ll love: It offers nearly full-speed Thunderbolt 3 pass-through in addition to multiple common USB Type A and C and ports, some of which support the 10Gbps Gen 2 standard. The front-mounted SD and microSD card readers are at the cutting edge of flash memory readers in terms of speed and the combination optical audio and S/PDIF jack on the back helps transmit high-fidelity audio from your tablet PC to a hi-fi stereo system.

What you should consider: There’s only a single dedicated HDMI port, so you’ll have to use a Thunderbolt-enabled monitor or an appropriate adapter if you want more than one alternate display.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top Surface Pro docking station for the money

Anker 341 USB-C Hub

Anker 341 USB-C Hub

What you need to know: This straightforward USB-C port replicator is as compact and affordable as they come.

What you’ll love: It has everything most users need to set their laptop up for stationary use, including about 85 watts of USB Power Delivery passthrough, an HDMI output and microSD card readers. Plus, it will set you back less than $40, a price no full-size docks can claim.

What you should consider: Since it doesn’t have a built-in power supply, you’ll need a 100W USB-C charger to take advantage of the power passthrough. Also, it doesn’t have an ethernet port.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

UTechSmart 12-in-1 Hub

UTechSmart 12-in-1 Hub

What you need to know: Even though it’s pocket-sized, it offers more connectivity options than many full-size models.

What you’ll love: If you need multiple displays, this is the hub to choose, as it sports internal DisplayLink graphics chipsets that enable just about any PC to drive four screens at the same time. Aside from its novel graphics capability, its ethernet jack and wealth of USB ports make it hard to pass up.

What you should consider: You’ll need to purchase a separate charger to power this one, as well.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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