6 USB 3.0 docking stations: Fully connect your laptop

These six docks link to your laptop via a single USB 3.0 cable to make a multitude of connections, from the mundane to the multifunction.

Six universal docking stations

After a long road trip, nothing says "Welcome home!" like the convenience of plugging your notebook into a docking station in order to consolidate all its connections into one device. The latest crop of universal docks can connect your laptop to a variety of devices and do it with USB 3.0, which offers a 10-fold speed advantage over older docks.

Here are six docks that rely on a single USB cable to make a variety of connections, from the mundane (mouse, keyboard and external hard drive) to the multimedia (external monitors and surround-sound audio). But while they are called universal, these docks only work with Windows laptops and none can charge the computer's battery the way a dedicated dock can.

Still, they make connecting quicker and easier.

HP 3005pr USB 3.0 Port Replicator

While it calls itself a port replicator, the HP 3005pr USB 3.0 Port Replicator (Price, $149 direct, check Amazon price) has the features of a full-fledged docking station. In addition to a pair of USB 3.0 ports, the device has four USB 2.0 ports. There's also a Gigabit Ethernet port, as well as audio ports for headphones and a microphone.

Its HDMI and DisplayPort connections can serve up resolutions of 2560 x 1600 for a single monitor or 1920 x 1152 for each of two screens. The HP 3005pr conveniently installs its software automatically, which is stored on the unit on flash memory chips.

Best for: Business users who use a variety of peripherals.

Kensington USB 3.0 Docking Station with Dual DVI/HDMI/VGA Video sd3500v

Expected to ship the first week of November, the Kensington USB 3.0 Docking Station with Dual DVI/HDMI/VGA Video sd3500v (price, $169.99 direct, check Amazon price) provides six USB connections: two USB 3.0 ports up front and four USB 2.0 ports in the back. With both HDMI and DVI video ports, the Kensington dock can put out 2048 x 1152 resolution video streams to two displays; its video driver can be installed across an entire company's systems using Microsoft Server.

There are microphone and headphone jacks as well as a Gigabit Ethernet connection. The black plastic dock comes with a snap-on base. To save a little money, try the lower-end sd3000v, which lacks the HDMI port but costs $30 less.

Best for: Heavy-duty users who want high-end video.

Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock

Don't let its name fool you -- the Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock works with any notebook that has a USB 3.0 port. The only one of the five docks here to go exclusively with the USB 3.0 spec, the ThinkPad Dock has five USB 3.0 ports and no USB 2.0 ports; it can work with older USB 2.0 equipment, though.

There's also a single audio jack, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a pair of DVI ports that can drive two screens, each with a maximum 2048 x 1152 resolution. The $119.99 device, direct, (Check Amazon price) is clothed in basic black, and the dot over the "i" in ThinkPad logo glows red when it's on. 

Best for: Those who depends on USB 3.0 devices.

Plugable UD-3000 USB 3.0 Universal Docking Station

At $89, direct, Plugable's UD-3000 USB 3.0 Universal Docking Station is a good deal. It offers a pair of USB 3.0 ports up front, four USB 2.0 ports in the back and a Gigabit Ethernet port. There's only one DVI connection for video that can be used with a monitor at up to 2048 x 1152 resolution. The UD-3000 (Check Amazon price) has separate audio jacks for plugging in a microphone and headphones, and the tall black dock comes with a base to keep it from tipping over.

Best for: Bargain hunters who don't need HDMI support.

Targus USB 3.0 SuperSpeed Dual Video Docking Station

At 10.6-in. long, the black wedge-shaped Targus USB 3.0 SuperSpeed Dual Video Docking Station should fit neatly underneath just about any laptop, propping it up to a comfortable typing angle and providing a one-stop connection center. It delivers access to a pair of USB 3.0 ports as well as four USB 2.0 ports; there are individual audio jacks for a microphone and headphones.

The Targus dock has a wired Gigabit Ethernet port and can feed video to a pair of screens with its DVI and HDMI connections that top out at a peak resolution of 2048 x 1152. It sells for $179.99, direct, (Check Amazon price).

Best for: Typists who don't use external keyboards.

Toshiba Dynadock U3.0 Universal USB 3.0 Docking Station

Toshiba's 9.3-in.-high Dynadock U3.0 Universal USB 3.0 Docking Station provides one thing the others don't: The luxury of surround-sound audio. The $161.99 Dynadock U3.0 (Check Amazon price) has two jacks for front and rear speakers and a third that can be used for a center channel or subwoofer; as a result, it can deliver fuller and richer sound.

The black and chrome device has ports for four USB 3.0 connections -- the most of any dock here -- as well as a pair of USB 2.0 slots. In addition to Gigabit Ethernet, it has DVI and HDMI connectors, along with a built-in HD video card that allows it to work with two additional displays at up to 2048 x 1152 resolution.

Best for: Audiophiles who want full, rich sound.