| After a few days of travel, there's nothing quite like coming home to fresh clothes, your own bed, and a docking station to drop your notebook into. Rather than plugging in all of your connections one by one--DSL, mouse, keyboard, external monitor, and so on--a good dock or port replicator can reduce that tangle of wires and plugs to one convenient point of contact. It's no wonder that vendors report as many as 60 percent of business buyers and 20 percent of home users are picking these up with their notebook purchases.
We've taken a look at eight docks and port replicators from a handful of today's top notebook makers. Docks, such as the Dell Inspiron Desktop Replacement Bundle, typically incorporate some version of a laptop stand in addition to a variety of ports, and sometimes they include extra features such as speakers.
Incorporating a desktop stand and a variety of ports, Dell's Inspiron Desktop Replacement Bundle is a true docking station.
Port replicators, on the other hand, such as the IBM ThinkPad X40 UltraBase, are usually a simple attachment that snaps onto the back of the notebook to offer an assortment of inputs and outputs.
Each system consolidates a notebook's cables and plugs into one easy-to-make connection, but the best provide additional ports (including DVI for connecting to an LCD or plasma screen), quality speakers, and adjustability options for tilting the keyboard and raising the notebook's display to eye level. The snag is that each dock is compatible with only a handful of specific models at best--or only one or two at worst--so your choices are limited. With that in mind, we've included two universal port replicators that will work with any notebook that has a USB connection--that is, almost all of them.
The simple IBM UltraBase adds a portable batch of inputs and outputs to the ThinkPad X40 notebook.
Over the course of a month, we snapped test notebooks in and out of these docking stations and replicators hundreds of times, tried out their capabilities, and measured how fast they moved data. We judged them on the number and variety of ports provided, design, versatility, warranty coverage, and technical support terms (see Editors' rating: docks and port replicators for details). We found that the best docks and port replicators enhanced their companion notebooks' usefulness, connected easily to peripherals, and made coming home that much easier.
To learn more about how we evaluated these docks, check out the explanations of our editors' ratings for docks and port replicators.
Check out our handy chart to compare these docks and port replicators side by side.
Read the CNET editor's take