Not that long ago, docking a laptop was a new idea to me. Since then, I've set up two different laptops for docking, and I've been more than satisfied with how this configuration works. This article describes how I set up the laptop docking stations and gives tips and guidance for anyone considering the same.
How I discovered docking
I began 2020 with one laptop: a Darter Pro purchased from System76 the year before. It had been more than adequate, and I enjoyed the freedom of movement that toting a laptop gave me. Then, of course, everything changed.
Suddenly, I was at home all the time. Instead of an occasional video conference, remote meetings and get-togethers became the norm. I grew tired of the little square images of colleagues on the Darter Pro's 15.6-inch display, and the included 256 GB Non-Volatile Memory express (NVMe) drive was a limited amount of storage for my needs.
I purchased an Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) kit and a 27-inch LCD display, rearranged my office with a table, and settled into this new paradigm. Later in the year, I built another, more powerful NUC with an i7 processor, 32 GB of RAM, and a terabyte NVMe drive to accommodate video games and the video converted from old family 8mm movies and VHS tapes.
Now I had a laptop and a desktop (both running Linux distributions, of course). I regularly met with colleagues and friends on a variety of video conferencing platforms, and I thoroughly enjoyed the increased desktop real estate afforded by the 27-inch display.
Fast-forward 18 months to summer 2022, when I discovered laptop docking stations.
Docking a Linux laptop
I didn't realize I could have docked my Darter Pro using its USB-C port. My appetite for new hardware had me pining for the new HP Dev One, which comes with Pop!_OS preinstalled, a Ryzen 7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, a terabyte NVMe drive, and two USB-C ports.
Opensource.com alumnus Jay LeCroix has an excellent video explaining how to use USB-C docking with Linux laptops. That's when I began to appreciate the utility of USB-C docking hardware. After watching the video and doing some additional research, I decided to purchase a USB-C docking station for the Darter Pro.
System76 has a list of community-recommended docks, including the Plugable UD-CA1A dock. The Plugable dock claims to work with all Intel and NVIDIA systems, so I decided to order a unit. The dock was easy to set up, and once connected to the Darter Pro, I had the best of both worlds. I had the freedom to move when I wanted to and the ability to dock if I wanted to. But I needed more storage space than the 256GB drive in the Darter Pro.
My success with the docking station led me to purchase the HP Dev ONE, eager for the increased storage and speed. When it arrived, I quickly set it up. I backed up all the files on the NUC and restored them on my new Dev ONE. The new laptop was easily connected to the docking station.
Docking the Dev ONE
The Dev ONE has two USB-C ports, and either one connects to the dock. It still amazes me that power and video pass through this single port. In addition to the two USB-A ports on my laptop, I now have the additional ports on the docking station. The Plugable dock comes with a headphone jack, microphone jack, 4K high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) output, one USB-C port on the rear, three USB-A 3.0 ports in the front, two USB-A 2.0 ports on the back, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. My new laptop has a webcam, but I plug an external webcam into one of the rear USB ports to accommodate video conferencing when I'm docked.
I enjoy the flexibility and power that docking has added to my workflow. I use video conferencing daily, and when I do, I'm docked and connected to a 27-inch display. I love how easy it is to transition from one setup to another. If you're using a laptop with a USB-C port, I recommend looking into a good docking station. It's well worth it.
Or are you already using a dock with your Linux laptop? What are your USB-C docking station recommendations? Be sure to share your experience in the comments below.