Best DisplayLink docks 2024: Move over, Thunderbolt

Table of Contents

Historically, you’ve had two options to expand the port capabilities of your laptop: an inexpensive USB-C dongle or a more powerful, pricey Thunderbolt docking station. A third option is quietly emerging, trying to split the difference. A DisplayLink docking station (sometimes called a USB-C dock) uses data compression to offer the capabilities of a Thunderbolt dock over a standard USB-C or Thunderbolt cable.

Why buy one? DisplayLink docking stations works great for normal day-to-day productivity, and in my experience the docks are cheaper and more stable than older Thunderbolt 3 desktop docks. They’re an upgrade over our picks for the best USB-C hubs dongles, and cheaper than the best Thunderbolt docking stations for your laptop. They can even support more displays than a native Thunderbolt dock. They’re just not suited for gaming.

If you need a fuller explanation of how DisplayLink works and what it offers, you’ll find that directly under our two recommended DisplayLink docks, below. You’ll also find a FAQ with answers to questions you might have. I base my recommendations on hands-on testing of the DisplayLink docking stations.

Why you should trust me: I’ve worked as a technology journalist for about 30 years, and at PCWorld for the last decade. I’ve tested dozens of USB-C hubs, Thunderbolt docks, and DisplayLink docking stations. I use a docking station in my daily work, connected to multiple 4K displays, and I typically review a handful of new products each month.

Look for the DisplayLink logo to identify it as a DisplayLink dock.

Mark Hachman / IDG

The best DisplayLink docking stations

Though I’ve tested a number of DisplayLink docking stations for laptops, I have two recommended docks. They’re the same picks that appear on PCWorld’s list of the best Thunderbolt desktop docks for your laptop.

Ugreen 9-in-1 USB-C (Revodok) Docking Station CM615 – Best USB-C DisplayLink dock

Pros

Terrific price and value

Excellent stability

Great display port flexibility

Support for two 4K60 displays

Cons

Have to provide your own power supply

Can warm to somewhat alarming temperatures

A lack of naming consistency

Why I liked the Ugreen 9-in-1 USB-C (Revodok) Docking Station CM615

Like some of the premium Thunderbolt docks, Ugreen’s DisplayLink dock provides options to use either HDMI or DisplayPort to connect a display, allowing you to use your existing display cables and save some money.

Like most DisplayLink docks, this dock was unusually stable, with no flickering between displays — one of the reasons I like DisplayLink docks. Some other Thunderbolt docks offer the same flexibility to shift between monitors, but not many. Ugreen’s dock does so affordably.

Who should buy the Ugreen 9-in-1 USB-C (Revodok) Docking Station CM615

If you’re not worried about hunting down the proper software driver (because Ugreen, bless them, does not make it apparent that it needs one) than I would recommend that you buy this dock. It offers many of the features of more expensive Thunderbolt docks at an affordable price.

Read our full

Ugreen 9-in-1 USB-C (Revodok) Docking Station CM615 review

Sonnet Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock – Best USB-C DisplayLink dock runner-up

Pros

Support for three 4K60 displays

Solid value

20W of charging power for smartphones, 100W for laptop

Exemplary documentation

Cons

Direct display connection disconnected once

Poor, glitchy intermittent audio

Why I liked the Sonnet Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock

Sonnet’s Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock follows the intriguing path other DisplayLink docks have blazed: The dock’s built-in compression means you can connect to three 4K displays, without penalty. And yes, it works as advertised, though with one issue that holds it back: spotty audio that really needs to be fixed. (If you use your laptop’s headphone jack, there’s no issue.)

There was a tiny bit of instability, but performance was excellent. And with 20W of charging power for your phone and 100W for your laptop, you’ll be able to power a wider range of notebook options.

Who should buy the Sonnet Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock

The price differential between the Sonnet and Ugreen docks should help answer that question: The Sonnet buyer is willing to pay a little more for what is really a well-made and well-documented dock, with clear instructions. Really, without the price differential and the audio issues, this would be the top dock in the category.

Read our full

Sonnet Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock review

DisplayLink USB-C docks: How DisplayLink works

USB-C hubs, Thunderbolt desktop docks, and now DisplayLink docking stations have emerged because of two factors: the growing ubiquity of do-anything USB-C ports, and the realization by laptop makers that they can use these ports to eliminate all the dedicated HDMI, microUSB, SD card slots, and USB-A ports that can clutter up their notebook PCs.

DisplayLink docks provide some of the native functions of a Thunderbolt dock, namely the ability to drive multiple high-resolution displays. Because of the inherent bandwidth limitations, DisplayLink docking stations offer a good choice for office workers, who can use those extra displays for static applications like email, chat, spreadsheets, or office work.

A USB-C port typically provides 10Gbps of bandwidth. Thunderbolt 3/4, which runs over the same physical USB-C port, supplies 40Gbps. In the real world, that typically means that a USB-C dongle can connect to a single 4K display (at 30Hz) while Thunderbolt can connect to two 4K displays, at 60Hz. DisplayLink can you give the advantages of a 40Gbps Thunderbolt connection via just a 10Gbps USB-C interface.

How? Data compression. A DisplayLink dock can either use a “traditional” 10Gbps USB-C connection, or take advantage of the extra bandwidth provided by an existing Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port. Either way, it uses data compression to squeeze more data throughput over the port. We use data compression every day, in photos and streamed video from YouTube and Netflix, and never notice. It’s the same here; your Windows desktop and applications will look the same.

Two similar products with different characteristics: a Lention USB-C hub (left), which has been previously featured among PCWorld’s recommended USB-C hubs, and the HP Thunderbolt G4 Dock, part of PCWorld’s recommended best Thunderbolt docks.

DisplayLink is a technology owned by Synaptics, meaning it’s a proprietary standard. Each DisplayLink dock has a special DisplayLink chip built inside of it. (DisplayLink docks rarely, if ever, publish which Synaptics chip they use, so a DisplayLink dock’s capabilities may vary by product.)

DisplayLink USB-C docks: Pros and cons

DisplayLink’s data compression means there are two negatives to the technology, which we’ll get out of the way.

While USB-C and Thunderbolt work out of the box, DisplayLink requires a software driver. Without it, it will function as a generic USB-C dock. I’ve never seen any DisplayLink docks use their own unique drivers (though they may). In any case, you can use Synaptics’ official DisplayLink drivers. Most dock makers publish this information right up front, but not all do. (Be sure to reboot after installing it.)

DisplayLink works perfectly well for email, Word, Excel, and anything static, like a web page. But it does have limitations: 10Gbps is a nice chunk of bandwidth. But pushing a ton of data across it will cause images to stutter and hitch. In practice, this means that PC gaming on a DisplayLink dock is iffy: A slow-paced game like Baldur’s Gate 3 should be fine, but a frantic shooter like Battlefield or Helldivers 2 probably won’t give you a good experience at all. Playing 4K video from Netflix or YouTube? It shouldn’t be a problem. Playing 4K video while copying files from a hard drive and downloading a file? Everything will work, albeit slowly.

The big advantage for me is that DisplayLink tends to be really stable. Older Thunderbolt 3 hardware can be a little glitchy when connecting to multiple displays. In my experience, DisplayLink docks aren’t. That matters to some people.

DisplayLink (often with a DisplayLink 4K logo on it) can also connect to multiple displays, even more than Thunderbolt. I don’t have room to neatly show off a photo of three or even four displays, but trust me — I’ve tried it on multiple occasions, and it works. The hitch is that your laptop has to be capable of rendering on four displays, and you’ll typically need to close your laptop to do so. That may mean adjusting the Windows Control Panel to tell your laptop to leave it up and running.

This is only necessary if you are running four 4K displays with a DisplayLink dock.

Mark Hachman / IDG

Can I get a bit nerdy for a second? When you use a DisplayLink dock to connect to more than two displays, there’s even more magic going on behind the scenes. Take a DisplayLink dock like the Plugable UD-6950PDZ, which supports three 4K displays at 60Hz. It uses Synaptics’ most advanced chip, the DL-6950. But the DL-6950 only supports a pair of displays. To enable a third external display, the dock is using DisplayLink for two displays, and your laptop’s own “normal” DisplayPort connection (called DisplayPort Alt Mode) to drive the third.

That brings up the final point that I always have to make: Recent hardware is best. A standard DisplayLink docks works best on, say, a 10th- or 11th-gen Core processor or a complementary AMD Ryzen laptop. With anything more advanced — 12th-, 13th-, and 14th-gen — you should have a pretty ideal experience.

Unlike other Thunderbolt docks we’ve tested, Plugable’s UD-ULTC4K highlights not only which port is which but which I/O protocol each port is associated with. Note the “Alt Mode” label on the bottom ports.

Mark Hachman / IDG

How I test DisplayLink docking stations

I use the same methodology to test DisplayLink docks as I do to test Thunderbolt docking stations. Here’s a synopsis.

First, I take the dock from its packaging and evaluate its construction. I measure the cord length and check the dock’s physical dimensions with a ruler.

I’ll then read the manual: Does the dock need any drivers? (Yes it will.) Are there links? What does the manual say about the dock’s capabilities, in terms of power and speed?

Next, I take a USB key or two and connect them to the available USB ports to determine if they have enough space to allow several to be connected at the same time. I then examine the display ports, find the appropriate cables, and then connect the dock to the laptop. I use a series of laptops with various generations of AMD and Intel hardware, and check to see if the experience is the same on each one. If it isn’t, I make notes.

I then measure the power output of the ports, using a USB multimeter, a smartphone, and a laptop to measure how much power the dock delivers to a laptop.

Finally, I check to see how well the dock performs under load. I use a specific test laptop for this purpose for repeatable results. I stream a 4K60 YouTube video using the Ethernet port on the dock (if it has one) and note any dropped frames. I usually check with a pre-recorded 4K60 video running from an SSD.

I then run PCMark 10’s SSD storage benchmark off of a test SSD, connected to the dock. I measure the score, then measure the score again while streaming a video. I then copy a large, multigigabyte folder of various files from my laptop across the bus and measure the time it takes to do so. I repeat the test while streaming video.

Finally, I check the operation and performance of any SD card slots the dock has and listen to audio through the audio jack, to make sure it works.

FAQ

1.

Should you buy a DisplayLink USB-C dock?

Not all DisplayLink docks are created equal, which is why we test them. But for office workers on Windows, absolutely. For gamers, give it a pass.

DisplayLink docking station offers a chance to expand your PC’s I/O capabilities, even with hardware that doesn’t support Thunderbolt. If you aren’t comfortable with this, feel free to return to the relative safety of a either a generic USB-C dongle or a powerful Thunderbolt dock: Both offer simplicity and a known experience.

2.

How do I know if my dock is a DisplayLink dock?

It should prominently feature a DisplayLink logo, which we include a photo of earlier in the story. Not always, though.

Shopping for a DisplayLink dock can be a bit confusing, too, since the term “DisplayLink dock” isn’t really in vogue. Instead, vendors will sometimes use “USB-C dock” instead. Just read the documentation closely and look for the label.

3.

How much should a DisplayLink docking station cost?

DisplayLink was a much cheaper alternative to Thunderbolt docks during the height of the work-from-home years. Then, a Thunderbolt dock would cost about $300, and a DisplayLink dock about $150 to $200 or so. Prices for both have come down some, with DisplayLink docks starting for as low as $125.

4.

How many devices can a DisplayLink dock support?

You’ll usually see close to as many ports on a DisplayLink dock as you will on a Thunderbolt dock, and maybe more. In general, DisplayLink is just fine for connecting multiple devices simultaneously. It’s when they’re all in use, transferring data, that the bus may get clogged and transfer rates may slow down.

5.

What’s better, a DisplayLink dock or a Thunderbolt dock?

For now, there’s a case to be made that a DisplayLink dock is a better value: They’re generally cheaper, more stable, and offer the potential for more displays. But if you’re a gamer, the answer is not the same. Gamers should buy a Thunderbolt dock instead.

The game changes, though, when Thunderbolt 5 debuts later in 2024. Then, Thunderbolt 5 bandwidth will shoot up to 80Gbps in both directions, allowing those docks to connect to four 4K displays at 144Hz refresh rates and offer improved charging.

6.

Can a DisplayLink dock charge your laptop and your smartphone?

If the DisplayLink docking station ships with its own external power brick, it should be able to, yes. Most DisplayLink docks supply the same amount of power as a Thunderbolt dock (a maximum of 90 to 95W to your laptop, and hopefully enough power to fast-charge a smartphone.)

7.

Is a DisplayLink docking station plug and play?

Not really. You’ll need a driver from Synaptics or the dock maker to enable the dock’s full functionality.

8.

What’s DSC and HBR3? I’ve heard that those are a competitor to DisplayLink.

Display Stream Compression with High Bandwidth Rate 3 (DSC with HBR3) is a more open version of DisplayLink. It doesn’t require a software driver, but you won’t see this technology advertised at all. However, you will find it in products like the Kensington SD5800T, which uses Thunderbolt 4 and DSC to enable four external 4K displays.

Basically, the same rules apply. If you own a recent, modern laptop, you may have one with DSC inside. But this is absolutely not a feature that laptop makers advertise, either.

9.

Are DisplayLink and DisplayPort the same thing?

No, they’re not, though the names are confusingly similar.

DisplayPort is a physical display connector as well as a display protocol. Your laptop can route DisplayPort display protocols over Thunderbolt without ever using the connector itself. DisplayPort can also be routed over a USB-C connection encoded with DisplayLink, too.

10.

Is a DisplayLink dock good for gaming?

Not especially. It’s best for productivity, which uses a number of windows with static applications. Any time you push gobs and gobs of data over the DisplayLink bus, as you would with gaming, you risk the connection being saturated and your game reduced to a stuttery mess.

You may be able to “game” with a slow-paced game or one that doesn’t use a lot of fast-paced motion or detailed graphics, but it’s risky. Buy a Thunderbolt dock instead.

Computer Accessories, Docks and Hubs, Laptop Accessories

PCWorld  Historically, you’ve had two options to expand the port capabilities of your laptop: an inexpensive USB-C dongle or a more powerful, pricey Thunderbolt docking station. A third option is quietly emerging, trying to split the difference. A DisplayLink docking station (sometimes called a USB-C dock) uses data compression to offer the capabilities of a Thunderbolt dock over a standard USB-C or Thunderbolt cable.

Why buy one? DisplayLink docking stations works great for normal day-to-day productivity, and in my experience the docks are cheaper and more stable than older Thunderbolt 3 desktop docks. They’re an upgrade over our picks for the best USB-C hubs dongles, and cheaper than the best Thunderbolt docking stations for your laptop. They can even support more displays than a native Thunderbolt dock. They’re just not suited for gaming.

If you need a fuller explanation of how DisplayLink works and what it offers, you’ll find that directly under our two recommended DisplayLink docks, below. You’ll also find a FAQ with answers to questions you might have. I base my recommendations on hands-on testing of the DisplayLink docking stations.

Why you should trust me: I’ve worked as a technology journalist for about 30 years, and at PCWorld for the last decade. I’ve tested dozens of USB-C hubs, Thunderbolt docks, and DisplayLink docking stations. I use a docking station in my daily work, connected to multiple 4K displays, and I typically review a handful of new products each month.

Look for the DisplayLink logo to identify it as a DisplayLink dock.

Look for the DisplayLink logo to identify it as a DisplayLink dock.Mark Hachman / IDG

Look for the DisplayLink logo to identify it as a DisplayLink dock.Mark Hachman / IDG

Mark Hachman / IDG

The best DisplayLink docking stations

Though I’ve tested a number of DisplayLink docking stations for laptops, I have two recommended docks. They’re the same picks that appear on PCWorld’s list of the best Thunderbolt desktop docks for your laptop.

Ugreen 9-in-1 USB-C (Revodok) Docking Station CM615 – Best USB-C DisplayLink dock

Pros

Terrific price and value

Excellent stability

Great display port flexibility

Support for two 4K60 displays

Cons

Have to provide your own power supply

Can warm to somewhat alarming temperatures

A lack of naming consistency

Best Prices Today:

$139.99 at Ugreen$199.99 at Amazon

Why I liked the Ugreen 9-in-1 USB-C (Revodok) Docking Station CM615

Like some of the premium Thunderbolt docks, Ugreen’s DisplayLink dock provides options to use either HDMI or DisplayPort to connect a display, allowing you to use your existing display cables and save some money.

Like most DisplayLink docks, this dock was unusually stable, with no flickering between displays — one of the reasons I like DisplayLink docks. Some other Thunderbolt docks offer the same flexibility to shift between monitors, but not many. Ugreen’s dock does so affordably.

Who should buy the Ugreen 9-in-1 USB-C (Revodok) Docking Station CM615

If you’re not worried about hunting down the proper software driver (because Ugreen, bless them, does not make it apparent that it needs one) than I would recommend that you buy this dock. It offers many of the features of more expensive Thunderbolt docks at an affordable price.

Read our full

Ugreen 9-in-1 USB-C (Revodok) Docking Station CM615 review

Sonnet Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock – Best USB-C DisplayLink dock runner-up

Pros

Support for three 4K60 displays

Solid value

20W of charging power for smartphones, 100W for laptop

Exemplary documentation

Cons

Direct display connection disconnected once

Poor, glitchy intermittent audio

Best Prices Today:

$199.99 at Amazon$239.99 at Sonnet

Why I liked the Sonnet Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock

Sonnet’s Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock follows the intriguing path other DisplayLink docks have blazed: The dock’s built-in compression means you can connect to three 4K displays, without penalty. And yes, it works as advertised, though with one issue that holds it back: spotty audio that really needs to be fixed. (If you use your laptop’s headphone jack, there’s no issue.)

There was a tiny bit of instability, but performance was excellent. And with 20W of charging power for your phone and 100W for your laptop, you’ll be able to power a wider range of notebook options.

Who should buy the Sonnet Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock

The price differential between the Sonnet and Ugreen docks should help answer that question: The Sonnet buyer is willing to pay a little more for what is really a well-made and well-documented dock, with clear instructions. Really, without the price differential and the audio issues, this would be the top dock in the category.

Read our full

Sonnet Echo 13 Triple 4K Display Dock review

DisplayLink USB-C docks: How DisplayLink works

USB-C hubs, Thunderbolt desktop docks, and now DisplayLink docking stations have emerged because of two factors: the growing ubiquity of do-anything USB-C ports, and the realization by laptop makers that they can use these ports to eliminate all the dedicated HDMI, microUSB, SD card slots, and USB-A ports that can clutter up their notebook PCs.

DisplayLink docks provide some of the native functions of a Thunderbolt dock, namely the ability to drive multiple high-resolution displays. Because of the inherent bandwidth limitations, DisplayLink docking stations offer a good choice for office workers, who can use those extra displays for static applications like email, chat, spreadsheets, or office work.

A USB-C port typically provides 10Gbps of bandwidth. Thunderbolt 3/4, which runs over the same physical USB-C port, supplies 40Gbps. In the real world, that typically means that a USB-C dongle can connect to a single 4K display (at 30Hz) while Thunderbolt can connect to two 4K displays, at 60Hz. DisplayLink can you give the advantages of a 40Gbps Thunderbolt connection via just a 10Gbps USB-C interface.

How? Data compression. A DisplayLink dock can either use a “traditional” 10Gbps USB-C connection, or take advantage of the extra bandwidth provided by an existing Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port. Either way, it uses data compression to squeeze more data throughput over the port. We use data compression every day, in photos and streamed video from YouTube and Netflix, and never notice. It’s the same here; your Windows desktop and applications will look the same.

Two similar products with different characteristics: a Lention USB-C hub (left), which has been previously featured among PCWorld’s recommended USB-C hubs, and the HP Thunderbolt G4 Dock, part of PCWorld’s recommended best Thunderbolt docks.

DisplayLink is a technology owned by Synaptics, meaning it’s a proprietary standard. Each DisplayLink dock has a special DisplayLink chip built inside of it. (DisplayLink docks rarely, if ever, publish which Synaptics chip they use, so a DisplayLink dock’s capabilities may vary by product.)

DisplayLink USB-C docks: Pros and cons

DisplayLink’s data compression means there are two negatives to the technology, which we’ll get out of the way.

While USB-C and Thunderbolt work out of the box, DisplayLink requires a software driver. Without it, it will function as a generic USB-C dock. I’ve never seen any DisplayLink docks use their own unique drivers (though they may). In any case, you can use Synaptics’ official DisplayLink drivers. Most dock makers publish this information right up front, but not all do. (Be sure to reboot after installing it.)

DisplayLink works perfectly well for email, Word, Excel, and anything static, like a web page. But it does have limitations: 10Gbps is a nice chunk of bandwidth. But pushing a ton of data across it will cause images to stutter and hitch. In practice, this means that PC gaming on a DisplayLink dock is iffy: A slow-paced game like Baldur’s Gate 3 should be fine, but a frantic shooter like Battlefield or Helldivers 2 probably won’t give you a good experience at all. Playing 4K video from Netflix or YouTube? It shouldn’t be a problem. Playing 4K video while copying files from a hard drive and downloading a file? Everything will work, albeit slowly.

The big advantage for me is that DisplayLink tends to be really stable. Older Thunderbolt 3 hardware can be a little glitchy when connecting to multiple displays. In my experience, DisplayLink docks aren’t. That matters to some people.

DisplayLink (often with a DisplayLink 4K logo on it) can also connect to multiple displays, even more than Thunderbolt. I don’t have room to neatly show off a photo of three or even four displays, but trust me — I’ve tried it on multiple occasions, and it works. The hitch is that your laptop has to be capable of rendering on four displays, and you’ll typically need to close your laptop to do so. That may mean adjusting the Windows Control Panel to tell your laptop to leave it up and running.

This is only necessary if you are running four 4K displays with a DisplayLink dock.

This is only necessary if you are running four 4K displays with a DisplayLink dock. Mark Hachman / IDG

This is only necessary if you are running four 4K displays with a DisplayLink dock. Mark Hachman / IDG

Mark Hachman / IDG

Can I get a bit nerdy for a second? When you use a DisplayLink dock to connect to more than two displays, there’s even more magic going on behind the scenes. Take a DisplayLink dock like the Plugable UD-6950PDZ, which supports three 4K displays at 60Hz. It uses Synaptics’ most advanced chip, the DL-6950. But the DL-6950 only supports a pair of displays. To enable a third external display, the dock is using DisplayLink for two displays, and your laptop’s own “normal” DisplayPort connection (called DisplayPort Alt Mode) to drive the third.

That brings up the final point that I always have to make: Recent hardware is best. A standard DisplayLink docks works best on, say, a 10th- or 11th-gen Core processor or a complementary AMD Ryzen laptop. With anything more advanced — 12th-, 13th-, and 14th-gen — you should have a pretty ideal experience.

Unlike other Thunderbolt docks we’ve tested, Plugable’s UD-ULTC4K highlights not only which port is which but which I/O protocol each port is associated with. Note the “Alt Mode” label on the bottom ports.

Unlike other Thunderbolt docks we’ve tested, Plugable’s UD-ULTC4K highlights not only which port is which but which I/O protocol each port is associated with. Note the “Alt Mode” label on the bottom ports.Mark Hachman / IDG

Unlike other Thunderbolt docks we’ve tested, Plugable’s UD-ULTC4K highlights not only which port is which but which I/O protocol each port is associated with. Note the “Alt Mode” label on the bottom ports.Mark Hachman / IDG

Mark Hachman / IDG

How I test DisplayLink docking stations

I use the same methodology to test DisplayLink docks as I do to test Thunderbolt docking stations. Here’s a synopsis.

First, I take the dock from its packaging and evaluate its construction. I measure the cord length and check the dock’s physical dimensions with a ruler.

I’ll then read the manual: Does the dock need any drivers? (Yes it will.) Are there links? What does the manual say about the dock’s capabilities, in terms of power and speed?

Next, I take a USB key or two and connect them to the available USB ports to determine if they have enough space to allow several to be connected at the same time. I then examine the display ports, find the appropriate cables, and then connect the dock to the laptop. I use a series of laptops with various generations of AMD and Intel hardware, and check to see if the experience is the same on each one. If it isn’t, I make notes.

I then measure the power output of the ports, using a USB multimeter, a smartphone, and a laptop to measure how much power the dock delivers to a laptop.

Finally, I check to see how well the dock performs under load. I use a specific test laptop for this purpose for repeatable results. I stream a 4K60 YouTube video using the Ethernet port on the dock (if it has one) and note any dropped frames. I usually check with a pre-recorded 4K60 video running from an SSD.

I then run PCMark 10’s SSD storage benchmark off of a test SSD, connected to the dock. I measure the score, then measure the score again while streaming a video. I then copy a large, multigigabyte folder of various files from my laptop across the bus and measure the time it takes to do so. I repeat the test while streaming video.

Finally, I check the operation and performance of any SD card slots the dock has and listen to audio through the audio jack, to make sure it works.

FAQ
1.
Should you buy a DisplayLink USB-C dock?

Not all DisplayLink docks are created equal, which is why we test them. But for office workers on Windows, absolutely. For gamers, give it a pass.

DisplayLink docking station offers a chance to expand your PC’s I/O capabilities, even with hardware that doesn’t support Thunderbolt. If you aren’t comfortable with this, feel free to return to the relative safety of a either a generic USB-C dongle or a powerful Thunderbolt dock: Both offer simplicity and a known experience.

2.
How do I know if my dock is a DisplayLink dock?

It should prominently feature a DisplayLink logo, which we include a photo of earlier in the story. Not always, though.

Shopping for a DisplayLink dock can be a bit confusing, too, since the term “DisplayLink dock” isn’t really in vogue. Instead, vendors will sometimes use “USB-C dock” instead. Just read the documentation closely and look for the label.

3.
How much should a DisplayLink docking station cost?

DisplayLink was a much cheaper alternative to Thunderbolt docks during the height of the work-from-home years. Then, a Thunderbolt dock would cost about $300, and a DisplayLink dock about $150 to $200 or so. Prices for both have come down some, with DisplayLink docks starting for as low as $125.

4.
How many devices can a DisplayLink dock support?

You’ll usually see close to as many ports on a DisplayLink dock as you will on a Thunderbolt dock, and maybe more. In general, DisplayLink is just fine for connecting multiple devices simultaneously. It’s when they’re all in use, transferring data, that the bus may get clogged and transfer rates may slow down.

5.
What’s better, a DisplayLink dock or a Thunderbolt dock?

For now, there’s a case to be made that a DisplayLink dock is a better value: They’re generally cheaper, more stable, and offer the potential for more displays. But if you’re a gamer, the answer is not the same. Gamers should buy a Thunderbolt dock instead.

The game changes, though, when Thunderbolt 5 debuts later in 2024. Then, Thunderbolt 5 bandwidth will shoot up to 80Gbps in both directions, allowing those docks to connect to four 4K displays at 144Hz refresh rates and offer improved charging.

6.
Can a DisplayLink dock charge your laptop and your smartphone?

If the DisplayLink docking station ships with its own external power brick, it should be able to, yes. Most DisplayLink docks supply the same amount of power as a Thunderbolt dock (a maximum of 90 to 95W to your laptop, and hopefully enough power to fast-charge a smartphone.)

7.
Is a DisplayLink docking station plug and play?

Not really. You’ll need a driver from Synaptics or the dock maker to enable the dock’s full functionality.

8.
What’s DSC and HBR3? I’ve heard that those are a competitor to DisplayLink.

Display Stream Compression with High Bandwidth Rate 3 (DSC with HBR3) is a more open version of DisplayLink. It doesn’t require a software driver, but you won’t see this technology advertised at all. However, you will find it in products like the Kensington SD5800T, which uses Thunderbolt 4 and DSC to enable four external 4K displays.

Basically, the same rules apply. If you own a recent, modern laptop, you may have one with DSC inside. But this is absolutely not a feature that laptop makers advertise, either.

9.
Are DisplayLink and DisplayPort the same thing?

No, they’re not, though the names are confusingly similar.

DisplayPort is a physical display connector as well as a display protocol. Your laptop can route DisplayPort display protocols over Thunderbolt without ever using the connector itself. DisplayPort can also be routed over a USB-C connection encoded with DisplayLink, too.

10.
Is a DisplayLink dock good for gaming?

Not especially. It’s best for productivity, which uses a number of windows with static applications. Any time you push gobs and gobs of data over the DisplayLink bus, as you would with gaming, you risk the connection being saturated and your game reduced to a stuttery mess.

You may be able to “game” with a slow-paced game or one that doesn’t use a lot of fast-paced motion or detailed graphics, but it’s risky. Buy a Thunderbolt dock instead.

Computer Accessories, Docks and Hubs, Laptop Accessories 

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