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What's the Difference Between a Hub and a Docking Station?

  • 4 min read

If you're finally fed up of your laptop's lack of ports and have decided to do something about it, you've almost certainly come across the terms hub and docking station.

But if you're not sure what the difference is, or why they have such a big price gap, keep reading to find out more.

These are some of the key differences between USB-C hubs and docking stations:

Charging and Power Supply

1. USB-C hubs

Many hubs on the market don't support charging at all. In fact, they draw power from the laptop they're connected to.

A certain percentage of USB-C hubs come with a USB-C Power Delivery input port. This port allows you to connect your laptop's charger to the hub while the hub is connected to your laptop. This is called pass-through charging, and means you can charge your laptop while you're using the hub.

However, while doing this, the USB-C hub will still use a certain amount of power, which means the power which reaches your laptop will be lower than if you were just using your charger normally.

2. Docking stations

Docking station usually come with an included AC/DC power adapter. The docking stations plugs into the wall, and then you can connect your laptop to the docking station to get a powerful charge that's generally equivalent to or even greater than the power that your laptop's charger can provide.

Compared with USB-C hubs, the charging speed is much faster, it's all-in-one, and you can even charge your phone or other mobile device at the same time using the other ports.

Where You Use Them

1. USB-C hubs are smaller and can be thrown in your bag for use on the go.

If you use the same laptop at home and at work, then a hub a might be the best option. They're small and lightweight enough to be carried around in your bag, or kept in a drawer ready to be used whenever, or wherever you need.

One example is PowerExpand Direct 7-in-2 USB-C PD Media Hub. It's small and light, and it clips directly onto your MacBook to save space and offer easy portability.

There are also options like PowerExpand 11-in-1 USB-C PD Hub which has a huge number of ports but still offers a similar level of portability.

2. Docking stations are larger and more suitable for professionals

Unlike USB-C hubs, docking stations can support connection to up to 3 external monitors, and can even support a maximum 8K resolution to a single screen. They also generally feature more ports than USB-C hubs.

However, docking stations are usually heavier and larger, and they come with a fairly hefty power brick which means it isn't really practical to carry one around with you.

The best way to use a docking station will be in a fixed place like in your home office or on your desk at work. You can still unplug your laptop if you need to move around, and then go back to the docking station when you need to use it.

In terms of price, docking stations will also be more expensive than ordinary USB-C hubs because they feature higher specs.

So if you're someone who requires a multiple-monitor setup, transfers large files regularly, and spends most of your time working at a desk, then a docking station is probably the best choice for you.

Screen Expansion

1. USB-C hubs support dual-screen expansion

USB-C hubs can mirror or expand your display to up to 2 monitors at the same time. Anker PowerExpand 11-in-1 USB-C PD Hub for example is equipped with two video output ports: HDMI and DisplayPort. Notebooks with support for DisplayPort 1.4 can display in up to 4K@60Hz to a single screen, or 4K@30Hz to 2 screens.

2. Docking stations support 3-screen expansion

Docking stations can mirror or expand your screen to up to 3 monitors at the same time. Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station features a Thunderbolt 4 port and 2 HDMI port, and can support 8K@30Hz to a single screen or 4K@60Hz to 3 screens.


So you can see that not only can a docking station connect to more screens, but it can also support higher resolutions than a USB-C hub.

File Transfer Speeds

1. USB-C hubs

USB-C hubs usually have a file transfer rate of 5 Gbps or 10 Gbps.

2. Docking stations

Docking stations with the latest Thunderbolt 4 technology such as Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station can reach a maximum file transfer speed of 40 Gbps.

Summary

USB-C hubs are smaller and more portable, making them more suitable for travel and casual daily use

Docking stations are more powerful and have higher specs, making them more suitable for professionals

External Display
Charging
File Transfer
USB-C Hubs
Single Monitor: 4K@60Hz
Dual Monitor: 4K@30hz
Slow
5-10 Gbps
Docking Station
Single Monitor: 8K@30Hz Max
Dual Monitor / Triple Monitor: 4K@60hz Max
Fast
Up to 40 Gbps

 

If you're still not 100% about whether you need a docking station or a USB-C hub, you can take our quiz here, and we'll give you some personal recommendations.

Our Top Picks for You

Product name Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station PowerExpand 8-in-1 USB-C Hub PowerExpand 11-in-1 USB-C Hub PowerExpand 7-in-2 USB-C Hub
Price $299.99 $89.99 $99.99 $59.99
Picture Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station Piciture
PowerExpand 8-in-1 USB-C Hub Piciture
PowerExpand 11-in-1 USB-C Hub Picture
PowerExpand 7-in-2 USB-C Hub Piciture
Number of Ports 12 8 11 7
Number of Supported Displays 3 1 2 2
Supports Laptop Charging
Data Transfer 40 Gbps 10 Gbps 5 Gbps 40 Gbps
USB-A Port 2 × USB 3.1 Gen 2, 10 Gbps, 5V/0.9A
2 × USB 2.0, 480 Mbps, 5V/0.5A
2 × USB 3.1 Gen 2 2 × USB 2.0
1 × USB 3.0
2 × USB 3.0
USB-C Port 1 × USB 3.1 Gen 2, 10 Gbps, PD 3.0, 9V/2.25A 1 × USB 3.1 Gen 2 1 × USB 3.0 1 × USB 3.0
Thunderbolt Port 1 × Thunderbolt 4 downstream port, 40 Gbps, 8K@30Hz, 15W - - 1 x Thunderbolt 3 port, 40 Gbps, 5K@60Hz
HDMI Port 2 × HDMI 2.0, 4K@60Hz 1 x HDMI, 4K@60Hz 1 x HDMI, 4K@60Hz 1 x HDMI, 4K@30Hz
Display Port - - 1 x HDMI, 4K@60Hz -
SD/microSD Card Slot SD Card Slot: UHS-II UHS-I UHS-I UHS-I
Audio In&Out 3.5 mm 3.5 mm 3.5 mm -
Ethernet Port 1 Gbps 1 Gbps 1 Gbps -