Why are docking stations so damn expensive? The answer surprisingly makes sense

Docking stations are the secret weapons of the tech industry. To paraphrase The Avengers, Loki “desktop” Odinson may claim “I have an army of ports,” but Tony “laptop” Stark retorts “we have a docking station.”

As laptops like the MacBook Air and Dell XPS 13 get smaller, the number of ports on them diminish, too. However, all of that changes when you bring a docking station into the mix; it provides a surplus of ports to expand your notebook’s connectivity. From connecting keyboards and mice to hooking up an external monitor and harnessing the might of Thunderbolt 4, if “Hulk Smash!”, then “Docking Station Connect!”

But a dock is just a box with ports stuck in it, right? So, how in the world can the best docking stations cost around $300? With that in mind, of course Iron Man would back docking stations in this Marvel-esque, metaphorical landscape — he’s a billionaire, after all.

Even after reviewing my fair share of docking stations and USB-C hubs, it’s a question I’ve had a difficult time figuring out. To shine a light on this query, I decided to reach out to Plugable Founder and CTO, Bernie Thompson. If you want, you can think of him as the all-knowing Nick Fury of this bizarre MCU correlation. But to stick with reality, here’s why docking stations are so damn expensive.  

The answer

Plugable, a company known for its vast array of quality USB devices, is no stranger to docking stations. In fact, quite the opposite; Plugable consistently delivers some of the best docking stations and USB-C hubs on the market, especially for their prices. One of the best around, the Plugable USB-C Triple 4K Display Docking Station has a shocking listing price of $394.99, but you’ll almost always see it discounted down to $279. And that’s a competitive price. 

Plugable USB-C Triple 4K Display Docking Station

(Image credit: Future)

Thompson gave a rundown of what docking stations deliver and the culprits behind their sky-high prices:

“Docking stations have grown in importance as computers have gotten thinner and lighter. Many laptops now often have only one or two USB-C ports to connect everything. Consumers want to connect keyboards, mice, monitors, projectors, headsets, webcams, hard drives, printers, and more. It’s the dock that provides the extra ‘legacy’ ports to connect all that stuff.”

“That’s also made docks more complex and expensive, usually costing $100 to $200 or more. They can have as many chips inside as the laptop they’re connecting to. They often come with bigger power adapters than the laptop itself. The value of ‘one device to connect them all’ is high, and so is the complexity.”

Sure, a dock may not have a display, keyboard, trackpad, or any viable use without connecting it to another device, but it’s what’s powering it that bumps up the price. The (usually) included power adapter is a big factor, as Thompson points out that they can exceed the size of the brick (therefore, the wattage) of a laptop’s power brick.

(Image credit: Future)

Docking stations need that power, as not only are they delivering power to the laptop itself via Power Delivery, but they can also power any other devices that are connected to it. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, though, as there are a few more reasons why the price tag can be high.

The breakdown

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