A Docking station and port replicator provides a simplified way of “plugging-in” an electronic device such as a laptop computer via common peripherals. The name is sometimes simplified to "dock" which can be used as a noun or a verb. The use of a docking station can allow for the recharging of a device's battery or for the transfer of data. Because a wide range of dockable devices--from mobile phones to wireless mouses to iPods--have different connectors, power charge rates, and uses, docks are not standardized and are therefore often designed for use with a specific make and model of a device.
A dock can allow some laptop computers to become a substitute for a desktop computer, without sacrificing the mobile computing functionality of the machine. Portable computers can dock and undock hot, cold or standby, depending on the capabilities of the system. In a cold dock or undock, one completely shuts the computer down before docking/undocking. In a hot dock or undock, the computer remains running when docked/undocked. Standby docking or undocking, an intermediate style used in some designs, allows the computer to be docked/undocked while powered on, but requires that it be placed into a sleep mode prior to docking/undocking.
Docking stations can be broadly split up into four basic varieties.
Port replicators (also called passthroughs) are functionally identical to a bundle of extension cables, except that they can be plugged in and unplugged all at once, saving time. Some also include simple electrical adapters to change from one pinout to another (e.g., Micro-DVI to normal DVI connector.) An example would be the BookEndz Macintosh docks.
This design not only replicates externally visible ports, but offers additional ones. While sometimes done using electrical adapters and splitters on a standard port, this is most often done using a proprietary connector that consolidates the signals from many concealed traces from onboard external buses into one connector, reducing the number of ports on the computer while still allowing cheap and convenient access to whatever features its motherboard may possess.
Most companies that produce laptops with such breakout ports also offer simpler adapters that grant access to one or two of the busses consolidated in them at a time.
Similar to a breakout device, some docking stations produce multiple connections from one port, only instead of extracting them from internal chipsets, they create them inside the dock using converters. They are functionally identical to a hub with various converters plugged in. Typically USB-based, they incorporate a range of converters such as USB display adapters, audio chipsets, NICs, storage enclosures, modems and memory card readers connected through an internal USB hub to give the host computer access to extra connections it did not previously possess. Simpler “docking stations” consist of nothing more than a hub inside a stand.
As they tend to use non-proprietary connections, converter docks are usually vendor neutral and supplied by third parties.
By connecting directly to the motherboard's chipset bus like a daughterboard of sorts, a hybrid dock allows a portable computer to effectively convert into a desktop machine. Like many breakout boxes it uses a proprietary connector, but communicates with devices that are normally internal.
Apple, Inc.'s PowerBook Duo Dock allowed a laptop to access not only additional ports and drives, but slots and sockets for additional expansion cards, RAM, VRAM, coprocessors and CPU cache to work alongside the computer's internal components.
Though not true docking stations, computer stands are sometimes called desktop docking stations. They are an inert accessory designed merely to support a computer that is placed on it, typically to raise its screen up to a more ergonomic height, enhance cooling, or conserve desk space.
Mobile docking stations operate in vehicles. Many industries have adopted mobile computing and hence wish to have their vehicles fully equipped as mobile field-offices. Some of the industries currently using mobile docking stations include (for example): law-enforcement, electricity, telcos, military, EMS, fire, construction, insurance, real-estate, agriculture, oil, gas, transportation, warehousing, food-distribution, surveying, and landscape companies.
Some mobile docking stations are specially designed to withstand the rigors of travel and have MIL-STD 810E construction-specifications for vibration and impact.
Mobile docking stations usually come mated to an armature, laptop desk or standard rack in order to provide the ability to position the computer in the vehicle in a safe and ergonomic position. As with all docking stations, a mobile docking station will provide the user a means to quickly and easily dock and/or undock the computer. In addition, some mobile docking-stations provide a security-lock to protect the computer from theft.