Hands-On with the Plugable USB-C Cube Docking Station

Posted on June 19, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 20 Comments

While industry pundits and tech reviewers endlessly tout the benefits of Thunderbolt 3, its less capable sibling, USB-C, is more than powerful enough for most users. Think about it. Most users don’t need the faster data transfer speeds and multiple display support, let alone the additional costs, that come with Thunderbolt 3.

But lowly USB-C—formally named USB Type-C—is the connector type that meets most needs. Based on USB 3.1, USB-C can support USB power delivery for powering connected devices, USB SuperSpeed and SuperSpeed+ data modes at up to 20 Gbps, external display support, and the ability to connect any number of USB-based peripherals.

If you package all that into a small USB-C docking station, you get a one-cable solution for turning your portable PC into a desktop PC. When it’s time to take the PC with you, you simply unplug the one cable And when you return, you simply plug-in that one cable and your desktop setup is restored.

With all that in mind, may I present Plugable’s adorable USB-C Cube Docking Station, a tiny and cute USB docking station that, at first, seems to do it all?

How small is it? Apple small.

The USB-C Cube provides a single USB-C port on its front. This is where you connect the docking station to your PC. And, yes, the USB-C Cube includes the USB-C cable needed for that connection.

On the rear, you see the meat of the operation: Two USB 2.0 ports for peripherals (mouse, keyboard, printer, etc.), one USB 3.0 port for more powerful peripherals (4K webcam, perhaps, or USB 3 storage devices), HDMI for video-out, and Gigabit Ethernet for wired connectivity. There’s also a power-in port for the included power adapter.

It works mostly as expected. There’s nothing in the way of pop-up windows or driver installation nonsense when you connect the USB-C Cube to your PC. It just works, immediately.

When you connect peripherals—like the Xbox Wireless Controller I tested—to the rear of the USB-C Cube, they install normally on the PC just as if you had connected them directly.

When you connect an external display via HDMI, it immediately works as a duplicate of the laptop’s internal display, and a quick WINKEY + P lets you switch to an extended desktop or whatever display mode you prefer.

This is all good.

So good, in fact, that I started thinking about getting one for my wife: She uses a second-generation HP Spectre, both on-the-go and at home while connected to an older USB hub/docking station. That PC only supports USB-C—it has no legacy ports at all—but the hub/docking station she’s using doesn’t support power. So she has to deal with two cables, one for the hub/docking station and one for power, each time she connects or disconnects from the hub.

And … Ah well.

As it turns out, the USB-C Cube doesn’t support USB power delivery either. The power adapter is a 20-watt unit, but as the device’s listing on Amazon notes, “The Cube will not be able to charge your connected host laptop. You will need to keep the original power adapter connected to your computer.” I assume the USB-C Cube’s tiny size (and low price) was only made possible by removing the circuitry required for power delivery.

And that’s too bad if you need/want such a thing. Plugable, of course, sells other USB-C-based docking stations that support power delivery, as well as other advanced features like support for two or even three displays. These docking stations range from $130 to $200 and aren’t nearly as cute as the USB-C Cube.

If the lack of power delivery doesn’t throw you off, the Plugable USB-C Cube Docking Station is available now for $80 at Amazon.com and other retailers. And you can learn more from the Plugable website.

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Comments (20)

20 responses to “Hands-On with the Plugable USB-C Cube Docking Station”

  1. Avatar

    wunderbar

    without power delivery, DOA. I use a USB-C dock and would not even look at one that doesn't support power delivery to charge the laptop.

  2. Avatar

    bluvg

    "With VESA DisplayPort Alternate Mode over USB-C"


    That's a big differentiator over previous video-over-USB (DisplayLink-based) solutions. Those incurred significant CPU overhead. This looks far more promising, especially if it's reliable.

  3. Avatar

    ivarh

    Why keep including usb-2 ports. Grow a pair and follow apple. Make all computer ports the same, once apple started usb 2 they made all their ports on that model usb-3. For USB-A use USB 3.1 not some USB-2 and some USB-3.

  4. Avatar

    CompUser

    It's just unbelievable to me how lazy people are getting that having to unplug one or two cables when they want to use the laptop away from the doc, or how extremely time sensitive they're getting that the one or two seconds it takes to unplug said cables, is too much. I have a Wavlink USB 3.0 Universal Dual Display Docking Station for my old Dell 17R 7720 laptop that uses USB 3 to connect to the laptop, and no, it doesn't power the laptop. But, because of the dock, I'm able to run three Dell 24" IPS 1080P monitors on my laptop (with the laptop lid closed). One monitor plugs directly into the laptop via HDMI, the other two plug into the dock via HDMI and DVI. (I could four monitors if I kept the laptop lid open and used its built in 17" display along with the three external monitors. I tried it, and it works.) The doc also provides four USB 2 ports, two USB 3 ports, and a gigabit ethernet port. Visually, both the dock and laptop tuck away under the center monitor shelf, so I can't even see it or any of the cables. And even though I have to put up with the time-consuming (maybe a full second) horror of unplugging three cables (power, HDMI, and the USB 3 that connects to the dock) from the laptop to use the laptop elsewhere, I've been using it every day since March, and absolutely love it. It cost $80.00.

    • Avatar

      Lauren Glenn

      In reply to CompUser:

      That's great but I started buying older Fujitsu laptops and I absolutely love these things. From expandability to just general reliability, these are nice laptops.... Lifebook T902 is the one I'm using.


      But like some Lenovos, the one thing I love about this laptop (aside from battery bay, main battery that's removable, removable hard-drive, PCIe slot, Wacom touchscreen.... is that I can buy a dock. I can just place the laptop in the dock and it charges and supports monitors, desktop mouse/keyboard, etc. When I want to leave, I just pull the lever and it comes off.


      I think that's what people like .... that level of convenience. It's not laziness.... when you have a choice between ease and having to deal with a connector, it's nice to have one less wire to see and to hang out when a dock can be nice and tidy if left by one of those holes in the desk that hides all the wires. Women like that kind of stuff....

  5. Avatar

    Philip

    Last year when I got the Lenovo X1 tablet V3 I had to transition to USB-C. the best travel docking station with all of the ports that I needed was found in the Apple section of my microcenter computer store. It was a SATECHI

    ALUMINUM TYPE-C PRO HUB ADAPTER. For 100 bucks it has worked flawlessly and does all of the things that people have wanted in the posts. It supports thunderbolt 3 but I don't need that at this point. They have multiple cheaper ones but why not future proof as much as possible.


    BTW The X1 tablet has been a great machine - basically a Surface Pro at a cheaper price with USBC and thunderbolt 3.

  6. Avatar

    jimchamplin

    Why didn’t they call it USB 4? The coyness with the names, going so far as to rename previous standards is absurd.

  7. Avatar

    DBSync

    Anker has a great solution that includes power delivery and is only $60.


  8. Avatar

    Mav Pen

    USB, USB 3.0, USB 3.1, USB Superspeed, USB Superspeed+, USB-C


    Honestly even I’m finding it difficult to keep up at this point.

  9. Avatar

    jdjan

    So it's really just a travel hub to keep in your laptop bag and add ports when needed. It can't (and shouldn't) be called a docking station without power delivery.

  10. Avatar

    Rob_Wade

    My co-worker has a Galaxy S9 and he was mentioning looking for a dock for it to support that Dex feature. I happened to have my Lumia 950 Display Dock, so we hooked his S9 to it....and it worked, including charging, as long as you're using the power adapter that came with the dock. His fast-charge adapter that came with the S9 will power the dock but apparently won't pass through to power the S9 (or my Lumia 950, it turns out). While it's more expensive ($54 on Amazon) than that Plugable dock, it's also smaller. But, it does mean if you abandoned your Lumia for a newer Galaxy and you still have a Display Dock hanging around, it's still good for something. This has me curious now, though, since my wife has a Surface Go (she keeps her Surface Pro 4 in her craft room)....I should hook this thing up to her Go and see what it can do.

  11. Avatar

    janeriksh

    Have you tried to use the Display Dock for Lumia 950?


  12. Avatar

    MikeGalos

    Another example of how USB 3.1 with the Type C connector and multiple, optional extra protocols is far too non-standard a "standard" to be treated as a real, universal standard.

  13. Avatar

    ivarh

    After using it for a month I have found the razer core chroma X external thunderbolt 3 EGPU case being the perfect dock for my mac’s. Its in a different price class than this small USB-C dock and in a completely different size class. But it supports 100W power delivery, adds a graphics card, 4 usb-a 3.1 ports and a gigabit network ports.


    This leaves my Macbook Air with a Vega radeon 64 gpu that allows it to run my poison (World of warcraft) at 4k rez at the highest graphics settings..

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