on October 2, 2012
Well, with it's USB 3.0 connectivity, and all the touting about the relatively decent graphics performance, I was very much looking forward to this for use on my ASUS Zenbook UX31A with a 3rd generation Intel I5 processor (which as I said, has USB 3.0 Super speed ports). This was connected to a 24" Samsung display at 1080p resolution.
- Well made and balanced - stays upright pretty easily
- I do appreciate how Plugable uses the Displaylink drivers directly - always gives you the latest version of it
- Drivers installed flawlessly and without a reboot
The not so good:
- There is still noticeable lag in the mouse and keyboard actions
- Dragging things like Windows around your desktop also cause lag, along with tearing of the image. A big bump in CPU use is also noted when this happens
- Youtube drops many, many frames in 720p, and there is compression applied
For regular Excel, and Word, this may prove ideal, but I think I will return the device, and make do with a regular USB 3.0 dock with a USB sound card, and Ethernet adapter, with the penalty of having to plug one additional thing in every time (the HDMI port on my laptop). It's just the laws of computing (cramming 1080p video bandwidth down a USB pipe) that is the limitation.
I received an email from Plugable after they had read my review and suggested one key change: That I enable Aero desktop in Windows. Apparently non-Aero Windows (such as the Windows Classic theme I was using) are not accelerated by the GPU and instead are rendered by the CPU. After doing this, the lag and compression artifacts decreased significantly - almost to imperceptible levels, and large spikes in CPU were no longer present. I was also able to watch Youtube videos without dropped frames in HD. I am awarding two additional stars, one that represents the performance of the product, and the other for the excellent, and unprompted customer service that Plugable provides. I also failed to mention that I had a 3TB USB 3.0 hard drive plugged in to the device as well, with no noticeable issues or performance hit.
on November 7, 2013
I recently bought a Surface Pro 2 (running Windows 8.1) with the hopes of using it as my daily driver. The Surface's lack of ports is a real problem when used as a desktop machine especially to a guy like me that measures his manliness by the number of monitors he's using. There is the official Surface Deck, which is a sexy piece of machinery, don't get me wrong, but it's $200, not available right now, and itself has frustrating ports. For instance, while you can connect two monitors to the Surface dock, you have to do it by daisy chaining monitors off of the DisplayPort. Who has time for all that? And my existing monitors don't have DisplayPort connections anyway. What's a fella to do?
And in walks the Plugable UD-3900.
While the UD-3900 wasn't built specifically for the Surface Pro 2, it works beautifully. Even with the incredibly snappy Amazon Prime shipping Plugable sent me an email before I got the unit with a link to the latest drivers and contact information in case I had problems. Being impatient like I am, I installed the drivers right away and anxiously awaited the package.
When the UD-3900 showed up it took no time to hook it up and start using it. Everything just worked. Mostly. But I'll get to that later. I've used USB monitors in the past, and they've always disappointed me. They were always a little laggy and sluggish. I was worried the UD-3900 would suffer the same disappointment. It definitely did not. I was able to drive both of my 23" monitors with ease. The additional USB ports were very handy and the added network speed of the UD-3900's Gb Ethernet jack was extra icing on the cake. I can't explain how easy it was to get everything working flawlessly. It just worked. With one exception...
The UD-3900 was sending all its audio through the crappy, tinny little speakers on the monitor I had hooked up via HDMI. That wasn't quite the experience I had in mind. Even when I connected my regular speakers to the headphone jack on the UD-3900 the sound stayed on my monitor. I replied to the email Plugable initially sent me and told them my tale of woe. They replied in less than an hour, on a Saturday afternoon! They gave me a couple of things to try. When those things didn't pan out they immediately sent me out a replacement unit. I got the replacement unit today and it works like a champ.
A few of my friends are picking up Surface Pro 2s, and I'm recommending the UD-3900 to all of them.
on August 31, 2015
Works great! I use this with my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 as a "home base." All the reviews pointed me in this direction rather than the official Microsoft Surface dock, and I'm glad I went this way. Plugged into this docking station I have two external widescreen monitors (one running HDMI to HDMI, the other DVI to DVI, both at 1920x1080 - no discernible difference between the two monitors), wired ethernet, another USB 2.0 4-port hub to connect non-power-sucking peripherals (keyboard, mouse, card reader), audio out, and a USB 3.0 card reader. A single USB 3.0 plug runs to my Surface to lasso all of this together. When I want to leave the house with my tablet, I unplug it and run. When I come back and want to work at my desktablet "workstation," I plug it back in and everything magically works. Can't imagine living a mobile lifestyle without this.
on January 15, 2015
Recently ordered a Surface Pro 3 from Amazon and went ahead and ordered the Plugable UD-3900 at the same time. I couldn't be happier with the way they work together. Already owned wireless keyboard and trackball that I used with a four year old Asus laptop, so I didn't need the Surface keyboard (nor did I want to spend another $130 for it). Wanted the ability to use external monitors, but didn't want to pay an additional $200 for the Surface dock. Thankfully, the UD-3900 solves all these difficulties AND provides additional connection ports for external drive, USB drives, and other attachments.
One of the problems I had encountered with devices that sit vertically and have multiple connections is their tendency to move around on the desk due to the pulling of the connected cables. This device appears to have just enough mass to prevent that from happening.
Reading Amazon reviews prior to my purchase, I was impressed by the way the company appears to stand behind their products. I saw quite a few comments from Plugable following reviews from those who encountered problems with the product. I was also impressed with the video reviews on Youtube that I believe were done by the company's owner or president. Amazon makes it easy to read many reviews, and when a company stands behind their products the way Plugable appears to do, it makes me want to help expand their business.
on July 7, 2014
I recently pre-ordered a Surface Pro 3. At the time I ordered it, the Microsoft dock for this model was not available but I probably wouldn't have ordered it anyway. The dock for the prior model was around $200 and didn't support two monitors, which is important to me. The MS solution to multiple monitors is display port daisy chaining which is not supported by my monitors. To use the MS dock meant either buying new monitors (no, my current monitors are about 6 months old and work great) or connecting one to the dock and other to the mini-display port on the Surface. In my opinion, that's a kludge I shouldn't have to do with such an expensive solution. I found the Plugable UD-3900 by searching for alternatives, including a nice review here by "TT" and I'm glad I did.
Some of the good points:
- Its about half the price of the Microsoft dock with better features. Namely, two monitor inputs.
- Unlike an OEM dock, I can use this with any future computer I buy. Hopefully this means it won't end up in my computer graveyard next to a Lenovo and HP dock that's already there.
- Six USB ports. Enough to take care of me.
- Ethernet port, which a Surface otherwise does not have.
- Two cable connection (power and USB).
- Feels sturdy, stands well, does not fall over easily.
What I wish was different:
- The two USB3 ports are on the front. I have a permanently connected USB3 external drive I use for backup. I wish I could plug it into the back instead of having a cable that always faces forward and is then routed backwards behind my desk to the drive. A USB3 port on the back would be cleaner. This really is the only thing I would change.
- As TT recommends in his review, change to an Aero theme. After switching to the Surface theme, I have less lag and less CPU usage.
- I've had no problems connecting and disconnecting. Screen flickers off and on for a couple of seconds then I'm good to go.
- As other reviewers have noted, I got the welcome email from Pluggable shortly after ordering with a link for the drivers. I downloaded and installed before connecting the dock. Nice to deal with a company so interested in me having a good experience with its product.
- Right now I have two Asus VS247 monitors connected, a USB3 external drive, a Logitech unifying receiver that connects a keyboard/mouse combo, bank smart card reader, a cheap four port USB splitter to connect a color HP AIO printer and an HP black and white printer, and an Ethernet cable. My monitors don't have speakers but they do have sound pass-through via HDMI with a speaker jack on the back. Sound is passed through the UD-3900 over HDMI if that's important to you. I have a Jawbone Jambox plugged into the HDMI connected monitor (I know its a Bluetooth speaker but I struggled with the connection on my last computer so I stopped fighting it and just wired it.)
- When connected, my computer shows three monitors, the Surface plus the two connected to the UD-3900. Since the Surface is in a place that makes its monitor unusable, I have configured Windows to duplicate the Surface monitor on one of the externals and extend the desktop to the second. This configuration works well for me. The resolution of my monitors is not the same as the Surface display so desktop icons and tiles on the Start screen are not displayed the same but I had this problem with OEM docks, too.
All in all, I'm happy with the UD-3900. It works as expected, saved me a few dollars, and is more future proof than an OEM dock. Its a great compliment to the Surface Pro 3.
I began to regularly (at least once per day, multiple time per day were not unusual) get a DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION error. When it happened, my computer would lock up then restart. While I was traveling for a couple of weeks without the UD-3900 I did a refresh to address a Wi-Fi problem and did not reinstall the DisplayLink driver as I had no need. After returning home I reinstalled DisplayLink and the error promptly returned. I emailed Plugable support and got a response in about half an hour. In fact, I exchanged several emails with the same support person. I was told Plugable and DisplayLink were aware of a rare problem between the DisplayLink driver the Intel HD Graphics Family display adapter driver. Plugable support sent me a beta version of an updated driver and in the ten days since installing it, I have not had the error (well I did once because Windows automatically updated my driver from the beta version back to the production version.) If you get this error message, I suggest you reach out to Plugable for this driver and turn off automatic driver updates in Windows.
This small issue aside, I remain satisfied with this dock and reaffirm my five star rating.
I just refreshed my computer, which reset the driver I mentioned above back to the older version. The driver I had problems with has a Driver Date of 3/7/2014 and a Driver Version of 10.18.10.3496. The beta driver I got from Plugable support, which has worked without problems since installation, has a Driver Date of 6/16/2014 and a Driver Version of 10.18.10.3652. Hope this helps.
on January 5, 2014
I connected dual 1920x1200 Dell Ultrasharp displays to the dock along with ethernet, a separate USB mouse and keyboard, a printer to my Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 i7 1.8/8GB Ultrabook. I had high hopes for this dock, but ultimately found multiple issues that made me decide I'm likely going to return the unit.
1) Poor mouse tracking with two displays connected - Immediately it was clear I was overtaxing my machine because I noticed poor mouse tracking. The mouse would jerk and jump instead of moving smoothly across the screen. This remained an issue even with the mouse connected directly to the laptop, so I suspect my machine wasn't capable of pushing dual 1920x1200 resolution over USB3 without introducing jerky mouse behavior. I confirmed connecting the second display was the breaking point on my system because mouse behavior was fluid with only one monitor connected to the dock. This constraint likely depends greatly on the power of your system. My machine isn't a beast, but it certainly has upscale specs for an Ultrabook.
2) DPI scaling issues - Since my laptop has a very high resolution (3200 x 1800), I have to use Windows 8.1 DPI scaling at 200% so text is readable on the 13" screen. However, DPI scaling is a single setting in windows that applies to all connected displays. There's no way to set 100% scaling on an external display and 200% on the laptop display. Thus, you must change DPI scaling to get the desired 100% scaling on large traditional monitors and thus log out each time you dock. This grealy reduces the convenience of the dock. Alternatively you could just leave the DPI setting at 200% and accept that text will be way too large on your external display, but this greatly reduces usable desktop space.
3) Poor text quality - Text was obviously lower quality through the USB dock than native. Poor text quality persisted even with only a single monitor connected to the USB HDMI jack - I assume some compression is going on to assure all the data flows smoothly over USB. Text is notably clearer when the monitor is connected directly to my laptop's HDMI port.
4) Network connection slow to initialize - As others have mentioned, the network connection takes some time to connect. I found it took around 60 seconds for the internet connection to take over USB each time I plugged the dock in.
5) Finally, the taskbar on second monitor displayed differently on my machine in Windows 8.1. Only icons were displayed on the 2nd external monitor's taskbar, no labels next to icon like the primary monitor. This isn't an issue in Windows 8.1 running native monitors so I assume it has to do with this dock's drivers.
Summary & Recommendation
Overall, this is a nice try at a tough problem but I've decided to utilize my laptop's HDMI out for the external display and a separate USB3 dock for all other peripherals. This option is cheaper and while it requires connecting one extra wire (HDMI in my case) it offers a superior display quality, less load on my machine (since I'm not having to drive all display data through USB), a smooth reliable mouse behavior.
Bottom line, if you want to connect a single monitor and aren't running DPI scaling on your laptop, then this dock is an great option. But I can't recommend it for dual monitor use or owners of machines with high DPI displays.
on February 10, 2013
I had ordered this doc to be able to have Ethernet, USB 2 and USB 3 devices plus headphones and microphone for Skype all set up with one USB 3.0 connection. Over the years I have about seven external hard drives for back-up and documents/pics/etc and consolidated all those drives onto one 3 TB drive but I still want to have those drives available plus my current portable "overflow" 750gig drive along with my Ethernet connection (my house was pre-wired when built, neighborhood has fiber optic, 66 megabits download on ENet).
I had JUST upgraded to Windows 8 (yeah, I can hear the "are you crazy" and worse now)and the first pluggable I received I flashed and it could not be recognized on the 3 other Win 7 USB 3 PC/Desktops in the house.
I tried everything and finally emailed Plugable and told them what I had tried and that I read everything.
They were GREAT, I mean shocking, within a couple of days I had a replacement, flashed for Win 8 and it works GREAT.
The product is a Five Star and Plugable is a six star, I did not think customer service like this existed anymore..... Shout out to Roze and the whole Plugable team!!!!!!!!
I picked this up for my Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. I migrated away from a MacBook Pro I had been using, that had a thunderbolt dock I was using for my gigabit network connection at work, as well as an external monitor. I got used to just having the one thunderbolt plug to connect a bunch of things, so when I switched back to Windows with the Lenovo I needed something to allow the same function.
When I first plugged this in, I had some issues with the external monitor not working. Nothing I did would get a picture to show up on it. Reboots, driver updates, nothing seemed to make a difference. I emailed support and went home for the night.
For some reason, the next morning it worked fine. And it's been working ever since. I have a 3TB drive plugged in that I use for the Windows 8.1 version of time machine, a trackpad and a keyboard, and then a 25 inch monitor. All work fine after that initial hiccup.
I had a problem a few days later with icon placement. Similar to a problem I suffered all the time with on the MacBook pro, where when I'd plug in the unit, my icons would go ape despite no resolution changing on the tablet itself. They'd split themselves across both monitors as if they were being treated as one. Again I emailed support, but again, the next day it started working fine and I've had no issues since. Both times I emailed support, though, I had a reply within a day, so that wasn't too bad even if I never ended up using them.
I would have preferred one that sat horizontal as opposed to vertical, just so that it would fit better beneath the monitor stand I have it stuck under. But it does the trick, and other than some initial hiccups, it's been pretty reliable. I just wish it was a little cheaper.
on August 15, 2012
I started out with the Plugable UD-160-A USB 2.0 docking station and had some problems with it. Emailed customer support for help and found them extremely responsive and helpful. We ended up upgrading to the UD-3000 which performed flawlessly out of the box. Using one of the USB 3.0 ports on the laptop, the docking station supports a VGA monitor, network, keyboard, mouse, sound and a printer. I haven't seen any performance issues with the network or the monitor. It's a nice solution for a universal docking station - just plug in power and the USB for the docking station (make sure and use a USB 3.0 port) and you are good to go.
I cannot say enough about the Plugable customer support. They were very responsive and helpful. When they wanted me to do something, they always told me both what to do and why we were doing it. There was no problem with returning the UD-160-A. I also noticed that in both the printed and online documentation they openly state the limitations of their devices which I really appreciated!
on November 28, 2015
Designed by a US based manufacturer of mainly USB based devices and accessories, the UD-3900 is currently their top of the line universal docking station. I think that arguably Plugable is best known for their docking stations. This is partly due to their being an early adopter of the now almost ubiquitous DisplayLink hardware that forms the basis of the docking station and many other of the higher quality USB to Display adapter type products. The founder of Plugable previously worked for DisplayLink, so the connection is perhaps a natural one.
For those unfamiliar with DisplayLink, they produce the almost magical chip inside the UD-3900 (the aptly named DL-3900) which handles all of the chores of turning a single USB port into one or two display outputs (though to get the maximum resolution of 1440p you cannot use the second output), a Gigabit Ethernet port, and the audio output. Normally there is way too much information in a high resolution video output at 60hz to fit inside the pipe of even USB 3.0, so DisplayLink (and this docking station by extension) captures the video your PC is producing at the system level and uses your PC hardware to compress it. It only bothers with the parts that are changing from frame to frame while it leaves the static portions of the screen untouched (work smarter, not harder!) and sends the now manageable bits over the USB bus to the docking station where the DisplayLink chip inside of it decompresses it to build the final frames for eventual output to your monitor. All of this happens in real time and I'm happy to say that now in 2015 it works absolutely beautifully.
My first experience with this technology came some time ago on an earlier/lower end version of their DL-3000 series chips and I was left wanting a little bit. Partially, though, it has been more of a matter of other technology catching up to DisplayLink as the speed of your PC plays a large part in the end result. It is probably much less of an issue even on budget hardware now than it used to be but it's important to know that if your machine is old enough to have needed you to add USB 3.0 support to it yourself through an expansion card you may want to review their system requirements and adjust your expectations.
In operation, getting the UD-3900 up and running couldn't be much easier. Grab the latest drivers directly from DisplayLink (Plugable supplies the link on their site) and install them. When it asks you to, plug your UD-3900 into your PC. It will more than likely perform a firmware update automatically at this poit. At the end of the process (it only takes a moment) it will ask you to restart your PC. You then plug in all of your other stuff - speakers, mouse, keyboard etc. after which you will have another desktop/monitor connected to your PC care of the docking station. From here on out whenever you bring your laptop to your desk you only have one cable to worry about - the single USB umbilical cord that will connect all of the stuff on your desk to your PC. Cool, right?
To give you some idea of the processing power used by your PC to send the video stream to the docking station I ran it through a torture test of sorts. While I currently don't have a display capable of the maximum resolution of 1440p, I did the best I could to bring it to it's knees by playing a full screen, high bitrate, 1080P fast moving movie through the display connected to the docking station. I used my HP Spectre X360 ultrabook sporting an Intel Core i7-5500U dual core CPU with hyperthreading running Windows 10 as my test machine and connected it to the HDMI port on the UD-3900. The reason this would be the a taxing use case for this docking station is that a full frame display output where almost every pixel from frame to frame to frame is going to be changing is going to cause the compression system mentioned earlier to have to work on almost the entire screen on every frame. I was impressed with the result, to say the least, in that the docking station handled it seemingly without breaking a sweat. The movie played smoothly without any really distracting jitter or jerking. The image quality was excellent and I'm not sure if I'd be able to tell if it was running on a native display output or not if I didn't know where it was coming from. On the PC side, the task manager reported about an average of 11% CPU use from the process governing the communication with the docking station - not nearly enough to impact the regular use of the PC at all. The audio passed just fine through the HDMI port, in case you were wondering. It's unfortunate that HDCP protected content is still not supported as I recall DisplayLink telling me that it was being worked on years ago.
As mentioned clearly by Plugable on their product page, this is not a gaming accessory and it more than likely will not work at all in most games due to various hardware limitations. If you need to run games from your PC you'll have to reach for a separate video cable and use your PCs native display output.
Apart from the USB display output which is the star of the show, of course, the other reason you're looking at a docking station is because you don't want to plug in your keyboard, mouse, speakers, and all of the other USB gadgets on your desk when you bring your laptop over. We have two USB 3.0 ports at the front and four USB 2.0 ports on the rear. Four ports is probably more than enough for your peripherals but you can always daisy chain another USB hub on if you need more devices that aren't particularly taxing on the bus. The built in USB hubs perform just fine and are plug and play like all hubs and are all operable through the single USB connection to the docking station as you would expect.
Plugable provides great post sales support for all of their products in the form of regular firmware and driver updates. Your UD-3900 has an internal USB 3.0 controller that may be eligible for a firmware update (I love how they come right out and tell you what chipsets they use internally) which is also available on the Plugable web site. It's just a simple matter of running the application, clicking one button and then power cycling the docking station. Chances are it would work perfectly fine even without updating it but it should ensure the best compatibility going forward. If you're anything like me you have an unhealthy obsession with software and firmware updates and will want to update it immediately regardless.
The Gigabit Ethernet controller that gets added to your PC is a huge help as well, not only as a matter of convenience to have your "stuff" plugged in through a single USB port but also because a lot of machines (ultrabook class in particular) do not have wired Ethernet at all any more and this is certainly the case with my Spectre X360. I avoid wireless whenever possible as it just doesn't match wired connections for speed and reliability and having that wired connection available at my desk without needing to buy another USB device is a huge plus. Performance was as expected through the Ethernet port pretty much maxing out the expected speed from Gigabit Ethernet while doing a large file transfer from my NAS over my LAN.
Things I would like to see improved, changed or just wish I had:
- 4K display support. 1440P is good, for now, as the vast majority of us are still on 1080P displays but 4K is going to become common eventually.
- All ports made into USB 3.0 ports (Or is that supposed to be called USB 3.1 now?), maybe even with a couple USB-C ports in the mix.
- I think the audio ports on the front is the wrong place to put them, they should be on the rear. Chances are if you're thinking of plugging in a headset/headphones you can easily access these ports directly on your laptop already and since they tend not to be permanent fixtures of a desktop they don't need to be hooked up all the time. The audio output on the rear would make more sense because you're more likely to have your speaker system set up permanently on your desk and these cables will remain plugged into the docking station. It's just not clean to have cabes snaking around to the front that are going to remain connected most of the time.
- I know I'm reaching here, but it would be amazing if a simple KVM could be implemented into the docking station so that at least some of the USB devices on a separate USB controller and the display output (preferably bypassing DL by utilizing an HDMI/DP input port) could be switched to a second host such as a desktop PC that occupies the same space. People like myself may use a laptop for work and a powerful desktop for play and would like to share the desktop setup with the laptop easily. I suppose one could drop your own USB 3.0 KVM into the chain ahead of the UD-3900 if this is an important use case for you but I think this would be a killer feature if it could all be handled in the same box.
- I would like to see the materials of the docking station to be changed to use a matte finish, this is just personal preference, maybe in two years gloss will be back in vogue and I'll ask you to change it back to glossy.
- I'd like the docking station case design to be changed to be orientation agnostic so that it could equally well be placed horizontally or vertically and be able to stack it on top or be stacked underneath of. Technically the current vertical design does save your desktop space but if you have other peripherals on your desk that are horizontal in nature (like Ethernet switches, etc.) it actually ends up being more convenient to stack them on top of each other. Also, a horizontal orientation would afford the ability to cleanly stash it underneath your monitor(s) or some other out of the way places.
Bottom line: This docking station is made out of quality bits by people that clearly care about what they're selling. It's backed by a company that stands behind its products. It just works. Whether your goal is to simply use your laptop like a desktop or to extend a PCs capabilities the UD-3900 proved itself to me as a capable and worthy product to the task. The DisplayLink technology works great, even to the point of handling full screen HD video content and it doesn't sap very much power from your host PC doing any of the things it does. I think it is priced reasonably for what it is and what it does and the support that comes with it. Prior to my experience with the UD-3900 I'm not sure I would have recommended friends, family and colleagues to use a docking station of this type but now I would have no problem doing so at all.
Note that I received a product sample for the purposes of an honest and unbiased review. I was not required to write nor do I ever promise a positive review.