Most docking stations for laptops are proprietary and only useful with a certain brand (and in too many cases certain model) which puts a lot of people off getting them.

Until now most generic dock extenders have supported basic functions like network and USB expansion but you still had to connect the video cable to the laptop directly and they didn't really offer much goodness.

Well, for road warriors looking for a longer term solution at home (or reasonably sized enough to sling into their suitcase) both Targus and Toshiba have solutions worth taking a look at.

The DynaDock from Toshiba (pictured above) connects to your laptop with a single USB 2.0 connection and draws power from a mains adapter. From that connection it replicates (or provides) speaker and microphone connections, a 10/100 network port and (with the addition of a video device driver to your computer) connection to an external display. Currently Vista is only supported in basic Mirror mode but WinXP suppors all video modes. Enhanced support for Vista and Windows 2000 is rolling out over the rest of 2007. The DynaDock comes in VGA and DVI versions (personally I'd get the DVI unit and a VGA dongle if I needed... adds to the longevity of the unit). There is an option with the DynaDock to keep a couple of the USB ports powered at all times - handy for charging cellphones, Zunes or other devices.

Similar to the DynaDock is the (less snappily named) Universal Docking Station with Video from Targus. The specs are pretty much identical to the DynaDock with the exception that the Targus unit provides full Vista video support now (but it's VGA not DVI only), and is designed for you to rest the laptop on to provide extra cooling (something the vertical design of the Toshiba unit precludes).

Because both of these units connect via USB 2.0 although throughput should be good I can imagine if you're using the docking station to display at a high resolution, downloading a large file and storing it on a USB attached external device all via the hub it would put a bit of strain on performance.

Luckily Targus have the answer to that problem, for users with an ExpressCard connector at least. The (even worse named) ExpressCard Notebook Docking Station with Digital Video and Audio (phew) connects 5 times faster than USB 2.0 so will be able to maintain performance under even quite high loads.

The specs on this unit are a step above the others with networking supported at 10/100 and 1000 Base-T and video supported via both VGA and DVI connectors. Like the others it supports surround sound and microphone input but also adds an S/PDIF Toslink optical connection.

It'll be interesting to see if either of these lets you go as far as three monitors - the one on the notebook, an external one connected to the laptop itself and then a third off the docking station. But I guess that's just silly!

For the moment all of these solutions require that you make two connections to your laptop - power and either the USB or ExpressCard connection to the hub. The one thing most of the OEM docking solutions excel at is the no connection drop-in setup but for sheer convenience (and portability) these devices are the way to go....