To Dock Or Not To Dock
When Microsoft released its Surface Pro 3, it promised that it can replace a laptop. By now we can see that even the lower end models fulfilled this promise, with some power to spare. Now, can the Surface Pro 3 replace your desktop computer as well? Microsoft seems to suggest just that, by offering the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Docking Station. If you are tempted to try it, keep reading and we will do our best to show you, how this can be done, how much it can cost and what options and accessories are available to make it a reality. Some of the peripherals like a monitor (including dual monitor configuration) or a printer are common for a standard PC or a Surface used as a desktop. But there are a few pieces that you will need only for a Surface configuration, we will try to list them and evaluate the extra expense associated with Surface PC.
While considering a purchase of a docking station for a Surface Pro 3 we should also weight in the productivity benefits. Connecting a full-size keyboard and a mouse, instantly improves our productivity and efficiency. However, the Surface Pro 3 docking station dual monitor setup takes our productivity to a new level. If you ever worked with a dual monitor setup, you probably know that it is a real game changer and we don't need to do much convincing to opt for such a configuration. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Docking Station makes multiplying the monitors very easy by providing the Mini DisplayPort connection on both the docking station and the Surface tablet. At the minimum you can have a dual monitor setup with an external monitor and the Surface's own screen, and if you wish to expand your screen real estate, you have multiple options available to do so.
Surface Pro 3 as a desktop - Is it worth it?
So how much extra do you need to spend before you can have a "Surface PC". Let's start with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 docking station, the current price on Amazon.com $140.99. Next, because a standard PC comes with a keyboard and mouse, we will need those as well, Logitech Desktop MK120 Mouse and keyboard Combo, $18.17 on Amazon. To match a standard PC's storage capacity, we will also add an extra hard drive, a WD My Passport Ultra Portable External USB 3.0 Hard Drive, 1TB, $59.00 on Amazon. And our total comes to just under $220.00.
Depending on your Surface Pro 3 model, the price of a matching PC will vary. For an entry level i3 model a match PC from a reputable source would cost around $300. Therefore, our Surface Pro 3 desktop comes at about 20% discount, compared to a standard desktop box. Because the price of the extras stays constant, regardless of a Surface tablet model, the higher the model of your Surface Pro 3, the bigger the savings. For the top i7 Surface model your savings could be as much as $500. The savings can be used for dual monitor setup to increase our productivity.
If the price is the only criterion, the Surface Pro 3 docking station solution is more economical and an overall better option, unless you have a compelling reason to maintain a dedicated desktop PC. In our calculations we completely ignored the software considerations. If the applications that you use require a license for each installation, using a single device as a tablet, a laptop and a desktop, will also save you some licensing fees.
Surface Pro 3 desktop PC - How it all fits together.
Although Microsoft Surface Pro 3 docking station is the simplest solution, it is not the only way to make a Surface Pro 3 desktop PC, not by a long shot. In theory you could connect a monitor to Surface's Mini DisplayPort, get a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, a wireless printer, a USB external hard drive and you have a fully functional desktop PC. There are also other options, with a universal docking station/port replicator you can create a setup that nearly matches the one with Microsoft's docking station (See our list of docking alternatives at the bottom of this page). Furthermore, even the simplest configuration can support a dual monitor setup, thanks to the Mini DisplayPort. So why use the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station? The main reason is a convenience, connecting and disconnecting your tablet is as easy as closing or opening the locking brackets that hold the Surface in the frame. Another compelling reason is the ability to charge your tablet while working in the desktop configuration.
When using Surface Pro 3 Docking station, you get five USB ports (three USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0), an Ethernet port (10/100/1000/Gigabit) and an audio port (3.5 input/output jack). For video you get an additional Mini DisplayPort, the Surface's build-in port is still available (above the docking station frame). This gives you plenty of options for connecting your favorite peripherals like, full-size keyboard, mouse, printer etc. The docking station comes with its own power adapter that provides power to the ports as well as charging capability for the Surface.
Surface Pro 3 docking station dual monitor setup with Mini DisplayPort.
One of the most important benefits of using the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station is the ability to multiply your screen real estate with a dual monitor configuration. Microsoft's designers decided to include a Mini DisplayPort in both the tablet and the docking station. This design feature opens up a plethora of possibilities for the monitor configuration. Currently the DisplayPort (version 1.2) is the most advanced video interface standard that supports high screen resolutions, including 4K/60 fps video and a multi-stream technology. With the multi-stream technology we can daisy-chain multiple monitors from a single video port. With Surface Pro 3 and the docking station the number of possible multi-monitor configurations is too large to analyze them all here, the combinations can vary, depending on a particular Surface model (at the minimum the Surface Pro 3 dual monitor setup is an option for all models), available monitors and required screen resolutions. For more information on daisy-chaining multiple monitors over DisplayPort connection, please read Driving Multiple Displays from a Single DisplayPort Output on DisplayPort.org website. If you have any questions regarding your particular configuration, please post a comment at the end of this post and we will try to provide you with as much info as possible.
For a multi monitor configuration, with two Mini DisplayPort connection available, you are able setup at least two external monitors while retaining the tablet as your third monitor. For more external monitors you can either daisy-chain a certified DisplayPort 1.2 monitor or use a multi-stream DisplayPort hub. For a current list of VESA certified multi-stream monitors please visit DB Multi-Stream Monitors page on DisplayPort.org web site. To see a list of multi-stream capable monitors on Amazon please visit Daisy-Chainable Monitors on Amazon in the docking station accessories section.
One more video option - wireless display adapter
As a bonus there is one more way to output your video. With Miracast wireless technology you can wirelessly send signal to a compatible TV set or a monitor. Alternatively, if your monitor, TV set or projector doesn't support Miracast but has a USB and an HDMI port, you can use the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter to send the video signal over the Wi-Fi link.
To find Miracast certified devices use the Wi-Fi Alliance Product Finder webpage.
Surface Pro 3 docking station accessories.
In the following sections we will list some of the most popular docking station accessories, that will help you maximize the productivity gains for your Surface Pro 3.
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station and alternatives.
Mouse, keyboard and input devices.
DisplayPort Multi-Stream certified monitors.
The following monitors had been certified by DisplayPort.org for Multi-Stream compatibility. For the current list of daisy-chainable monitors visit DisplayPort Product Database and search for DP Displays Multi-Stream.
(DisplayPort.org Multi-Stream certified)
(DisplayPort.org Multi-Stream certified)
(DisplayPort.org Multi-Stream certified)