Why Microsoft needs to release a new Surface Dock — now

Microsoft Surface Dock
Microsoft Surface Dock (Image credit: Windows Central)

The latest version of the Surface Dock was released more than two years ago. And though it gets the job done for most folks who want to use their Surface PCs to power a desktop workstation, or some extra ports, the Dock is lacking in a few key ways that are becoming more apparent thanks to powerful new Surface hardware, technological advancements, and price drops in 4K display technology.

From our forums: With the Surface Book 2 out, will Microsoft update the Surface dock?

I've been using a Surface Dock daily for the past six months or so, at first with my Surface Pro and now with a Surface Book 2. And while there's a lot to love — it's generally reliable, portable, simple to use and functional — it has a couple of glaring weakness, at least for a subset of advanced Surface users.

Here's a list of reasons why Microsoft needs to release a new Surface Dock, as well as some changes we'd like to see when it does.

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Surface Dock may not keep Surface Book 2 charged

What happens when I leave my laptop plugged in?

What happens when I leave my laptop plugged in?

As noted, I've been using my 15-inch Surface Book 2 with the Surface Dock. And I haven't had any issues during everyday computing. However, the Surface Dock power supply provides only 90 watts (W), and that charge is distributed to the various gadgets you connect to it. The cord that comes with the Surface Book 2 delivers 102W. Even if you use the 102W cord with the Dock, you're not getting as much power as the Surface Book needs in certain situations.

Our Executive Editor Daniel Rubino recently explained why the Surface Dock is not well suited for use with the 15-inch Surface Book 2, despite the fact that Microsoft's Dock page says it supports that laptop and does not mention any potential power limitations.

From Rubino:

[T]he Surface Dock is a few years old now and supplies less power to the Surface Book 2 partially because it allocates some of the power for the other ports (four USB Type-A, Ethernet, and two DisplayPorts) … In other words, having multiple devices and displays connected to the Surface Dock may reduce the overall power to the Surface Book 2, which is usually fine for everyday computing, but when in Best performance, may not be enough.

Surface Book 2 users who want the best possible experience may want to use it along with a monitor and various other devices. And they may want to enable the device's "Best performance" mode. But the Surface Dock could result in power drainage while the device is plugged in, which is unfortunate, at best, and possibly unacceptable for some users.

Microsoft's Surface Dock is now behind the times, in this regard, and it's not a good look for the company to only offer a Dock that cannot keep up with its highest-end laptop.

Surface Dock's (increasingly) poor port selection

The current Surface Dock has the following ports: two Mini DisplayPorts, one Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 3.0 ports and one 3.5mm audio-out port. Two years ago, the port array in the Surface Dock was acceptable. Today, not so much.

Why? There is no HDMI. There's no USB-C. And as such, the Dock also doesn't support Thunderbolt 3. All of which are standards these days.

For most Surface users, none of these omissions are deal breakers. But with the release of the Surface Book 2, they start to look like exactly that — omissions — instead of simple design decisions. And as Microsoft updates and releases additional new Surfaces, this will only become more apparent and more unfortunate.

The new Surface Dock needs to have all of these ports, more than one of them in some instances, so that it's "future proof." And Microsoft needs to release it sooner than later, before this becomes an issue for more Surface owners.

What about 4K displays?

Microsoft says the Surface Dock has "two high-definition video ports." But the company is careful to avoid the term 4K. Why?

Though you can connect and use two 4K displays along with your PC via the Surface Dock, the experience is less than ideal. Current Surface devices — not just the Dock, but the PCs themselves — only support 30 frame-per-second (FPS) refresh rates for two displays at true 4K, or at least 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, according to Microsoft (opens in new tab).That's not going to provide the experience most people who pay for two 4K displays, and who game or watch 4K content on them, expect, which would require a refresh rate of at least 60 FPS. (The latest Surface PCs can, however, power one 4K display at 60 FPS.)

What's that have to do with the Surface Dock? Right now, not much. But when Microsoft updates some, or all, of its Surface hardware to support true 4K on two or more displays, the Surface Dock needs to be able to keep up.

To sum that all up …

For most Surface users today, the Surface Dock is a suitable, though not perfect, docking solution. To be fair, the current Dock works well for the most part. It's portable and reliable. And it's very easy to set up and use.

But that's not enough. It was released two years ago, and in the tech world, that's a lifetime. It's also quite clunky and doesn't really fit the Surface aesthetic. But those a minor complaints.

The bottom line is that it's time for Microsoft to release an updated version of the Surface Dock, so all the potential problems described in this post become nonissues instead of genuine gripes.

See at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Al Sacco

Al Sacco is content director of Future PLC's Mobile Technology Vertical, which includes AndroidCentral.com, iMore.com and WindowsCentral.com. He is a veteran reporter, writer, reviewer and editor who has professionally covered and evaluated IT and mobile technology, and countless associated gadgets and accessories, for more than a decade. You can keep up with Al on Twitter and Instagram.

  • Before criticizing the dock, consider the limitations of the surface charging port. Some of these limits are due to limitations of the Surface hardware. If a better dock can be made, great, but you should research (and tell us) if the Surface Book 2 hardware connecting to the surface charging port supports Thunderbolt 3, or >102 Watts power, or two 4K displays. If it does these things, then you are correct in requesting a new dock - having this information about the Surface book 2 hardware will strengthen your case. If it doesn't, then this article is ignorant lazy journalism and a waste of readers' time.
  • "Ignorant lazy journalism?" Did you even read this story before insulting my work? I'm inclined to think not. I clearly state that no Surface PC supports two 4K displays at 60FPS refresh rate. I also detail the refresh rate at which you can power two 4K displays, and I state the resolutions. The Surface Book 2 does not support Thunderbolt 3. So it doesn't matter if the current dock does or not, in that regard. But you seem to have missed the point of this article: The current Surface Dock is behind the times, and Microsoft needs to release one that's "ahead of the times," so that when new Surface hardware comes out with Thunderbolt 3 and the ability to power 4K/60FPS on more than one display, the dock can keep up. Thanks for the "thoughtful" comment, though ...
  • I suspect that any new Surface Dock with those modern specifications would be rolled out at the same time as the new Surface hardware that can take advantage of those new features.  I don't think that they would roll out a new Surface Dock before the new Surface hardware as that would let the cat out of the bag as to new, unannounced features.  The dock announcement typically follows the device rather than the inverse.
  • Why release a dock that no Surface currently can make full use of? Why not release it when the appropriate next gen Surface comes out to not create any more confusion that it already would? I currently have the dock to my 2017 Surface Pro and it does everything I need from it. As such, when has connecting to 2 4k displays at 60hz become the standard? I don't. I'd imagine very few enthusiasts and power users would do this, sure. The same with the amount of people I bet would connect to an eGPU. The desire to have this capability? Not so much for me...
  • Take a look at the presentation available here (which gives a pretty good explanation of whats going on with the dock, the Surface Connect, USB-C, Thunderbolt and the upcoming USB-C adapter for Surface Connect): https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Microsoft-Ignite-Content-2017/Sur... If you really mean that they should release a dock that is ahead of the times, even though current gen Surface hardware won't be able to support it, then I'd have to disagree. It makes a lot more sense to wait until the Surface hardware is actually there to support TB3 or whatever they decide - otherwise people will be disappointed in the Surfaces not delivering what the dock is capable of supporting. You also want to wait until the next gen Surfaces have had all of their final design decisions made otherwise you are disjointing development of two parts that need to go hand in hand (or connector in connector, if you will). If your point is that it would have been nice, if Microsoft would have supported Thunderbolt 3 by now and also to have released a dock that supported it, then I would have to agree with you. With regard to the power "drainage" issue on the 15" Surface Book 2, this is a matther of deliberate choice. Microsoft has said, that it will drain the battery to begin with but then start to charge once it gets to a certain battery level. I don't know if think this is great or not, but I do see that the advantage is that you get more power out of your device (literally and in terms of compute power). So if you need the performance, you'll be able to get all that it can give. If you don't need the power, dial it down from best performance. Microsoft could, if they wanted to, adjust "best performance" so that it doesn't drain on the battery while plugged in, but then you wouldn't get as much performance - even with the "best performance" setting.
  • My point was that these details would have been good to have been put in the article. I re-read the post and think the way I wrote it was rude. I had no business insulting you - I'm pretty embarrassed to have done it, so I'm sorry about that.
  • That charging port on the surface needs to be redesigned. It's way too big.
  • Perhaps it is "big" because it does much more than charging.  It is the dock port for video, usb, power, etc.  However, it is perhaps twice as "big" as it needs to be because the connector can be attached in either direction.
  • USB C can do all of this (including charging up to 100W) and is much smaller.
  • I like the fact that if the cord gets yanked on, my Surface stays put. Try that with a USB-C connector - your Surface would be on the floor. 
  • Its magnetic. In it travels usb data, monitor data, lot of power, audio, ethernet data.
    Any undersized connector and cable usually lead to issue.
    So it's "big" for a specific reason.
  • USB-C does all that too, it's not magnetic though, but magnets aren't the reason it's that big. Is there really any advantage to the Surface port over USB-C?
  • I just want USB 3.1 with Thunderbolt 3 so I can use every dock I want.
  • @al-sacco What is your take on the Vertical Surface Dock that MSpoweruser wrote about yesterday? https://mspoweruser.com/can-now-buy-vertical-surface-docks-make-device-workstation/  
  • What is there to write about this? It's just a mount that holds your Surface Pro, with a spot for the Surface Connector to fit and automatically attach/detach (a function only the sConnector can do reliably, since it's magnetic). - End of article
  • "90 watts (w)", "102w".
    The International System of Units (SI) have symbols for common units, watts symbol is "W" (capital double-u), so why not using the existing symbol?
    Note it is not an abbreviation but a mathematical symbol, they are case sensitive and must be written as they are defined. It is not a question of style, uppercase and lowercase prefixes are not interchangeable and regularly mean different things.
  • You're right, that was a typo. And it's fixed. Thanks.
  • I support the request. But why should HDMI be needed to be future proof?
  • Reliable?
    I don't know.
    I had the dock exchanged because randomly at least 6 times in a day I lose Ethernet connection for 5 seconds. Sometimes Dock goes crazy when Surface Book exit from the standby: the dock can't show a resolution above 640*480 with the external monitor. In that case I've to manually disconnect the AC adapter to restart the dock.
    The same issue is on the replaced dock.
    I hope it isn't the Book the source of the issue.
  • The current Dock is still a $200 item in the Microsoft Store, but more and more I see them offered by other retailers at less than $150 and on one recent occasion as low as $125 through Amazon. I wonder if that indicates an effort to sell off available inventory to make room for an upgraded Dock in the near future. I wouldn't be surprised to see a new Dock in the next few months, but -- Microsoft being Microsoft -- I wouldn't bet on it either. Those still having troubles with the current Dock should know that there was a firmware update in early November. There is a new Dock Updater Tool you need to get, so search for it; you can't get it from the Store. For some reason Microsoft seems to be treating this update like a state secret.
  • I'd like to see hdmi and MIDI also.
  • It took me a year of using the dock to realize the store has an app that will update the firmware on it. Even then I was stumbling across is. Might fix a lot of people's issues.
  • "Microsoft" and "Now" in the same sentence is somewhat of an oxymoron lately.
    "Next version" is more appropriate. /S
  • I will say, the port complaint is a little weird, from a video standpoint. Microsoft hasn't come off og miniDisplayPort for the Surface itself, so why would one expect it for the Dock? HDMI was unquestionably the more popular standard 2 years ago, and still is, but it was never a focus for Microsoft products. I think many of us would appreciate HDMI on the Surface Dock, but that's no diferent than the reality from its initial release. They seems to prefer miniDisplayPort, maybe just to stick with a consistent offering across Surface. That said, 2 mDP and adding an HDMI wouldn't hurt. They definitely need to update these things for a higher power output though, if their new products can't properly be powered with 100% consistency. adding the higher transfer speeds of Type-C and TB3 would be nice, but I think they also just need to get the 3.0 ports to 3.1 A as well.
  • With the Surface Book 2, they've shown that they believe in USB-C enough to use it instead of mDP and let users buy the adapter they want for either DP or HDMI. I think that's a good show that the Dock stands to benefit from the same shift in port support. I could see them offering one of each or sticking with 2 mDP ports, since that's their preference historically, but I think the better bet is to include USB-C ports instead and allow users to plug USB-C devices directly, or USB-C to HDMI/mDP instead.  
  • Until HDMI 2.0 became more common, you couldn't use it for diaplays above 1920x1200 so DisplayPort (apart from being royalty payment free) was the best choice.  There are still plenty of 4k desktop monitors that don't have HDMI 2.0 so if you want 4k 60Hz you need DisplayPort.
  • first world problems for second rate geeks, i get it.
  • honestly true. i dont need this and never will
  • Wow, i didnt even read this article i just needed to make comment. We are an IT reseller in Western Australia, and we have returned 30 docks (100 percent return rate) Repalced with startech docks and seperate power adaptor.Too many problems to mention here. I for one will never purchase nor recommend a Microsoft Dock again.
  • Whle my company didn't return as many as you we did return about 20%.  Mostly issue with mini display adapters (which startech genuinely worked better than the ms).  I also found that to drive 3 monitors my SP4 worked better on the original surface dock with one min display port out and use a startech triple monitor adapter.  It has been rock solid since I have changed to the old dock.  
  • Ouch.  On the other hand, mine is working perfectly.  0% failure rate. :-)
  • I am Puzzled how come no more people complain about the physical design of the latest dock. I have both docks and I prefer the original docking station.  btw: you can order a free of charge plastic insert @ Microsoft to allow a Surface Pro 4 to dock in the original Surface dock. Never understood why they do not update the original docking station for MSSP5, plenty of room there for whatever connector....  
  • The new design dock is much better than the old big one?  It also fits the Laptop, all Surface Pro'2, all Surface books.  The big old design couldn't do that. 
  • While they're at it, give me an external GPU option for my new Surface Pro. I recall them saying at one point that an adapter for USB-C may be released at some point, wish they'd make good on that.
    Like come on MS, let's get some stuff going here.
  • Especially Thunderbolt would be a nice addition ... oh well. Regarding HDMI: I would have no problem with HDMI being finally faded out for good ... Display Port is just better in most cases. I would love to see Display Port on TVs as well. TVs are really the last "HDMI Stronghold". Other than that most devices have Display Port nowadays.
  • DisplayPort does not belong on TVs. How many home theater amplifiers have DisplayPort connectors on them? Probably about zero, except maybe for some real expensive ones. HDMI works just fine.
  • I've often wondered why the Surface Dock couldn't include a discrete GPU that would beef up the specs a bit in the video department for Surface. I suspect the Surface connector might be the bottleneck in that scenario, but otherwise, wouldn't that be a great solution for those of us who need a little more power when using a Surface Pro device for video editing or gaming? Seems like it would be doable for Microsoft.
  • Exactly right, the Surface Connect doesn't have enough bandwidth for dGPU support. You need Thunderbolt 3 for that and its PCI-E lanes. Other than that, I absolutely agree. Once Microsoft decides to go all in on Thunderbolt 3 or similar, it should, in theory, become possible. The question is whether it would be possible to make a solution with a dGPU built in that has sufficient cooling and isn't as big as the other dGPU/Thunderbolt3 cabinets currently available, such as the Razor Core.
  • I was told, when asking about the difference between DP and HDMI, that Display Port was by far much better in quality than HDMI and to consider it as a superior professional standard in quality. Which is why they use it instead...where is this in context? 😅
  • DP is far, far more useful than HDMI.  They have wireless HDMI for those looking to connect to a projector or media device.  Most folks are not using even 1 4K display, let alone 2.  I know those who have the dual 4k's.  But they are not exactly your main body of users.  USB C might be a nice add though again, those devices are very few across the market.  Power could be addressed a bit yes, but that is hardly a reason to rush a product to market.  Dual 1080 displays fit the vast majority of day to day workers (those who might be equipped with a Surface product), and those work just fine.  Power issues are non existent (as in entirely never ever happen) in day to day business use.  And when we ask MS to rush a product to us we find out that rushing was a bad thing and we complain.  Better to refine a product and give us something useful that has been tested and works well.  So yes a new dock will be nice, but we're doing ok without it for a little while.