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A docking station is a bridge to the past for many newer computers, but users might find that they need one even if they have the latest model. It's a device into which a person can plug a laptop in order to gain extra functionality, such as access to printers, mice, scanners, full-sized monitors and keyboards, and external hard drives. All of these peripherals can be plugged into the dock, and then, when the user connects the laptop, he can gain access to all of those peripherals without having to plug each one into the computer. This can be especially helpful if the laptop has a minimal number of USB or Firewire® ports.
Most newer laptops have more than enough USB or Firewire® ports for casual use, although some users find that they want to access a desktop monitor while using the laptop. Sometimes, a larger keyboard is also easier to type on. In each of these cases, it's usually possible for the user to plug the monitor or the keyboard directly into the laptop. Having everything plugged into a central device can provide more flexibility, however, especially if the laptop is often used on the go.
One instance in which this is particularly useful is when a person wants to hook up a newer laptop to an older printer. Printers of even the recent past routinely have serial port connectors, which are extremely uncommon on most laptops. In this case, it is possible to buy an adapter, but docking stations often include this type of port.
In essence, using a docking station converts a laptop computer into a desktop computer, even for a short period of time. A user can plug all of his peripheral devices into this machine so that they're easy to access, and then just unplug the computer itself when on the go, rather than having to disconnect each individual item. Especially when a combination of newer and older technology is used, this often allows everything to work together more easily.