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DisplayLink Docks and Ubuntu

Can you use a DisplayLink dock with Ubuntu? And, more importantly, should you? I recently researched this for a dock I wanted to buy for myself, and here’s what I found.

If you’re thinking about getting a DisplayLink dock for your laptop, you might not even be sure if the dock will work with Ubuntu. Well, there’s good news! As far as I’m aware, most (if not all) DisplayLink docks are compatible with Ubuntu. In fact, there’s a good chance your DisplayLink dock works with Ubuntu even if it says it doesn’t. This is because, fundamentally, any DisplayLink dock uses a DisplayLink chip, and DisplayLink (the company that develops DisplayLink technology and chips for various dock manufacturers) offers Ubuntu drivers themselves. If you have the DisplayLink software installed, connecting a DisplayLink dock is just like connecting anything else over USB, so it’s likely to work without problems, even on Ubuntu, on a wide variety of laptops.

DisplayLink docks fit certain uses really well (and others not so much). Their biggest advantage is that they can send video over a normal USB 3.0 (or USB 2.0 or USB-C) connection, so you can connect the dock to almost any laptop on the planet! (Including, as we’ll see, laptops running Ubuntu!) You can connect your keyboard, mouse, audio, ethernet, monitor, and other peripherals to the dock, and plug a single USB cable into your laptop to get all those connections. This is really helpful, for example, if you want to have a single dock at your desk for multiple laptops with different ports. But of course, you have to make trade-offs. Because DisplayLink compresses your video to be able to send it over USB, it doesn’t do well with video playback, gaming, or other high-framerate applications. (I tried watching a fullscreen 1080p video, and while it played it was stuttering just enough visually to feel disorienting.) I should also mention that there’s no noticeable slowness aside from video/gaming – if only a small part of the screen is changing, the compression works incredibly well. I was able to do a full day of work (programming, web browsing, Slack, etc) on a DisplayLink dock and wouldn’t have known the difference from a DVI monitor connection.

Plugable UD-6950H box

The specific DisplayLink dock I recently bought is a Plugable UD-6950H. I chose this model specifically because it’s a relatively modern dock (supports higher resolutions) that’s compatible with USB-3.0, and I wanted to use it with a laptop that doesn’t have USB-C. But purchasing a dock like this for Ubuntu is certainly a little confusing. It isn’t advertised with Ubuntu compatibility. In fact, on the product page, it literally says:

Not compatible with: Linux/Unix

However, as I mentioned above, it actually is compatible with Linux (and Ubuntu specifically) because it uses DisplayLink, and DisplayLink provides Ubuntu software. I’m not sure why it isn’t advertised as compatible with Ubuntu, but my hunch is that Plugable doesn’t want to guarantee support for Linux – if it doesn’t work, it’s not their problem. That’s fine; I don’t really fault them for it because I’m sure Ubuntu’s market share is small enough that it doesn’t really make sense for them to officially support. But the dock does work great with Ubuntu. I’m actually typing this blog post on my UD-6950H on Ubuntu, and the experience has been incredibly smooth! So, as far as I can tell, DisplayLink docks should generally be compatible with Ubuntu, and they fill a nice niche for someone who wants to regularly connect different laptops to their desk monitor, keyboard, and mouse. (Though, of course, I haven’t personally tested every DisplayLink dock myself, so the usual YMMV caveat applies here.)

My desk, with a docked monitor

You might need to change the versions in the filenames below to match the updated version you download. I've left the version I used as an example.
  1. Download the Ubuntu DisplayLink software from DisplayLink.

  2. Unzip the download.
    $ unzip "DisplayLink USB Graphics Software for Ubuntu5.4-EXE.zip"
    
  3. Make the installer executable:
    $ chmod +x displaylink-driver-5.4.0-55.153.run
    
  4. Run the installer with sudo.
    $ sudo ./displaylink-driver-5.4.0-55.153.run
    
  5. After installing the DisplayLink software, reboot. Then you can plug the your laptop into the dock and everything should just work.

In summary, DisplayLink docks work great with Ubuntu. The driver is easy to install and works well, and the overall experience is smooth. The biggest downside you’ll notice is that videos, games, and other high framerate applications don’t look great. This isn’t a problem with Ubuntu – it’s just the way DisplayLink works. But if you want to primarily use your dock for web browsing, writing, programming, spreadsheets, or any other office-like use, it will probably work great, and you’re unlikely to notice any “slowness” at all!

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