On Dell and their WD-15 Dock

Dell are usually pretty solid, as a brand. A bit pricey maybe, but they’ve survived because they are usually as good, if not better, than their rivals at HP and Lenovo. I had no issues recommending my bosses replace their outgoing MacBook Pros with the 2015 Dell XPS 15, billed by reviewers as the “Windows […] MacBook Pro”. The XPS 15, by itself, absolutely lives up to that moniker. But something terrible must have happened within Dell, because the docking station they built for their latest laptops, the WD-15, is an abject failure.

We needed the docking stations because the bosses wanted dual monitors. On the MacBooks, this was astoundingly simple; purchase two Thunderbolt Displays, plug one into the other and the other into the MacBook and watch as the MacBook receives power and outputs video. The Apple mantra of “it just works” writ large.

The Windows ecosystem is rarely as straightforward, and I accept the need for docks to go between a laptop and multiple monitors. Our users get a Belkin USB 3.0 hub to power twin 1080p displays, and they work really well, requiring only the generic DisplayLink driver. Unfortunately these wouldn’t work for my bosses, as they wanted a one-port devices and charging solution like the MacBook. No problem, the WD-15 is what Dell recommend for this exact scenario.

As a reminder, the Apple way requires you to plug in a cable and you’re good to go. The generic Windows way requires you to install one bit of software and then plug your cables in. The Dell way needs you to install five individual software packages, with a reboot between each installation. Their driver download page doesn’t even highlight that the correct process, which has only been noted in their community support forum, varies from Dell laptop to Dell laptop, and requires you to install those patches in a specific order to expect them to work at all! What the hell, Dell? Who OK’d this out-of-box experience? Upwards of half an hour to install the patches on a brand new system, and if you miss the unmentioned instructions, having to uninstall them all and start again?

The real kicker, then is that even after that arduous process, it still might not work. Ours didn’t output video. Other reported issues include displays turning off at random. I called up Dell Support, and after confirming that I’d run through their hidden process, the rep admitted there had been “some issues” with the model, and suggested I get a refund. The alternative was to wait “a month or so” for a new patch which “may” resolve the issue. At this point I’d wasted so many hours uninstalling and reinstalling Dell drivers that I opted for the refund.

TL;DR? Dell has released a product that’s pretty fundamentally broken to accompany one of their flagship devices. Even if it wasn’t fundamentally broken, it has the worst out-of-the-box install experience of any device I have ever used. This should not fly in 2016, do not buy a Dell WD-15.