Have you gone out and bought yourself a new monitor, only to find that it doesn’t seem to work with your Surface Pro 3 and its Microsoft docking station?
It can be infuriating because the external (or second) monitor might not work when plugged in through the Surface Docking Station. However, it does work when attached to the Surface’s mini-DisplayPort directly.
So, I thought I’d write up the basic troubleshooting steps to help you diagnose and correct this monitor connection problem with your Surface Pro 3 docking station.
These troubleshooting steps are generic enough that they should work regardless of the type of Mini DisplayPort adapter you’re using (VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort) and might even help you if you’re using a different docking station than the Microsoft model.
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station Troubleshooting: Check Your Connections
Let’s start with the (very) basics. First, you should make sure everything is connected correctly.
- Make sure the power light for the docking station is on
- Make sure the monitor is getting power
- Make sure the cable is connected properly to the monitor
- Unplug and reconnect the Mini-DVI adapter on the back of your docking station
- Try flipping the connector for the adapter over (turns out some adapters can go in upside-down)
- Take the Surface out of the docking station then put it back in
You might be surprised how often it’s just a loose wire. Most people set their docking station on the back of their desk and let the cables hang. Gravity eventually causes the connections to work themselves loose.
You can help prevent connection issues by good cable management and making sure connectors are firmly attached (and screwed down where possible).
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station Troubleshooting: Install Latest Windows Updates
Do yourself a favor and make sure ALL available updates are installed first. Trust me on this, I guarantee you that applying updates is the first thing Microsoft will tell you to do when call them.
Don’t count on the fact that you have your Surface set to update automatically. If the update you need to fix the problem is deemed non-critical (or important), it will likely not install on its own.
In fact, just today, I was prompted to install updates on my Surface, after I did, I went back to re-check and guess what? There were more updates! They weren’t automatically installed because they were deemed optional by Microsoft.
- Plug in your Surface Pro 3 to the docking station (this is important!) and make sure the docking station is getting power. If you don’t have the Surface in the dock, it’s possible some updates won’t be downloaded.
- Swipe from the right to go Settings, then Change PC Settings
- Tap Recovery and Updates
- Under Windows Update, tap Check Now
- NEVER trust that everything will update on its own.
- Click View Details
- Select all updates and click Install
- Rinse and repeat – after each install, re-check, do this until there are no more updates to install.
Restart your Surface and disconnect and reconnect it to the docking station. If your problem goes away, and about 60% of the time we’ve suggested this to people it does, then you are all set and can now use the second monitor with your docking station.
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station Troubleshooting: Display Settings
It’s also possible you’re having a problem because of your display settings.
- Hold down Windows + P at the same time. This will bring up a menu of options for how you project to second monitor as shown below
- Select the Second Monitor Only option. If that fixes the problem, stop here
- If that didn’t do the trick, try the Extend option
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station Troubleshooting: Check How Your Adapter Fits
It could be that the plastic around the Mini-DisplayPort connector is preventing a good connection.
This is because the adapters are often made as cheaply as possible (i.e. as cheaply as the manufacturer can get away with) and usually not specifically designed for the Surface tablets or docking stations.
As a result, they might not quite be up to spec and that may cause them to have issues working with the Surface Docking Station, even if they work with the tablet itself.
We have heard reports that the metal connector end from some manufacturers may simply be slightly too short to connect properly with the docking station. Apparently, the Microsoft docking station’s opening is ever so slightly deeper than most.
If that’s the case, you may be able to fix your connector with a slight adjustment. Basically, you can use a small flat file to file the plastic part back slightly to expose more of the metal plug which will allow the connector to make a better connection.
Don’t do anything drastic, you probably just have to take a tiny bit off to make it fit better. If you take more than half a millimeter off, it’s probably too much.
Be careful though. If you take too much off, you could ruin the connector (and the adapter) all together so try this at your own risk.
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station Troubleshooting: Check Adapter Compatibility
The Mini-DisplayPort is capable of supporting monitors with VGA, DVI and HDMI interfaces. However, not all device or adapters are made equal – there are multiple iterations in all of these technologies. In fact, Mini-DisplayPort adapters may be different themselves, for example mini-DisplayPort 1.1 and 1.2 support displaces with different resolutions.
The SP3 Docking Station is optimized to work with Mini-DisplayPort 1.2 technology. If you’re using an older adapter you may have problems. I know, I know…, they are supposed to be downward compatible but the reality is that they aren’t always. So, error on the side of caution and get a 1.2 compatible version.
Note: we have heard from a lot of folks that using a Mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, simply doesn’t work with the dock. I’ve not tested it personally because I don’t have a monitor with a DisplayPort but we have both HDMI and DVI and they work fine.
Lastly, if you have an Apple adapter, please don’t complain that it doesn’t work. I’ve spent my entire career trying to get Apple and Windows to play nice together and, sometimes, they simply don’t. You can do all sorts of work-around’s and tricks to get them to work… kinda, but overall, I don’t recommend it.
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station Troubleshooting: Try a Different Monitor
This is a bit drastic, I know, but consider trying a different monitor. Since most of you probably don’t have one laying around, perhaps borrow one from work (with permission) or test one at your local computer store. If the same adapter and docking station work fine with the monitor, then perhaps you have a monitor compatibility issue. This does not happen often but it does happen.
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station Troubleshooting: Exchange Your Docking Station
Finally, if you feel that you spent enough time on this issue, contact Microsoft. The SP3 docking station is under warranty for 1 year. Take advantage of it and exchange it for another one – it is possible that you have a defective one.
I have read, however, that changing the docking station, doesn’t always fix the problem. If that’s the case, the underlying problem is still there and it can be many different things: adapter, monitor, cable, etc.
In summary, I want to say that I totally get the frustration of technology not working when you expect it to. It is, after all, supposed to enhance our lives, not make us angry, but technology is just technology and it does fails us way too often.
Good luck on solving this problem. If you have experience with it and were able to get it to work, please share with us in the comments.