Large body offers several different types of connections, making it useful for hosting different accessories and storage devices. Thunderbolt 3 port is 4K compatible.
Connections to external devices and accessories are often dropped temporarily.
Single monitor output will run a 4K video output. The body of the docking station is small enough to fit on crowded surface spaces. Comes with an Ethernet port.
The body of the docking station is large, taking up more space than comparable options.
The 85W power delivery offers plenty of juice for most laptops and computer accessories. Compatible with most PC and Apple laptops. Can output video to 2 monitors.
Dual display setup suffers in performance when trying to use the full 4K resolution.
Provides 2 HDMI ports and 2 DisplayPort ports for multiple 4K displays. Includes 4 USB 3.1 ports plus a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port for further explansion. Adds Ethernet networking and audio jack.
Not supported by non-Lenovo devices including Macs.
Provides USB 3.1, 3.0, and 2.0 ports, plus a dedicated USB-C PD port. Adds 2 HDMI ports, 1 DisplayPort, and 1 VGA port for up to 4K output on multiple displays. Compact and portable. Needs no drivers.
Some complaints of longevity issues and overheating.
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Thunderbolt 3 ports are becoming more common on laptops and desktops due to the increased speeds and capabilities they offer. Thunderbolt 3 docks use ports to expand a computer’s arsenal of other connections, such as USB, HDMI, and DisplayPort. This way, you can turn a single Thunderbolt 3 port into an array of different connections that can handle accessories like thumb drives, keyboards, mice, monitors, and more.
Choosing the right Thunderbolt 3 dock requires a little planning. You need to know what types of devices you’ll want to connect so you can find a dock with the right connections. Some research into device compatibility for transferring data or charging batteries will also help you find a Thunderbolt 3 dock that performs as expected.
To learn all you can about specifications and terminology, the best place to start is this guide. You’ll find helpful information on features and considerations that may help you get the most out of a dock. We’ve also included a few of our own recommendations.
Since the point of a Thunderbolt 3 dock is to expand the number of ports available to your computer, size determines just how much of an expansion you will get. The portability of the dock will also be influenced by its size, since larger docks meant for desktops or massive computer setups won’t be easy to carry around.
For the best portability, a small or mini Thunderbolt 3 dock is the best way to go. They are easy to store in a bag or even carry around in a pocket if necessary. Small docks usually come with three or four ports of different types. A couple of USB-A ports are the most common since the vast majority of electronic accessories use a USB-A cable or adapter.
A larger dock is better for a workstation setup. For example, if you have a home desktop computer, a large Thunderbolt 3 dock can free up many of the ports on the computer tower itself. Some of the largest docks have rarer ports like HDMI or DisplayPort access, so you can add additional monitors.
A unique feature with Thunderbolt 3 is the ability to charge some compatible devices. For smart devices in particular, using a ThunderBolt 3 port is more convenient and quicker than using a regular USB charging port. With a dedicated dock, it’s easy to charge smaller devices without using extra ports on the computer or laptop itself.
To get a dock that will charge your devices, it’s important to take a look at compatibility. Many docks come advertised as “charging compatible” or “with power charging” to indicate that the Thunderbolt 3 or USB ports can actually transfer power. The specifications will also give you details on which ports can actually charge a device and what the wattage is.
Keep in mind that some smart devices may have compatibility issues with Thunderbolt 3 or USB charging on a dock. USB-C ports, in particular, have varying degrees of success based on the specific device and the USB cable.
USB cables have become a popular way to transfer data between computers/devices and to charge portable batteries. Virtually all Thunderbolt 3 docks have one or two USB ports to add to a computer’s built-in set. Larger docks may have five or six USB ports of different types to accommodate different cables and plug-ins.
The standard USB Type-A, or USB-A, is the most common style of USB port. The larger port allows many accessories to transfer data or draw power for charging. Having a Thunderbolt 3 dock for the USB-A ports alone is a great way to add more flexibility to your laptop or desktop setup. A dock may also include smaller ports, such as USB Type-B and C, for smart devices with a thinner profile.
Outside of transferring data and charging devices, Thunderbolt 3 ports can also transfer visual information for monitors. In most cases, you need a monitor compatible with Thunderbolt 3 ports to use it natively. However, with the right dock, it’s easier to use other styles of monitors for everyday computer use.
Higher-end docks tend to come with one or two video ports. HDMI and DisplayPort are two of the most popular connections for modern-day monitors. Compared to older VGA monitors, these ports support greater screen resolutions. HDMI (and some DisplayPort models) also support audio, meaning you can use the same cable for sound and visual outputs. Using cable adapters, you can also connect older video cables (like VGA) for older monitors.
Thunderbolt 3 ports
Despite the name, most Thunderbolt 3 docks actually lack a healthy supply of Thunderbolt 3 ports. Since USB, HDMI, and DisplayPort are far more common with devices and electronic accessories, dock manufacturers tend to prioritize these ports over Thunderbolt 3. Some docks do include one Thunderbolt 3 port for daisy-chaining devices.
Thunderbolt daisy-chaining is a way to connect multiple devices using just one port. Each device must have its own Thunderbolt port for the next device to connect to. Using one port and several cables, it becomes possible to connect a laptop, desktop, hard drive, monitor, and other compatible devices together.
Compared to most USB docks, a Thunderbolt 3 dock is a bigger investment in terms of price. Most portable Thunderbolt 3 docks with a basic set of USB ports start around $100. It is possible to find docks below $100, but most are only geared for transferring data like pictures and documents.
Between $100 and $250, standard Thunderbolt 3 docks include several USB ports in addition to specialized connections like HDMI or DisplayPort. Docks on the smaller side are great for adding peripherals to a laptop setup such as extra monitors, speakers, keyboards, and mice. Over $250, larger Thunderbolt 3 docks offer more connections and features.
Look for a Thunderbolt 3 dock with multiple HDMI ports to add a multiple monitor setup to a laptop or mini computer.
Docks with a built-in SD card reader expand your ability to transfer files from different types of storage formats.
If you want faster internet speeds but don’t have a laptop with an Ethernet port, buy a Thunderbolt 3 dock with an Ethernet connection to get speeds up to 10 Gbps.
Thunderbolt-based storage devices are an easy way to get fast transfer speeds and a lot of room to store files. For docks with a Thunderbolt 3 port, these storage devices can transfer files faster than normal USB devices and ports.
Don’t have a sound card? Some Thunderbolt 3 ports have audio inputs and outputs for speakers, headphones, and microphones.
It’s not hard to find Thunderbolt 3 docks of different sizes to meet your needs. On the low end, the CalDigit Mini Dock expands any laptop’s Thunderbolt 3 port with two extra HDMI ports and two USB-A ports, making it easier to set up a small desktop workstation with extra monitors and peripherals. For something larger, the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a slender tower that comes with five USB-A ports for different accessories. Best of all, this dock has an additional Thunderbolt 3 port, so you can add other Thunderbolt 3 devices — including an additional dock — to expand your setup even more.
Q. Can I connect my monitor to a Thunderbolt 3 dock if it doesn’t have an HDMI or DisplayPort?
A. Yes, you can do so using connection adapters. Many companies make HDMI- and DisplayPort-to-Thunderbolt 3 adapters with the right shapes so everything fits together.
Q. How fast will a Thunderbolt 3 dock be for transferring data?
A. That depends on the port you use on the dock. While Thunderbolt 3 ports are faster than USB ports, the speed is only as fast as the port you use. If you use a USB-A port, for example, the speed will be limited to 5Gbps with USB 3.
Q. How do I install a Thunderbolt 3 dock?
A. No installation should be necessary. Most computers automatically detect and configure new docks. You can check on the computer for the extra ports to verify everything worked. If not, consult the owner’s manual for troubleshooting help.
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