Friday, November 27, 2020
Home Computers 8 Best Thunderbolt 3 docks for home, travel, and budget

8 Best Thunderbolt 3 docks for home, travel, and budget [2020]

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Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Lou Wheeler

While Thunderbolt 3 has been around for a while now, it’s only just beginning to be a ubiquitous feature across mainstream consumer devices from all manufacturers. Yes, Apple has been making use of the technology for a while, but now you can find it on all sorts of laptops in all price and feature groups, as well as desktop computers—and even AMD Ryzen motherboards finally! With this new availability, many have begun the switch to building their setups around a Thunderbolt 3 hub or dock, allowing all of their devices to connect to their laptop or computer with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable. Finding the right Thunderbolt 3 dock for you may be a bit of a challenge, however, but we’re here to help find the best one for you.

Best all-around Thunderbolt 3 dock: CalDigit TS3 Plus

CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock - 87W Charging, 7X USB 3.1 Ports, USB-C Gen 2, DisplayPort, UHS-II SD Card Slot, LAN, Optical Out, for 2016+ MacBook Pro & PC (Space Gray - 0.7m/2.3ft Cable)
  • [15 PORTS OF CONNECTIVITY]: 2x Thunderbolt 3 40Gb/s, DisplayPort 1.2, 5x USB-A & 1 USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gb/s), 1x USB-C 3.1 Gen2 (10Gb/s data only), Gigabit Ethernet, UHS-II SD Card Slot (SD 4.0), Optical Audio (S/PDIF), 3.5mm Stereo Audio In & Out. Vertical or horizontal orientation. Sturdy full aluminum construction with integrated heat sink without a fan.
  • [IMPROVED from 85W to 87W LAPTOP CHARGING]: Provides up to 87W to charge your laptop and power all of your USB peripherals. The secondary Thunderbolt 3 port provides 15W of power for downstream devices. Please note: Firmware update required for 87W
  • [DUAL 4K EXTENDED DISPLAYS]: Connect up to two [email protected] (4096 x 2160 30-bit color) monitors via DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port, OR a Single [email protected] display can be supported via the Thunderbolt 3 port. (***DisplayPort to HDMI/DVI/VGA adapter / cable must be an ACTIVE type. Passive dongle/cable would not work.***)

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock isn’t new by any means, but it continues to be the king of the crop. No other Thunderbolt 3 hub offers as many USB ports of both Type-A and Type-C, a fast UHS-II card reader, dual [email protected] displays, and 87W of USB-PD available for almost all compatible laptops.

It’s because of these reasons that we actually really love this Thunderbolt dock for a really nice home desk setup, such as a video editing laptop workstation. With the TS3 Plus you’ll have a very easy way to bring your laptop back to your desk and convert to a full desktop setup with as little as one cable with very high reliability.

The TS3 Plus isn’t the cheapest device in the group, either, but it’s come down considerably in price over the past year and makes its value that much more unbeatable. It might not be the most portable form factor but its feature set is unrivaled and earns our top pick honors.

Also great/best USB Power Delivery Thunderbolt Three dock: Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock (TBT3-UDZ)

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock with 96W Charging, Dual Monitor USB C Dock - Compatible with MacBook and Windows, 2X DisplayPort and HDMI 2.0, 1x 10Gbps USB-C, 6X USB, Ethernet, Audio, Micro SD/SD
  • 100W MAX POWER - The TBT3-UDZ laptop dock delivers the fastest laptop charging rate for certified Thunderbolt devices - up to 100W (96W certified), while also safely charging laptops needing 85W or less. Maximize compatibility with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C systems
  • 14-IN-1 EXPANSION - Connect 2x HDMI or DisplayPort monitors, 1x USB-C (10Gbps), 1x USB-A (10Gbps), 5x USB 3.0 (5Gbps), Gigabit Ethernet, Audio In/Out, SD/microSD all through a single 2.6ft Thunderbolt 3 cable (40Gbps)
  • VERSATILE DUAL 4K DISPLAYS - This laptop docking station's dual monitor design is the first Thunderbolt dock to offer a choice between dual HDMI and DisplayPort displays. Drive up to two 4k 60Hz displays via Thunderbolt 3 or two 1080p 60Hz displays via USB-C

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Plugable has been teasing their new Thunderbolt 3 dock for quite some time now and as of November 10th, 2020, it’s now available. The Plugable TBT3-UDZ is a full-featured competitor to the CalDigit TS3 Plus and a much-needed upgrade from the previous Plugable docks.

The big feature here is that the new model offers 100 watts of USB Power Delivery at a peak rate, with a PD-certified sustained max of 96 watts. This means that Plugable finally has a dock that is capable of charging the 16″ MacBook Pro at a full charge. For us, this is a big feature, and is one of the top output Thunderbolt 3 docks on the market.

The second big update is that this offers two display outputs, with each output group offering a DisplayPort and HDMI port–meaning that you can use one of the two ports on each output group for best flexibility. There is no Thunderbolt 3 passthrough port for a Thunderbolt 3 monitor connection (or other devices), but we feel that this is an acceptable trade-off at this point.

You’ll also get gigabit Ethernet, a USB-A and USB-C up front with 10Gbps speeds, and five USB-A 5Gbps ports around the back. Rounding out the I/O is a combo audio jack, an SD slot and MicroSD slot.

Overall, we feel that the TBT3-UDZ is a fantastic dock for many users. While the CalDigit TS3 Plus has optical audio, a TB3 passthrough port, and a smaller form factor the TBT3-UDZ is quite possibly a better option for many users.

Best budget Thunderbolt 3 dock: Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock (TBT3-UD1-83)

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock, Enables Extra Displays, Wired Network, Audio, and More USB Ports, Compatible with Thunderbolt 3 Macs and PCs (4K DisplayPort or HDMI Display, No Host Charging)
  • FEATURES - Enables an additional 4K display, Gigabit Ethernet, audio input and output, and USB expansion with 1x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C (10Gbps) port, 1x USB-C (5Gbps) and 2x USB 3.0 (5Gbps) ports
  • VIDEO CAPABILITIES - Provides DisplayPort (DP++) output for DisplayPort monitors. Passive DisplayPort to HDMI adapter included to convert from DisplayPort to HDMI. HDMI adapter supports up to 4K 30Hz
  • POWER - Dock does not charge the host laptop. The laptopâ€s original power adapter must be connected to the laptop in order to charge while docked

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Plugable TBT3-UD1-83 was my first Thunderbolt 3 dock as I was migrating from a desktop to a Windows gaming laptop as my daily driver for both work and home. As I was ironing out the setup, I opted for a less expensive device as I tried to figure things out. I also didn’t need a dock that offered USB PD as my Asus gaming laptop didn’t have this feature, so the TBT3-UD1-83 was an excellent budget option.

The Plugable TBT3-UD1-83 offers almost all of the features that the TS3 Plus offers—USB Type-A, USB Type-C, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 downstream ports, audio I/O and Gigabit Ethernet—just with fewer USB ports, no card reader, and no power delivery. But you can still have dual displays connected, just not dual [email protected] displays.

Best travel Thunderbolt 3 dock: CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock - 85W Charging, Thunderbolt 3, UHS II SD Card Slot, USB C Gen 2, USB A x 3, LAN, 3.5mm Audio for Thunderbolt and USB-C Computers (0.7 Meter Cable - Gray) (Dual DisplayPort)
  • [UNIVERSAL COMPATIBILITY] Can be used with computers with USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, or even USB-A. Perfect for IT Environments utilizing both Windows and Macs **Functionality will vary depending on host connection. Please refer to the compatibility chart for more information
  • [10 PORTS OF CONNECTIVITY]: 1 x Thunderbolt 3 (Backwards Compatible with USB-C), 2 x DisplayPort 1.2, 3 x USB 3.2 Type A (5Gb/s), 1 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gb/s Data Only), Gigabit Ethernet, UHS-II SD Card Slot (SD 4.0), 3.5mm Combo Audio Jack. **USB-C Pro Dock does not have a downstream Thunderbolt 3 port
  • [POWERFUL 85W LAPTOP CHARGING]: Provides up to 85W to charge your laptop and power all of your USB peripherals [STAND ALONE CHARGING] Front facing USB-A port can charge devices without being connected to a computer

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

We like the CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock as a great travel dock because of its form factor combined with a great well-rounded feature set. Unlike the less expensive Plugable model—and like its bigger brother the TS3 Plus—it offers USB PD up to 85W, meaning that it’s one less charger you need to bring with you. You also have three USB Type-A ports, a USB Type-C port, Gigabit Ethernet, and dual DisplayPort 1.2 ports—meaning, no adapters or dongles needed for a dual external monitor configuration.

You’ll be able to drive two [email protected] displays with those two ports, and you still get the fast card reader (yet another device you don’t need to pack separately) and excellent USB port controllers from the bigger version. No, there are not as many USB Type-A ports as the TS3 Plus, but this isn’t terribly critical in a portable device. While there are smaller devices (or less expensive ones) available, few of them are Thunderbolt 3 and offer the full range of features found here.

SEE ALSO:  The Complete Computer Monitor Buying Guide

There’s a bonus to this device, as well: It’s not just a Thunderbolt 3 dock but also works as a USB Type-C dock. Not all Thunderbolt 3 devices will function on a USB Type-C port (such as the TS3 Plus and the Plugable TBT3-UD1-83), but this will work quite well. You can’t drive two 4K displays from a USB Type-C port, but you can push two 1080p displays without issue, and the majority of the functionality is still there despite the reduced bandwidth of USB Type-C compared to Thunderbolt 3. But this feature makes it an excellent travel device thanks to its compatibility with many more devices.

SEE ALSO:  The Complete Computer Monitor Buying Guide

Best Thunderbolt 3 docks compared

Best Overall
CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock - 87W Charging, 7X USB 3.1 Ports, USB-C Gen 2, DisplayPort, UHS-II SD Card Slot, LAN, Optical Out, for 2016+ MacBook Pro & PC (Space Gray - 0.7m/2.3ft Cable)
Also great
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock with 96W Charging, Dual Monitor USB C Dock - Compatible with MacBook and Windows, 2X DisplayPort and HDMI 2.0, 1x 10Gbps USB-C, 6X USB, Ethernet, Audio, Micro SD/SD
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock Compatible with MacBook and Windows Laptops with Thunderbolt 3. Charges Laptop, adds HDMI/DisplayPort up to 4K 60, Ethernet, Audio, 5 USB 3.0 Ports
Best Travel
CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock - 85W Charging, Thunderbolt 3, UHS II SD Card Slot, USB C Gen 2, USB A x 3, LAN, 3.5mm Audio for Thunderbolt and USB-C Computers (0.7 Meter Cable - Gray) (Dual DisplayPort)
Best Budget
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock, Enables Extra Displays, Wired Network, Audio, and More USB Ports, Compatible with Thunderbolt 3 Macs and PCs (4K DisplayPort or HDMI Display, No Host Charging)
Anker Docking Station, PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock for USB-C Laptops, 85W Charging for Laptop, 18W Charging for Phone, 4K HDMI, 1Gbps Ethernet, Audio, USB-A Gen 1, USB-C Gen 2, SD 4.0
Interface
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3 ports
1 host, 1 downstream
1x host
1 host, 1 downstream
1x host
1x host, 1x downstream
1x host, 1x downstream
USB PD (Power Delivery)
85 watts
100 watts (96 watts certified)
60 watts
85 watts
N/A
85 watts
USB Type-A
5 x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gb/s, 1.5A, 7.5W)
5x USB 3.0 5Gbps, 1x USB 3.1 gen 2 10Gbps
4x USB 3.0 (5v 0.9A), 1x USB 3.0 with BC 1.2 Charging (5V 1.5A)
3x USB 3.2 Gen 1 5G 1.5A, 7.5W
2x USB 3.0
4x USB 3.1 Gen1 USB-A Port (5 Gbps, 5V/0.9A)
USB Type-C
2x: 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gb/s, 1.5A, 7.5W), 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 ( 5Gb/s, 1.5A, 7.5W) Front
1x USB 3.1 gen 2 10Gbps
1x USB 3.0 (Thunderbolt 3 downstream port)
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 10G 1.5A, 7.5W
1x USB 3.0 (Thunderbolt 3 downstream port)
1x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C Port (10 Gbps, 5V/0.9A), 1x USB 3.1 Gen2 USB-C Port (10 Gbps, 5V/3A or 9V/2A, 18W PD), 1x (Thunderbolt 3 downstream port)
USB controller
Unknown
Unknown
Fresco FL1100EX USB 3.0 Host Controller (2x top ports when mounted vertically, front port), ASM1042A USB 3.0 Host Controller (2x lower ports)
Unknown
-
Unknown
Card reader
1 x SD Card Reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
1x SD, 1x MicroSD
N/A
1x SD 4.0 UHS-II
N/A
1x SD Card Slot (SD 4.0 UHS-II), 1x microSD Card Slot (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
Video output
1x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C, 1x DisplayPort
2x DisplayPort 1.4 or 2x HDMI 2.0 ports
1x DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 USB-C
2x DisplayPort 1.2, Thunderbolt 3/USB C
1x DisplayPort, 1x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C
HDMI, Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C
Max video resolution
5120x2880 60Hz (USB C), 4096x2160 60Hz (Dual 4K supported)
Dual 4K @ 60Hz
Single DisplayPort (4096x2160 60Hz), dual at lower resolutions
Thunderbolt 3: Dual 4K 60Hz displays, USB-C: Dual 1080p 60Hz displays, single 4K 30Hz
DisplayPort 4096x2160 60Hz, dual display at 1080p (some configurations)
Audio I/O
1x Digital Optical Audio (S/PDIF), 1x Analog audio in (stereo), 1x Analog audio out (stereo)
1x Combination (TRRS) Audio Input/Output port
1x Combination 3.5mm mic/headphone port (stereo)
1x Combination 3.5mm mic/headphone port (stereo)
1x 3.5mm analog mic input, 1x 3.5mm analog headphones output
1x Combination 3.5mm mic/headphone port (stereo)
Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Size & weight
Height: 5.15 inches (131.0 mm) | Width: 1.57 inches (40.0 mm) | Depth: 3.87 inches (98.44 mm) | Weight: 1.04 lbs (0.47 kgs)
Height: 1.42 in, Width: 7.68 in, Depth: 4.13 in
-
Height: 0.9 inches (25.0 mm) | Width: 8.43 inches (214.0 mm) | Depth: 3.15 inches (80.0mm) | Weight: 0.93 lb (0.42kg)
Height: 1 inch (25.4 mm) | Width: 8.75 inches (222.3 mm) | Depth: 3.1 inches (78.7mm)
Height: 125.8 mm / 4.9 in, Width: 88.5 mm / 3.5 in, Depth: 41.9 mm / 1.6 in, Weight: 490 g / 17.3 oz
In the box
1 x CalDigit TS3 Plus | 1 x Power Adapter | 1 x Power Cord | 1 x Thunderbolt 3 Cable
Thunderbolt 3 TBT3-UDV docking station, 0.8 meter (~31.5 inches) Thunderbolt 3 40Gbps cable, quick installation guide, and UL certified 20V/8.5A (170W) power adapter (US AC Wall Outlet Plug, 100-240V 50/60Hz) Units sold in the UK or the EU will come with the appropriate power cord.
-
1 x USB-C Pro Dock | 1 x Power Adapter | 1 x Thunderbolt 3 Cable (0.7m)
Thunderbolt 3 TBT3-UD1-83 docking station, 0.5 meter (20 inches) Thunderbolt 40Gbps cable, DisplayPort to HDMI passive adapter, quick installation guide and a 12V/6A (72W) power adapter (US AC Wall Outlet Plug, 100-240V 50/60Hz)
PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock, 180W Power Adapter, Thunderbolt 3 Cable (2.3 ft), Welcome Guide
Best Overall
CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock - 87W Charging, 7X USB 3.1 Ports, USB-C Gen 2, DisplayPort, UHS-II SD Card Slot, LAN, Optical Out, for 2016+ MacBook Pro & PC (Space Gray - 0.7m/2.3ft Cable)
Interface
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3 ports
1 host, 1 downstream
USB PD (Power Delivery)
85 watts
USB Type-A
5 x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gb/s, 1.5A, 7.5W)
USB Type-C
2x: 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gb/s, 1.5A, 7.5W), 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 ( 5Gb/s, 1.5A, 7.5W) Front
USB controller
Unknown
Card reader
1 x SD Card Reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
Video output
1x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C, 1x DisplayPort
Max video resolution
5120x2880 60Hz (USB C), 4096x2160 60Hz (Dual 4K supported)
Audio I/O
1x Digital Optical Audio (S/PDIF), 1x Analog audio in (stereo), 1x Analog audio out (stereo)
Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Size & weight
Height: 5.15 inches (131.0 mm) | Width: 1.57 inches (40.0 mm) | Depth: 3.87 inches (98.44 mm) | Weight: 1.04 lbs (0.47 kgs)
In the box
1 x CalDigit TS3 Plus | 1 x Power Adapter | 1 x Power Cord | 1 x Thunderbolt 3 Cable
Also great
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock with 96W Charging, Dual Monitor USB C Dock - Compatible with MacBook and Windows, 2X DisplayPort and HDMI 2.0, 1x 10Gbps USB-C, 6X USB, Ethernet, Audio, Micro SD/SD
Interface
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3 ports
1x host
USB PD (Power Delivery)
100 watts (96 watts certified)
USB Type-A
5x USB 3.0 5Gbps, 1x USB 3.1 gen 2 10Gbps
USB Type-C
1x USB 3.1 gen 2 10Gbps
USB controller
Unknown
Card reader
1x SD, 1x MicroSD
Video output
2x DisplayPort 1.4 or 2x HDMI 2.0 ports
Max video resolution
Dual 4K @ 60Hz
Audio I/O
1x Combination (TRRS) Audio Input/Output port
Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Size & weight
Height: 1.42 in, Width: 7.68 in, Depth: 4.13 in
In the box
Thunderbolt 3 TBT3-UDV docking station, 0.8 meter (~31.5 inches) Thunderbolt 3 40Gbps cable, quick installation guide, and UL certified 20V/8.5A (170W) power adapter (US AC Wall Outlet Plug, 100-240V 50/60Hz) Units sold in the UK or the EU will come with the appropriate power cord.
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock Compatible with MacBook and Windows Laptops with Thunderbolt 3. Charges Laptop, adds HDMI/DisplayPort up to 4K 60, Ethernet, Audio, 5 USB 3.0 Ports
Interface
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3 ports
1 host, 1 downstream
USB PD (Power Delivery)
60 watts
USB Type-A
4x USB 3.0 (5v 0.9A), 1x USB 3.0 with BC 1.2 Charging (5V 1.5A)
USB Type-C
1x USB 3.0 (Thunderbolt 3 downstream port)
USB controller
Fresco FL1100EX USB 3.0 Host Controller (2x top ports when mounted vertically, front port), ASM1042A USB 3.0 Host Controller (2x lower ports)
Card reader
N/A
Video output
1x DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 USB-C
Max video resolution
Single DisplayPort (4096x2160 60Hz), dual at lower resolutions
Audio I/O
1x Combination 3.5mm mic/headphone port (stereo)
Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Size & weight
-
In the box
-
Best Travel
CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock - 85W Charging, Thunderbolt 3, UHS II SD Card Slot, USB C Gen 2, USB A x 3, LAN, 3.5mm Audio for Thunderbolt and USB-C Computers (0.7 Meter Cable - Gray) (Dual DisplayPort)
Interface
Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C
Thunderbolt 3 ports
1x host
USB PD (Power Delivery)
85 watts
USB Type-A
3x USB 3.2 Gen 1 5G 1.5A, 7.5W
USB Type-C
1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 10G 1.5A, 7.5W
USB controller
Unknown
Card reader
1x SD 4.0 UHS-II
Video output
2x DisplayPort 1.2, Thunderbolt 3/USB C
Max video resolution
Thunderbolt 3: Dual 4K 60Hz displays, USB-C: Dual 1080p 60Hz displays, single 4K 30Hz
Audio I/O
1x Combination 3.5mm mic/headphone port (stereo)
Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Size & weight
Height: 0.9 inches (25.0 mm) | Width: 8.43 inches (214.0 mm) | Depth: 3.15 inches (80.0mm) | Weight: 0.93 lb (0.42kg)
In the box
1 x USB-C Pro Dock | 1 x Power Adapter | 1 x Thunderbolt 3 Cable (0.7m)
Best Budget
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock, Enables Extra Displays, Wired Network, Audio, and More USB Ports, Compatible with Thunderbolt 3 Macs and PCs (4K DisplayPort or HDMI Display, No Host Charging)
Interface
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3 ports
1x host, 1x downstream
USB PD (Power Delivery)
N/A
USB Type-A
2x USB 3.0
USB Type-C
1x USB 3.0 (Thunderbolt 3 downstream port)
USB controller
-
Card reader
N/A
Video output
1x DisplayPort, 1x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C
Max video resolution
DisplayPort 4096x2160 60Hz, dual display at 1080p (some configurations)
Audio I/O
1x 3.5mm analog mic input, 1x 3.5mm analog headphones output
Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Size & weight
Height: 1 inch (25.4 mm) | Width: 8.75 inches (222.3 mm) | Depth: 3.1 inches (78.7mm)
In the box
Thunderbolt 3 TBT3-UD1-83 docking station, 0.5 meter (20 inches) Thunderbolt 40Gbps cable, DisplayPort to HDMI passive adapter, quick installation guide and a 12V/6A (72W) power adapter (US AC Wall Outlet Plug, 100-240V 50/60Hz)
Anker Docking Station, PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock for USB-C Laptops, 85W Charging for Laptop, 18W Charging for Phone, 4K HDMI, 1Gbps Ethernet, Audio, USB-A Gen 1, USB-C Gen 2, SD 4.0
Interface
Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3 ports
1x host, 1x downstream
USB PD (Power Delivery)
85 watts
USB Type-A
4x USB 3.1 Gen1 USB-A Port (5 Gbps, 5V/0.9A)
USB Type-C
1x USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C Port (10 Gbps, 5V/0.9A), 1x USB 3.1 Gen2 USB-C Port (10 Gbps, 5V/3A or 9V/2A, 18W PD), 1x (Thunderbolt 3 downstream port)
USB controller
Unknown
Card reader
1x SD Card Slot (SD 4.0 UHS-II), 1x microSD Card Slot (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
Video output
HDMI, Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C
Max video resolution
Audio I/O
1x Combination 3.5mm mic/headphone port (stereo)
Ethernet
1x Gigabit Ethernet
Size & weight
Height: 125.8 mm / 4.9 in, Width: 88.5 mm / 3.5 in, Depth: 41.9 mm / 1.6 in, Weight: 490 g / 17.3 oz
In the box
PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock, 180W Power Adapter, Thunderbolt 3 Cable (2.3 ft), Welcome Guide
SEE ALSO:  17 Best microphones for live streaming and podcasting [2020]

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The rest of the Thunderbolt 3 docks

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock with Charging (TBT3-UDV)

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock, Enables Extra Displays, Wired Network, Audio, and More USB Ports, Compatible with Thunderbolt 3 Macs and PCs (4K DisplayPort or HDMI Display, No Host Charging)
  • FEATURES - Enables an additional 4K display, Gigabit Ethernet, audio input and output, and USB expansion with 1x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C (10Gbps) port, 1x USB-C (5Gbps) and 2x USB 3.0 (5Gbps) ports
  • VIDEO CAPABILITIES - Provides DisplayPort (DP++) output for DisplayPort monitors. Passive DisplayPort to HDMI adapter included to convert from DisplayPort to HDMI. HDMI adapter supports up to 4K 30Hz
  • POWER - Dock does not charge the host laptop. The laptopâ€s original power adapter must be connected to the laptop in order to charge while docked

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Plugable makes some excellent devices, and their customer support is outstanding. Their latest Thunderbolt 3 dock, the Plugable TBT3-UDV, is a marked improvement from our budget pick above, the TBT3-UD1-83 (but they’ve really got to do something about these model names!). This device does support USB PD, but only 60W (meaning it can only barely keep a 16″ MacBook Pro—my current daily driver—topped up as long as you’re not slamming it constantly).

SEE ALSO:  The ultimate cinema video camera buying guide [2019]

There’s also an interesting strategy with the USB port controllers. The TBT3-UD1-83 utilizes the ASMedia ASM1042A for all the ports on the device. With the TBT3-UDV, the “inner” two ports are still using the ASMedia controller, whereas the “outer” two ports and the front port are using the Fresco FL1100EX host controller.

You may be asking what the significance of this actually is—aren’t all USB ports basically the same? Well, not entirely. The type of host controller that runs that port may have different compatibility with certain devices in certain signal chains.

For example, when testing a Behringer UMC404HD connected to the TBT3-UD1-83, there were disastrous audio artifacts and buffering problems at most lower latency buffer settings. These persisted on the TBT3-UDV “inner” two ports but seemed to mostly have cleared up on the outer ports. Some software updates and patches had been required to get to the stable point on my Windows machine, but it was definitely related to the specific controller being used.

And yes, for the record, I am definitely well aware that audio interfaces shouldn’t be chained through hubs and should be connected directly to the computer, but, we’re in pursuit of a single cable option, damn it, and I’m not going to give up! On a related note, however, audio interface performance on the 16″ MacBook Pro is stellar so far!

But I digress. The additional USB controller can definitely resolve some compatibility issues present in the lower-cost version, and that’s a good thing. Also, the addition of USB PD is a good thing.

Unfortunately, that’s also part of why we can’t recommend it as an all-around great device when compared to the competition. Only 60W of USB PD isn’t quite the best for 16″ MacBook Pro users (and similar devices). Add to that the complete lack of any sort of card reader and only one Type-C downstream port in the form of the sole Thunderbolt 3 connection, and it just can’t keep up with the TS3, even at its lower price.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s still an excellent dock—there are just better devices currently available for the money.

Anker PowerExpand Elite Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station

Anker Docking Station, PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock for USB-C Laptops, 85W Charging for Laptop, 18W Charging for Phone, 4K HDMI, 1Gbps Ethernet, Audio, USB-A Gen 1, USB-C Gen 2, SD 4.0
  • The Anker Advantage: Join the 55 million+ powered by our leading technology.
  • Incredible Expansion: Equipped with dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, 2 USB-C ports, 4 USB-A ports, an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, SD/microSD card slots, and a 3.5 mm AUX port.
  • Unparalleled Charging Options: With 85W and 15W Thunderbolt 3 ports plus an 18W USB-C Power Delivery port, PowerExpand offers multiple ways to get a high-speed charge for anything from laptops to phones and more.

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

We received the email for the Anker PowerExpand Elite Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station–the brand’s first true Thunderbolt 3 dock just a few days ago, and we can’t deny it—we were REALLY excited about this announcement! Until we saw the price, that is. And that was a shock to us—Anker is known for killing it in the budget segment. But just like their portable projectors, perhaps these will come down in cost after a few revisions.

What is nice, however, is the well-rounded set of features. 85W of PD, 4K HDMI port, a decent number of Type-A ports, two Type-C ports (not counting the Thunderbolt 3 downstream port), SD, and microSD card readers, Gigabit ethernet, and plenty of fast charging options across the ports.

We hope to see that this device comes down in price soon and that the USB controller stability can be improved. If the host controllers are rock solid, it may be worth the extra cost for some users. But until then, we can’t recommend this compared to the rest of the group.

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock
  • Designed for pro creative workflows, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock features a 10Gb Ethernet connection, frontside CFast and SD card readers, two Thunderbolt 3 (Thunderbolt 2/Thunderbolt backward compatible)1 ports, a DisplayPort 1.2 connection, and three USB 3.1 ports for peripherals
  • With conveniently accessible frontside CFast 2.0 and SD 4.0 card readers, it's easy to ingest and work with 4/8K RAW video and RAW photo files immediately at speeds up to 370MB/s. It's a huge asset when you're covering live events like conferences, festivals, and concerts where you're working with multiple videographers and photographers.
  • The Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock offers incredible potential to connect multiple devices to take on the biggest projects. You can daisy-chain up to 5 additional Thunderbolt devices to the Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock for studio-level storage, RAID arrays, eGPUs for graphics processing, or all of these combined and connected at 40Gb/s

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

We really like the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock. You probably shouldn’t buy it, but we really like it. OWC has a great reputation as Mac-specific peripheral manufacturers as well as within the creative industry for card readers, docks, and drive interfaces. This particular dock, however, has a very targeted use case and audience, but if you need these features, it is probably your only good option.

First of all, it’s much more expensive than most devices in this group. Second, it’s really designed for creatives. Is Gigabit Ethernet too slow? Try 10 Gigabit Ethernet! Record to cameras that use CFast cards? This one’s got you covered! Need to connect to a large eSATA storage device? There’s a port for that!

The real main selling points for this Thunderbolt 3 dock in particular is the 10Gb Ethernet port and SD 4.0 and CFast 2.0 ports. If you edit off of a central file server like a Jellyfish or Storinator, you’ll want this device. If you ingest CFast or you’re building a DIT (digital imaging technician) station for work on a film set or studio, you’ll want this dock.

Beyond that, however, like we said before you probably shouldn’t buy this otherwise.

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 and USB C Dock with 60W Charging (TBT3-UDC1)

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 and USB C Dock with 60W Charging, Compatible with MacBook/MacBook Pro and Windows Laptops, Dual DisplayPort, 2X USB-C, 3X USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, Audio Jack - Horizontal
  • UNIVERSAL COMPATIBILITY - Powered by the newest Intel Titan Ridge chipset. This Thunderbolt 3 dock allows for flexibility with both USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 hosts, perfect for office and home environments utilizing both Windows and macOS
  • WINDOWS AND MAC - Compatible with 2016+ MacBook Pro, iPad Pro or Windows systems with Thunderbolt 3 or USB Type-C such as the Surface Pro 7, Surface Laptop 3, Lenovo Yoga, HP Spectre, Dell XPS (Reduced capabilities for USB Type-C)
  • A DOCKING POWERHOUSE - Drive dual 4K 60Hz displays on Thunderbolt 3 laptops or for USB-C systems (MFDP) dual 1080p 60Hz or a single 4K 30Hz display, add more USB-C or USB 3.0 peripherals, connect to wired gigabit Ethernet, and add a 3.5mm audio device, all while staying charged with up to 60W Power Delivery

Last update on 2020-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Plugable does have some pretty great devices, but their strategy seems to be a bit interesting. Instead of making one full-featured device with everything and one budget device with the minimum, they seem to want to put out many devices with a wide variety of configurations, but none having everything someone would want.

The TBT3-UDC1 is similar to the CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock in the fact that it is actually compatible with both Thunderbolt 3 hosts and USB-C hosts alike. It also will support dual 4K60 displays on Thunderbolt 3 and dual 1080p (or a single 4K30) displays over USB-C, all over DisplayPort. Unlike other Plugable devices, there are two dedicated USB Type-C connectors, along with two USB Type-A ports. But again, no card reader.

If you need dual DisplayPort connections and 60W of charging but not much else, this may fit the bill, but you can get more elsewhere, including dual displays with the use of dongles.

Upcoming Thunderbolt 3 docks we’re looking forward to

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Dock with 100W Charging (TBT3-UDZ)

Update: This dock is now available for purchase as of 11/10/20 and we’ve listed it above as our “also great” pick along the CalDigit TS3 Plus. They also seem to have addressed our annoyance with the lack of USB Type-C ports by adding one up front. Thanks, Plugable!

Where the TBT3-UDC1 is the upgrade from our budget pick TBT3-UD1-83 but with 60W charging, the TBT3-UDZ is the soon-to-be-released upgrade from our almost-favorite TBT3-UDV, but with a much beefier USB PD offering of 100W—the absolute maximum that the current USB PD spec offers. For 16″ MacBook Pro users (and others in the similar power class) this will let you charge at full capacity, outpacing even the included 87W power supply included with this laptop.

The full USB PD has us very excited about this Thunderbolt 3 dock, and it actually has quite a lot of other ports. 5 USB 5Gbps ports on the back, two 10Gbps ports up front, one with BC 1.2 charging for faster top-ups of phones and tablets. All of these are USB Type-A ports, however, which is a disappointment in a world moving towards a “USB Type-C all the things” attitude.

You do get Gigabit Ethernet (although 10Gb—or even 2.5Gb would have been nice), the combination 3.5mm TRRS mic/headphone jack, and dual display outputs—you actually get two DisplayPort 1.4 ports and two HDMI 2.0 ports, with one of each ganged together as output 1 and output 2. This means you can definitely get dual 4K60 outputs from a 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 host machine.

Thankfully Plugable has finally come around and included both an SD card and microSD card slot on the front, making this a really viable device for most people.

But the lack of USB Type-C ports is a huge bummer on a device so overpowered everywhere else. We can hope that maybe this will change by the time the device ships, however, looking at the render and specifications list, it’s probably already solidified in its currently advertised form.

What’s the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C, USB 3.1, or USB 3.2?

The short answer is that Thunderbolt 3 is capable of much more data being slammed through the port at once. Thunderbolt 3 in its full capacity can provide 40Gbps of bandwidth. USB 3.1 Gen 2 (or USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, also known as SuperSpeed USB 20Gbit/s) caps out at 20Gbps. Also, can we just take a moment to acknowledge how absolutely horrendous the USB naming conventions are? Good god.

Anyway, Thunderbolt 3 ports and USB Type-C ports use the same connector—the Type-C connector. Thunderbolt ports are marked with a little lightning bolt icon, and USB C ports are not marked with anything, usually.

USB 3.0 3.1 3.2 is available in 5Gbps, 10Gbps, and now 20Gbps versions, depending on which spec it’s built to. Thunderbolt 3 is also found in different capacities. Full Thunderbolt 3 with 4 PCIe lanes over two Thunderbolt 3 busses will provide the full 40Gbps bandwidth. Some ports are only one buss, providing two PCIe lanes and 20Gbps of bandwidth. This would provide limitations with external high-resolution displays like 4K and 5K displays, especially dual 4K60Hz displays. It just isn’t enough bandwidth.

This is also critical when connecting to remote file servers and transferring large files—perhaps editing 4K or higher video directly off of a file server, or something equally intensive.

For most users, however, unless you plan on using full 4K60Hz displays and/or high volume file transfers, you won’t really notice a difference between the different versions of Thunderbolt 3, or even USB 3.x. If you are, however, you’ll absolutely want to verify full Thunderbolt 3 connectivity from your host machine and hub or dock.

Final thoughts

With laptops becoming extremely powerful while becoming more portable, the desire to be able to come home to a desk setup, plunk down your laptop, and connect it to your external monitor, mouse, keyboard, and more with a single cable is extremely alluring. Thunderbolt 3 docks are thankfully coming down in price and going up in features, and it’s really exciting to see what is out there to build your perfect desk setup with a Thunderbolt 3 dock as the control center.

We particularly enjoy these devices because it’s a ton of fun to tweak our desk setups, try to make them as useful and streamlined as possible and the new Thunderbolt 3 docks really help bring this to our setups. We’re looking forward to what is on the horizon and probably won’t stop looking for the next solution for whatever bugs us about our desk setups, so we definitely plan on updating this as much as we can.

Have we missed a particular dock that you absolutely swear by? Anything we haven’t quite explained well enough, or did you have a question about finding the best Thunderbolt 3 dock for your desk setup? Please leave a comment down below and let us know, we’re looking forward to hearing your opinions and questions!

Lou Wheelerhttps://www.creatorbeat.com
Musician, photographer, and tech nerd in Sacramento, CA. Currently learning audio engineering and video production while spending way too much time on YouTube.
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