- Best overall thunder dock: CalDigit TS3.
- Best bang for your buck: Anker PowerExpan 5-in-1.
- Most durable: CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub.
Do you have one of those sleek laptops that can’t find any room to add USB A or any display ports to the side of it?
Thunderbolt docks are a needed accessory for most laptops today. And until every device can be run over USB-C or thunderbolt, they will be for a long time to come. A thunderbolt dock is a hub that can add a variety of I/O to your laptop.
So let’s look at 5 of the best thunderbolt docks I can find today that can fit various needs. So whether you are looking for a top-of-the-line or a budget-friendly dock, we got you covered.
The five thunderbolt docks we will be taking a look at today are the CalDigit TS3, Anker PowerExpand 5-in-1, Monoprice Thunderbolt 3, j5create USB C Dual 4K 60Hz Display Docking Station, and CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub.
These 5 docks fit different price ranges for each need, but here are some of the best deals I found today on each of them:
- Best Overall: CalDigit TS3
- Best Budget Option: Anker PowerExpan 5-in-1
- Best Performance: Monoprice Thunderbolt 3
- Best Travel: j5create USB C Dual 4K 60Hz Display Docking Station
- Most Durable: CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub
Best Overall: CalDigit TS3
- 15 different ports, including Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort 1.2, USB-A, USB-C, and more
- Up to 87W charging for laptops and peripherals
- Thunderbolt 3 port provides 15W of power
- Supports two 4K@60Hz monitors or one 5K@60Hz display
- Durable aluminum build with heat sink
CalDigit is a reliable company that has been producing excellent thunderbolt docks and accessories for years now. The I/O on the CalDigit TS3 does not disappoint.
It has an SD card reader, audio in and out, a USB-c, and a USB A port, and that’s just on the front of the unit. The back has Gigabit ethernet, Displayport 1.2, 2x thunderbolt 3 ports with up to 87W of power passthrough, and 4x USB A at 5Gbps.
The power passthrough delivers enough wattage to reliably charge macs and most windows laptops through a single cable connection.
Check out CalDigit TS3 on Amazon.
Best For Budget: Anker PowerExpan 5-in-1
- 85W Thunderbolt, 1 USB-A port
- Up to 40 Gbps data transfer
- Charge at high speeds
- Single 8K@30Hz or Dual 4K@60Hz display
- Perfect for MacBook Pro / Air, and more
Anker is another one of those companies that have been in this thunderbolt dock realm for quite a while. They are also well known for chargers and portable batteries.
The Anker PowerExpan 5-in-1 is another one of their products that I would be comfortable taking everywhere with me. It is quite a bit smaller than the other 2 docks on this list, so it is more travel friendly.
The I/O on the dock is still quite impressive considering its size. It has 3 thunderbolt 4 ports capable of 15 watts charging, 40Gbps, and drive displays at 8K 30Hz. The upstream port also runs at 40Gbps and delivers up to 85 watts of charging power. There is only one USB A port on the dock, but it runs at 10Gbps, which is insane.
Check out Anker PowerExpan 5-in-1 on Amazon.
Best For Performance: Monoprice Thunderbolt 3
- Thunderbolt 3 connectivity: The Thunderbolt 3 standard delivers 40Gbps bandwidth, which allows you to connect multiple data and video devices to your Windows or Mac OS X computer using single USB Type...
- Dual 4K@60Hz: Connect two DisplayPort displays at resolutions up to 4K@60Hz each to your Thunderbolt 3 equipped Mac or Windows PC or laptop. Experience uncompressed, vibrant, 4K@60Hz video and...
- MFDP compatible for USB-C computers: The dock is MFDP compatible, which means that it supports the DisplayPort/USB-C Alternate Mode, which allows it to carry two DisplayPort video signals at...
- USB-C Power Delivery (PD): In addition to carrying data and video, the USB Type-C connector supports the USB Power Delivery standard with up to 60 watts of power, allowing you to charge your laptop's...
- Connect 2 external displays to any kind of host computer.
The Monoprice Thunderbolt 3 is the cheapest option of the 3 that we are looking at today, but that should be no surprise to people who are familiar with Monoprice. That is not to say that Monoprice is a bad company; they are just known for budget-friendly products.
The I/O on this dock is close to what the TS3 offers for about $100 less. It has 2x Displayport 1.4 ports, RJ45 gigabit ethernet, 2x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type‑A at 10Gbps, and 1 at 5Gbps. There is also an SD card and 1 microSD card slot for easy camera transfers. The Thunderbolt passthrough port offers only 60 watts of power delivery, but this will still be enough to power Macbook airs or lower power windows laptops.
Check out Monoprice Thunderbolt 3 on Amazon.
Best For Travel: j5create USB C Dual 4K 60Hz Display Docking Station
- 【DUAL 4K 60 HZ DISPLAYS 】 Supports extended dual 4K displays (HDMI & DisplayPort) on Intel MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Supports single display via HDMI on other USB-C compatible laptops connected...
- 【HIGH-PERFORMANCE STORAGE】 Built-in M.2 NVMe/SATA PCIe SSD Slot (Supports M.2 NVMe or SATA M key 2230/2242/2260/2280) to expand storage space, convenient SD & microSD access, and one USB-C 10 Gbps...
- 【HIGH-SPEED PERFORMANCE】 Provides three SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps ports (1 USB-C and 2 USB Type-A) to connect peripherals
- 【100W POWER DELIVERY PASS-THROUGH】 Charge your laptop and power connected peripherals when used with a USB-C power adapter
- 【DETACHABLE MAGNETIC CONNECTORS】 The flexible design gives you the ability to connect to a variety of compatible devices
The j5create USB C Dual 4K 60Hz Display Docking Station is a combination of excellent I/O and portability, not only in your bag but also in use with your laptop. The dock is designed to sit underneath your laptop while you use it, and it acts as a stand.
The I/O on this dock is also incredible. It has 1x Displayport, 1x HDMI port, 3X USB A ports at 5Gbps, and 10Gbps speeds. As well as a built-in M.2 slot. This allows you to make this dock into a portable SSD by adding an M.2 SSD to the compartment on the bottom of the dock.
Even though it is not the smallest dock out there the ability to use it as external storage and a dock in one device, it is hard not to recommend it for the avid travelers out there.
Check out j5create USB C Dual 4K 60Hz Display Docking Station on Amazon.
Most Durable: CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub
- Compatible with Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 3, USB A, and USB-C
- 8 ports total, including 4x Thunderbolt and 4x USB
- Up to 60W of power to charge your computer
- Supports 8K display or two 4K@60Hz displays
This little dock packs a powerful punch while staying safe in its mostly aluminum body. The CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub has an excellent array of I/O and charging capabilities, with a body that does not flex or overheat.
CalDigit markets these docks as your new charging hub for all of your devices. With all of its charging ports being utilized, you can charge up to 8 devices with it, including high-power devices like iPads and laptops.
Feel comfortable taking this dock everywhere with you without having to worry about ports becoming jammed with dust or the body getting dinged up in your bag. CalDigit made it to last a long time and be the dock that always stays with you.
Check out CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub on Amazon.
|CalDigit TS3||Anker PowerExpan 5-in-1||Monoprice Thunderbolt 3||j5create USB C Dual 4K 60Hz Display||CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub|
|USB A ports||5x USB-A 5Gbps||1x USB-A 10Gbps||2x USB-A 10Gbps|
1X USB-A 5Gbps
| 2x USB-A 10Gbps |
1X USB-A 5Gbps
|4X USB-A 10Gbps|
|Display Ports||1x Displayport 1.2||3x Thunderbolt 4||2x Displayport 1.4||1X Displayport|
|4 x Thunderbolt 4 (40Gb/s)|
|SD Card||1x UHS II SD card reader||N/A||1x SD card slot|
1x microSD card slot
|1x SD card slot|
1x microSD card slot
|Power passthrough||87 watts||85 watts||60 watts||100 watts||60 watts|
|Size||5.2″ x 1.6″ x 3.9″||4.88″ x 2.83″ x 0.94″||5.8″ x 3.1″ x 0.7″||13.78″x3.25″x|
How to Pick the Best Thunderbolt Dock
All five of these docks are an excellent option, but if you want to look elsewhere, here are 3 main points to look for.
- Power Delivery
Of course, any Thunderbolt Dock is going to expand your I/O capabilities, but you want to look for one that fits your needs. So if you are looking for something to run multiple displays and read SD cards all while having 4 USB A ports available, make sure the one you get fits all those needs before you look for any other special features.
Power delivery might seem like one of those special features that is not needed, but if you get a dock that can fully charge your laptop while transferring data over one cable, it makes a world of a difference. I cannot go back to having to hook up 2 separate cables to the laptop every time I want to dock now.
Price is always a factor in any purchase, but especially with something like a dock, you don’t really want to break the bank on it. So make sure that the dock you want hits at least 1 of the 2 attributes (I/O and Power Delivery) and sticks within your budget. 9 times out of 10, if you break your budget on a product, you are going to be disappointed in the long run.
What to Know before buying
If you are looking to drive multiple high-resolution monitors and charge a powerful laptop, the CalDigit TS3 is hard to pass up. And with the TS4 coming out soon, we might be seeing a drop in the price of the TS3, making it even harder to pass by.
If you are looking for a dock that is more suited to travel while still retaining powerful performance and charging, look to the Anker PowerExpan 5-in-1. For its size, it can still deliver 85 watts of power delivery and incredibly fast USB-A and C ports.
If you are looking for the ultimate budget option, the Monoprice Thunderbolt 3 is a fantastic option. Especially if you are using a laptop like the MacBook Air or a lower power windows laptop, the 60-watt power delivery is not a problem.
While there are tons of docks out there, be sure to look for the I/O ports you know you need and then look for special features after that. Power delivery is a good thing to keep in mind as well because this will make the single cable experience much more likable.
And you might have been thinking that all these docks are too expensive, and a good alternative is USB-C hubs. While these look relatively similar to Thunderbolt docks, they are typically lower speed and performance. So remember to purchase to your budget and needs, and you will be much happier with your purchase.
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The image featured at the top of this post is ©flickr.