Guidemaster: Picking the right Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C dock for your desk
Ars tests a bunch of docks and hubs to see which are worthy of a spot on your desk.
The introduction of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports and the transition away from legacy ports hasn’t been smooth. PC and smartphone OEMs began using the USB-C port a few years ago because it allowed companies to make thinner devices with faster ports. Gargantuan in comparison, the USB-A ports we all know and love from thumb drives take up a lot of space on devices, they don’t handle data transfer as efficiently as new ports, and they’re limited when it comes to multiple connections and charging.
USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are the way of the future, but most of our accessories are stuck in the past. PC and smartphone OEMs led the way by adopting USB-C as standard, but that often leaves users to search for an adapter or dongle to connect all of the peripherals they already have. On top of that, many new peripherals are still using the old connections.
Rising to the occasion are USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks—boxy devices punctured by USB-As, HDMIs, DisplayPorts, and SD card readers—and other ports. A dock or hub connects to all your peripherals so you can then connect it to your PC through just one USB-C port. But not all docks are created equal. After reviewing a wide array of what’s available today, here are a few of the key features to look for when choosing the best option to bridge the gap between your PC and everything you want to use with it.
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The short version
- Ever since first publishing this guide over one year ago, CalDigit’s TS3 Plus has remained in the top spot as our favorite Thunderbolt 3 dock . You get what you pay for in this $309 dock: it has some of the fastest data transfer speeds out of all the docks we tested, so transferring data between a portable SSD and your PC will be just as fast using the TS3 Plus as if you were connecting the SSD to your PC directly. We also love its compact, industrial design that holds all the ports you’d ever need and its ability to drive up to two 4K external displays at 60Hz.
- As a runner-up , Cable Matter’s Thunderbolt 3 dock offers almost the same advantages as CalDigit’s does but it has a less elegant design. However, it is more affordable at $239.
- Even more affordable still is our budget pick , the new $199 CalDigit Pro Dock. In addition to its attractive price tag, the CalDigit Pro Dock works with both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C PCs, so it’s a good option if you don’t know exactly which type of USB-C port your device has or if you’re getting it as a gift and don’t know the capabilities of your recipient’s PC.
- Cable Matters produced our favorite non-Thunderbolt 3 USB-C dock in its USB-C Dual 4K DisplayPort dock. Like CalDigit’s Thunderbolt 3 accessory, Cable Matter’s USB-C dock combines an elegant design with fast transfer speeds and a ton of port options at a good price of $169. It also has dynamic bandwidth switching, allowing you to control the speed of data transfers versus the quality of your connected external displays.
- Meanwhile, Kensington’s $99 SD2000P nano dock is our budget pick on the USB-C side because it provides some of the best technical features found in our top pick in a smaller device that comes in at a more affordable price. We also like that it can be VESA mounted with the purchase of an additional accessory.
- For those who want a travel-friendly hub , OWC’s Travel Dock is the best option at $55. It’s pretty speedy when it comes to data transfer, especially considering most travel hubs and adapters sacrifice speed while trying to be as portable as possible. It connects to your laptop through an attached USB-C cable that hides neatly under the device when not in use, and it supports power-delivery passthrough so you can charge your laptop through it.
- Those looking for an even more compact device that also has an Ethernet port should consider VAVA’s $60 USB-C adapter.