Guidemaster: Picking the right Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C dock for your desk

Valentina Palladino

Update: After publishing our unique Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C dock suggestions in July 2018, Ars has been testing new docks and hubs on and off ever since. Below, we’ve up to date our picks forward of the 2019 vacation buying season.

The introduction of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports and the transition away from legacy ports hasn’t been clean. PC and smartphone OEMs started utilizing USB-C ports just a few years in the past as a result of they allowed corporations to make thinner units with sooner ports. Gargantuan as compared, USB-A ports everyone knows and love from thumb drives take up a whole lot of area on units, they do not deal with information switch as effectively as new ports, and they’re restricted on the subject of a number of connections and charging.

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are the way in which of the long run, however most of our equipment are caught up to now. PC and smartphone OEMs paved the way by adopting USB-C as normal, however that usually leaves customers to go looking for an adapter or dongle to attach all the peripherals they have already got. On high of that, many new peripherals are nonetheless utilizing the outdated connections.

Rising to the event are USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks—boxy units punctured by USB-As, HDMIs, DisplayPorts, and SD card readers—and different ports. A dock or hub connects to all of your peripherals so you may then join it to your PC by way of only one USB-C port. But not all docks are created equal. After reviewing a big selection of what is accessible as we speak, we have discovered there are just a few key options customers ought to look for to find out which possibility is best for you to bridge the hole between your PC and every thing you wish to use with it.

Note: Ars Technica could earn compensation for gross sales from hyperlinks on this submit by way of affiliate applications.

The quick model

  • Ever since first publishing this information over one yr in the past, CalDigit’s TS3 Plus has remained within the high spot as our favourite Thunderbolt 3 dock. You get what you pay for on this $309 dock: it has among the quickest information switch speeds out of all of the docks we examined, so transferring information between a conveyable SSD and your PC can be simply as quick utilizing the TS3 Plus as should you have been connecting the SSD to your PC straight. We additionally love its compact, industrial design that holds all of the ports you’d ever want and its potential to drive as much as two 4K exterior shows at 60Hz.
  • As a runner-up, Cable Matter’s Thunderbolt 3 dock provides virtually the identical benefits as CalDigit’s does nevertheless it has a much less elegant design. However, it’s extra inexpensive at $239.
  • Even extra inexpensive nonetheless is our finances decide, the brand new $199 CalDigit Pro Dock. In addition to its engaging price ticket, the CalDigit Pro Dock works with each Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C PCs, so it is a good possibility if you do not know precisely which kind of USB-C port your machine has or should you’re getting it as a present and do not know the capabilities of your recipient’s PC.
  • Cable Matters produced our favourite non-Thunderbolt 3 USB-C dock in its USB-C Dual 4K DisplayPort dock. Like CalDigit’s Thunderbolt 3 accent, Cable Matter’s USB-C dock combines a sublime design with quick switch speeds and a ton of port choices at worth of $169. It additionally has dynamic bandwidth switching, permitting you to manage the velocity of knowledge transfers versus the standard of your related exterior shows.
  • Meanwhile, Kensington’s $99 SD2000P nano dock is our finances decide on the USB-C facet as a result of it supplies among the best technical options present in our high decide in a smaller machine that is available in at a extra inexpensive worth. We additionally like that it may be VESA mounted with the acquisition of a further accent.
  • For people who need a travel-friendly hub, OWC’s Travel Dock is the best possibility at $55. It’s fairly speedy on the subject of information switch, particularly contemplating most journey hubs and adapters sacrifice velocity whereas making an attempt to be as transportable as doable. It connects to your laptop computer by way of an connected USB-C cable that hides neatly underneath the machine when not in use, and it helps power-delivery passthrough so you may cost your laptop computer by way of it.
  • Those wanting for an much more compact machine that additionally has an Ethernet port ought to take into account VAVA’s $60 USB-C adapter.

Thunderbolt 3 docks

Best total

CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station

Specs at a look: CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Station
Price$299
Ports2 x Thunderbolt 3
1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2
5 x USB-A 3.1
1 x DisplayPort 1.2
1 x SD card reader
1 x digital optical audio (S/PDIF)
1 x Gigabit ethernet
1 x analog audio in
1 x analog audio out
Power supply85W
Display choicesTwo shows (as much as 4K @ 60Hz) or one show (as much as 5K @ 60Hz)
Dimensions5.15 x 1.57 x 3.87 inches
CompatibilitymacOS 10.12 and up, Windows 8/10

CalDigit’s unassuming, industrial-looking TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 docking station supplies the best mixture of efficiency, port choice, and design versatility out of all of the Thunderbolt 3 docks we examined. It not solely has the smallest footprint of all of them—it additionally has probably the most ports.

Most customers could have no hassle connecting mice, keyboards, and different legacy peripherals utilizing its 5 USB-A 3.1 ports, and its 4 USB-C ports supply an array of connectivity choices. Two of them are Thunderbolt 3 ports (certainly one of which is the PC connector port), whereas the opposite two are USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 and USB-C 3.1 Gen 2, supplying you with numerous switch velocity choices to select from.

As evidenced in our benchmark charts, CalDigit’s TS3 Plus did not all the time produce the quickest switch speeds or learn/write speeds, nevertheless it was constantly one of many high performers. The variations in outcomes amongst our high three decisions have been normally minimal, as all of them produced learn/write speeds near the default learn/write speeds produced when the Samsung T5 SSD was related on to the MacBook Pro or XPS 13 2-in-1 through a Thunderbolt 3 port.

The TS3 Plus charged the MacBook Pro and the XPS 13 pretty shortly—the MacBook Pro went from 50 p.c to 100 p.c charged in simply over one hour. The machine took the longest period of time to cost the iPhone 6S Plus by way of certainly one of its charging-capable USB-A ports. But even then it took simply two minutes longer than Plugable’s Thunderbolt 3 dock and 13 minutes longer than Cable Matters’ machine. Also, all the TS3 Plus’ USB-A ports help 7.5W charging, permitting you to energy up a couple of accent at a time. Most different docks we examined had only one charging-capable USB-A port.

Using this hub’s DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3 port, customers can join as much as two 4K 60Hz shows or one 5K 60Hz show. You will want an adapter to attain the highest-possible refresh price and display constancy as you join a couple of show at a time. But the choice is there for you.

The TS3 Plus’ design set it aside from the competitors. The comparatively small, silver steel field measures 5.15 x 1.57 x 3.87 inches and spreads its ports out thoughtfully throughout the 2 longest sides. The again incorporates the PC connector Thunderbolt 3 port plus a further Thunderbolt 3 port, 4 USB-A 3.1 ports, one USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port, one DisplayPort, one Gigabit Ethernet port, one S/PDIF digital optical audio port, and the DC energy port. The entrance homes an SD card slot, analog audio in and audio out ports, one USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port, and one USB-A 3.1 port.

I particularly appreciated the number of front-facing ports as a result of they make connecting momentary peripherals and equipment simpler. Depending in your setup, entry to the again of the dock is perhaps blocked or coated by an online of cables—discovering a port like a headphone jack amongst a sea of different connectors on the again of a dock could be fairly irritating in that scenario.

A gentle grey, rubber-like pad covers the underside facet of the TS3 Plus, permitting you to place the dock horizontally or vertically with out scuffing up your desk. Most different docks take up a whole lot of area as they lay horizontally in your desk, so the added flexibility of the TS3 Plus’ design is a handy perk. The dock is made higher by CalDigit’s Docking Station Utility program (accessible as a free obtain from its help web site) as a result of it allows you to disconnect particular person equipment related to the dock. You can clearly and safely select to disconnect your eGPU and exterior drive with out disconnecting every other equipment like shows and mice, for instance, or select the choice to disconnect all units without delay.

CalDigit’s TS3 Plus is the dock I’d need on my desk going ahead, not solely due to its design, but in addition due to its efficiency and well-rounded port choice. It could also be barely dearer than our different high picks, however its perks justify the $299 price ticket.

Good

  • Compact design but incorporates a plethora of ports.
  • Supports digital optical audio output.
  • Includes additional USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 and Gen 2 ports.

Bad

  • Adaptor required to attain highest doable refresh price when connecting a couple of show.
CalDigit TS3 Plus product image

CalDigit TS3 Plus

(Ars Technica could earn compensation for gross sales from hyperlinks on this submit by way of affiliate applications.)

Runner up

Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock

Specs at a look: Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock
Price$239
Ports2 x Thunderbolt 3
5 x USB-A 3.0
1 x HDMI
1 x Gigabit ethernet
1 x SD card reader
1 x headset/mic combo out
Power supply60W
Display choicesTwo shows (as much as 4K @ 60Hz)
Dimensions9.1 x 3.four x 1.1 inches
CompatibilitymacOS 10.12 and up, Windows 10

Cable Matters’ Thunderbolt 3 dock makes compromises in versatility, however fortunately not in efficiency. Compared to CalDigit’s TS3 Plus, this dock has the identical variety of USB-A ports, nevertheless it lacks extra USB-C ports, it does not help S/PDIF output, and it solely has 60W charging energy for your host laptop computer. Also, solely certainly one of its USB-A ports helps charging, so you may solely cost one telephone, pill, or different machine at a time.

However, its efficiency is sort of good. The Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock beat CalDigit’s dock on most of our benchmark exams, albeit by a slim margin. Our high three decisions all produced quick switch and learn/write speeds, so all of them will work shortly and effectively when transferring information. But if velocity is crucial issue for you when selecting a Thunderbolt 3 dock, Cable Matters’ machine is the one to get.

The machine has an HDMI port for video output moderately than a DisplayPort, so hold that in thoughts when shopping for the suitable cables and adapters for your displays. It’s additionally doable to attach a second 4K show by way of the second Thunderbolt 3 port (the one which is not designed to connect with the host PC), however you will want an energetic USB-C cable to take action.

The Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock will not look as modern in your desk as CalDigit’s machine as a result of it is only a lengthy, metal-and-plastic slab that may solely sit horizontally in your desk. I appreciated the ports accessible on the entrance of the machine (two USB-A ports, the SD card reader, and a headphone/mic jack), however the remainder sit alongside the again fringe of the machine. While there’s nothing incorrect with the design, it is boring compared to CalDigit’s and Plugable’s units (the previous of which we’ll get to within the subsequent part). However, that is one of many compromises you may make for the $219 machine. Overall, it is a strong dock with nice efficiency at a good worth.

Good

  • Consistently quick learn/write velocity and information switch efficiency.
  • More inexpensive than CalDigit’s TS3 Plus.

Bad

  • Boring, cumbersome design.
  • Doesn’t help S/PDIF output.
Cable Matters TB3 dock product image

Cable Matters TB3 dock

(Ars Technica could earn compensation for gross sales from hyperlinks on this submit by way of affiliate applications.)

Best Budget

CalDigit Pro Dock

Specs at a look: CalDigit Pro Dock
Price$199
Ports1 x Thunderbolt 3
1 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2
3 x USB-A 3.3 Gen 1
2 x DisplayPort 2.1
1 x SD card reader
1 x Gigabit ethernet
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
Power supply85W
Display choicesThunderbolt 3 PC: two shows (4K @ 60Hz)/USB-C PC: two shows (720p) or one show (4K @ 30Hz)
Dimensions8.43 x 3.15 x 0.98 inches (214 x 80 x 25 mm)
CompatibilitymacOS, Windows 10

CalDigit’s new Pro Dock will not be solely a well-priced Thunderbolt 3 accent at $199, however it’ll work seamlessly when related to both a Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C PC. As we clarify above, there are a variety of variations between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, and some options are solely accessible on units with Thunderbolt 3 ports. CalDigit’s Pro Dock will adapt to work exactly no matter which degree of USB-C port you join it to, making it possibility for those that are unclear which connector their PC has (or if these getting it as a present and do not know the specs of their recipient’s PC).

When related to a Thunderbolt 3 PC, the Pro Dock helps information switch speeds as much as 40Gbps, twin show output for 4K displays at as much as 60Hz through its two DisplayPorts, and a most 85W of laptop computer charging. When related to a USB-C Gen 2 machine, it will help information transfers speeds as much as 10Gbps, twin 4K at 30Hz monitor output, in addition to 85W laptop computer charging. Those with USB-C Gen 1 units will see most information switch speeds of 5Gbps, twin HD monitor output, and a most 85W laptop computer charging.

The Pro Dock can be appropriate with the latest iPad Pros, permitting customers to attach the pill to an exterior show in addition to join peripherals and equipment like exterior laborious drives.

We have been impressed with the Pro Dock’s information switch speeds, and since we take a look at these docks with a MacBook Pro and an XPS 13, you may discover the speeds are fairly excessive as a result of the Thunderbolt 3 ports on these laptops help sooner information switch speeds.

While the machine has array of ports, it solely has one additional Thunderbolt 3 port that it solely helps information transfers. You will not be capable of daisy-chain a monitor by way of this port, however CalDigit added two show ports on the again fringe of the machine to make up for that. But the Pro Dock might be daisy-chained in a sequence if it is added to the very finish of a Thunderbolt 3 daisy-chain, simply understand that you may see weaker efficiency within the Pro Dock (in addition to different units) the additional away within the chain it will get from the host PC.

Despite the daisy-chaining inconvenience, the CalDigit Pro Dock supplies a whole lot of worth for its $199 price ticket. Most Thunderbolt 3 docks nonetheless sit above the $200 mark, so it is a good possibility for those that have a tighter finances in addition to those that need the comfort of a dock that works nicely with each Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C PCs.

Good

  • Solid and comparatively inexpensive dock that works with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C PCs.

Bad

CalDigit Pro Dock product image

CalDigit Pro Dock

(Ars Technica could earn compensation for gross sales from hyperlinks on this submit by way of affiliate applications.)

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