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Best Thunderbolt docks 2024: Extend your laptop’s capabilities

Friday February 16, 2024. 06:00 PM , from PC World
A Thunderbolt docking station for laptops is now nearly a must-have accessory, providing I/O access for legacy mice, keyboards, external drives, and more. It’s a key ingredient for a productive office, whether at work or home. And now there’s an upcoming wrinkle: Thunderbolt 5.

Why buy a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 docking station? Because of the bandwidth and power it provides. The best USB-C hubs and dongles provide legacy ports (USB-A, microSD, and others) for connecting PC peripherals like mice, printers, external hard drives, and more. But most laptops now include a Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt docking stations serve as a powerful desktop dock, supplying enough bandwidth via the Thunderbolt port to drive a pair of 4K displays and charge your phone.

Our roundup begins with the best Thunderbolt laptop docking stations, including budget and premium options. We also include our favorite DisplayLink USB-C docks—a simpler, cheaper docking station option that we think you should consider. Our included FAQ and buying guide helps make sense of it all, including the powerful, upcoming Thunderbolt 5.

Our most recent review in March 2024 was the Kensington Thunderbolt 4 and USB Quad Docking Station (SD5800T), a fabulously flexible dock with a wildly varying online price that makes it either a steal or overpriced. Note that not every Thunderbolt dock we review appears on our list.

Why you should trust me: PCWorld has been testing PC hardware since the 1980s, and I’ve been a technology journalist for 30 years. I first began testing Thunderbolt docks in early 2021, and have reviewed over 35 Thunderbolt docks to date. I use input from PCWorld’s sister sites, Macworld’s Thunderbolt dock reviews and the Thunderbolt dock reviews compiled by TechAdvisor, to help inform my recommendations. My reviews of Thunderbolt docks, DisplayLink docks, and USB-C hardware are extensive, and every month I review an average of two additional docks or hubs as contenders for recommendation.

Updated March 29, 2024 with an update to our recommendations for the best dock for Apple Macs, to note recent reviews, and to update other information and our FAQ.

Best Thunderbolt docking stations for laptops






Plugable TBT3-UDZ Thunderbolt Dock – Best overall Thunderbolt dock





















Pros


Tons of ports — so flexible!

Space-saving vertical stand



Cons


Heavy (4.1lb)

















Best Prices Today:



$369 at Newegg





Why I like the Plugable TBT3-UDZ

Plugable’s TBT3-UDZ has at various times been my best overall and runner-up, depending on price swings. Because of the similarities between Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4, there’s no harm in buying a Thunderbolt 3 dock, as the performance is the same. But (for now, anyway), the Plugable TBT3-UDZ is just a few dollars more expensive than our runner-up pick, the Kensington SD5780T, and is far more flexible in terms of what it of what it offers. Plugable’s dock simply offers much more flexibility for a comparable price.

Put simply, the TBT3-UDZ is in a class of premium docks that don’t force you to pick a particular display cable — if you own a pair of monitors with DisplayPort cables, you can plug them right in. Oh, they’re HDMI? No problem — there are two ports for those, too. Powered ports to charge a smartphone? Sure. SD and microSD slots? Of course. And a vertical stand to save space? Sign me up.

Plugable also has a reputation for bulletproof customer service, too, which goes far in helping me recommend this dock.

Who should buy the Plugable TBT3-UDZ

Our best picks are designed for everyone, but this dock offers the most value of our top two recommendations. If you have an existing display cable to connect to a monitor or two, you have everything you need. It’s a no-fuss solution.

This dock works best on a desktop, as part of a permanent docking station. We’d also recommend the TBT3-UDZ for those who want to save a bit of desk space, as that vertical stand can be slipped next to a display to save space.

Read our full

Plugable TBT3-UDZ review






Kensington Thunderbolt 4 Dual 4K Dock (SD5780T) – Best overall Thunderbolt dock runner-up





















Pros


Solid performance

No thermal issues

Pretty solid mix of ports, including downstream Thunderbolt 4

Price cuts have helped make it more affordable



Cons


One of the more expensive docks (MSRP) we’ve tested

Rear USB-A ports deliver less power than expected

One display port, requiring an additional dongle for two displays


















Why I like the Kensington SD5780T

One of my testing credoes is “affordable flexibility,” and I favor a dock that will fit into your existing setup. Plugable’s TBT3-UDZ, above, is about as flexible as you can get, but the Kensington SD5780T was originally substantially cheaper. Not any more, which is why I’ve elevated the TBT3-UDZ to “best pick” status.

The Kensington SD578T, however, is a solid all-around Thunderbolt 4 dock in all respects. For those who wish to use a single 4K monitor, chances are that you’ll already own an HDMI cable. The additional Thunderbolt 4 port allows you to add an additional display, but that requires the purchase of an additional cable. Still, in my tests the dock was stable (and not all are!) with a nice port selection. The dock will charge your smartphone, albeit with a USB-A port.

I really like the Anker 568 as a second runner-up, with a marvelous collection of features for an affordable price.

Who should buy the Kensington SD5780T

The SD5780T is an ideal “starter” dock, for someone who has a laptop and a single external display and might want to add more in the future. Adding a second display will require the purchase of a USB-C (Thunderbolt) to HDMI cable, which will cost an additional $20 or so. The inclusion of the SD card slot should appeal to photographers who record photo or video on those cards.

Read our full

Kensington Thunderbolt 4 Dual 4K Dock (SD5780T) review






Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core – Best budget Thunderbolt dock





















Pros


Compact

HDMI 2.0 + DisplayPort 1.4 port covers two displays



Cons


Unlabeled USB-A ports look identical

Bus-powered

Shortish cord


















Why I like the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core

Belkin’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core is a smartly designed “powered” Thunderbolt 3 travel dock, and an inexpensive one as well. It’s one of the most compact Thunderbolt docks that you can buy.

At a nearly square 5.2 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches, the Thunderbolt Dock Core doesn’t take up much room, and the included 8-inch Thunderbolt 3 cord provides ample length for flexibility. Ports are adequately spaced around the flat, black plastic cube, with HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.4 ports providing a stable 4K/60Hz experience to both of my 4K displays. There’s Gigabit Ethernet and a 3.5mm audio jack. Unfortunately, the USB 3.1 and USB 2.0 Type A ports aren’t labeled, but they’re there.

Amazon almost always has this dock on a big sale, so it’s an inexpensive option for most people, too.

Who should buy the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core

If you’re a traveler and don’t exactly know where you’ll end up working, Belkin’s dock is a good failsafe. I usually stick it in my bag when I’m on the road, just in case. The only real kicker that you have to watch out for it is the lack of a powered charger. That can result in some peripherals not receiving as much power as they should.

The squarish, “star” design is quite nice for working at a small hotel desk, though.

Read our full

Belkin Connect Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core review






Ugreen Revodok Pro 13-in-1 Triple Display Docking Station – Best budget Thunderbolt dock runner-up





















Pros


Excellent performance

Great value for the money

Optimized build

Completely stable



Cons


Short, built-in cord

You’ll need your own power supply/charger

Requires a relatively modern laptop


















Why I like the Ugreen Revodok Pro 13-in-1 Triple Display Docking Station

The only reason that this isn’t my pick for the best budget Thunderbolt docking station is because it appears to use a generic form of compression known as HBR3 (High Bit Rate 3) with DSC (Display Stream Compression), which is built into the DisplayPort spec. That’s a particular technology that is more common within recent Intel Core (and Core Ultra) laptops, but isn’t guaranteed to appear on yours. (If you own a laptop with a Thunderbolt port, though, this should work just fine.) You’ll also have to supply your own USB-C power cable.

Otherwise, this docking station has so much to offer. The price is outstanding, of course, but Ugreen’s dock is also so flexible yet so stable. Everything’s well labeled, and the dock offers DisplayPort as well as HDMI options. And it’s really quite portable, too. Just remember that charger.

Who should buy the Ugreen Revodok Pro 13-in-1 Triple Display Docking Station

It’s interesting that both of our budget picks cater to budget shoppers as well as travelers, as both are compact and relatively lightweight. But I’d really recommend this dock for those who own laptops with 13th-gen Core hardware or above. HBR3/DSC technology really doesn’t work on older systems like 11th-gen Core hardware and older PCs. If you own an AMD Ryzen laptop, too, it may be a little iffy.

Read our full

Ugreen Revodok Pro 13-in-1 Triple Display Docking Station review






Kensington Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 Quad Video Docking Station (SD5800T) – Best Thunderbolt 4 dock





















Pros


Rugged, well-engineered

Can sit vertically on its stand to save space

Yes, it works: Four 4K displays are possible

A surplus of ports



Cons


MSRP is really too expensive

Mislabeled USB-A charging port doesn’t deliver

Average storage performance


















Why I like the Kensington Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 Quad Video Docking Station (SD5800T)

I ultimately ruled out the SD5800T as a candidate for the best overall Thunderbolt dock because the price is all over the map: $379 is way too much, but Amazon’s $229.99 price makes this a bargain for what this 16-in-1 dock delivers. Like the Plugable TBT3-UDZ above, this dock features four display ports (two DisplayPort, two HDMI) with a twist — it can connect to all four displays at 4K resolution, and not just two. (Sonnet’s Echo 20 Thunderbolt 4 SuperDock has its own gimmick, which I considered but ruled out: an integrated M.2 storage slot.)

The dock can support four displays by using the CDC/HBR3 data compression technique mentioned elsewhere, which modern laptops include but older laptops do not. For me, this quad-display capability is a bonus, and it will handle the expected two 4K displays just fine, and at a reasonable price. About the only thing I didn’t like was that one charging port didn’t work as expected. But it has a spare, too! — and that worked as expected. This is a solid, ultra-premium dock at a good price, which is why it earns my endorsement. A vertical stand helps save space.

Who should buy the Kensington Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 Quad Video Docking Station (SD5800T)

Thunderbolt 4 and USB4 are basically identical, which Kensington calls out in its name. Any laptop owner could buy this dock. Nevertheless, the flexibility may be overkill for some, and only a small fraction of buyers will want to connect four separate displays to this dock. Unless you’re worried about Thunderbolt 5 (and a enthusiast buyer of the SD5800T may be) this is an investment that should hold up for several years.

Read our full

Kensington Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 Quad Video Docking Station (SD5800T) review






Razer Thunderbolt 4 Dock Chroma – Best Thunderbolt 4 dock runner-up





















Pros


Rock-solid stability

The only (?) dock with RGB lighting



Cons


Average to slightly poor performance

Lack of dedicated display ports

A higher price tag than what rivals charge










Price When Reviewed:

€329.99




Best Prices Today:



€329.99 at Razer





Why I like the Razer Thunderbolt 4 Dock Chroma

I was surprised by how much I like this dock. Still, I agonized over this pick. OWC’s Thunderbolt Go Dock was our prior pick, and I liked its gimmick: an integrated power brick that allows it to be taken on the road, sort of. Razer’s Chroma dock also has a gimmick: its RGB. But this dock also forces you to buy extra display cables if you want to connect two 4K displays, which normally turns me off. As one of the more modern docks, with rock-solid stability, it won me over in the end, though its storage performance was middling.

The RGB lighting is fun, and optional — it can be turned off. Overall, the Chroma is the better dock, but if you don’t want to spend the extra money, consider OWC’s dock instead. Frankly, the Kensington SD5780T top pick runner-up shares a lot of the same functionality as both the OWC and the Razer docks, so price plays a factor here.

Who should buy the Razer Thunderbolt 4 Dock Chroma

Gamers, obviously. But even a stodgy old reporter like me likes it, because the RGB can either be fixed to a certain color or turned off entirely. And the dock surprised me with its stability and construction. You can certainly buy this dock for its blingy aesthetic, but it works just as well as a more down-to-earth alternative, too. Razer did a very nice job balancing both aspects.

Read our full

Razer Thunderbolt 4 Dock Chroma review






Plugable 5-in-1 Thunderbolt Hub (USB4-HUB3A) – Best Thunderbolt 4 hub





















Pros


Incredibly compact

USB-C to HDMI adapter included

15W/60W of charging power to phones/PCs



Cons


Limited ports

Best for Thunderbolt-attached displays

















Best Prices Today:



$189 at Newegg





Why I like the Plugable 5-in-1 Thunderbolt Hub (USB4-HUB3A)

How does a Thunderbolt hub differ from a Thunderbolt dock? In this case, there’s less of an emphasis on legacy ports, and more of a focus on a direct connection to a display. The Mac world tends to emphasize Thunderbolt-connected displays far more than the Windows world does, so this might be a niche product for most of you. But this thing is tiny (4.75 x 2.88 x 0.5 inches) even if, unfortunately, the associated power brick isn’t.

It will send 15W of power via the Thunderbolt/USB-C connections to charge smartphones, and 60W to the host PC.

If you don’t need a big, bulky dock with multiple connections, Plugable’s 5-in-1 Hub just does the job and without any extra fuss. If your laptop needs more power than the 60W Plugable hub provides, then I would recommend the Satechi Thunderbolt 4 Slim Hub Pro instead.

Who should buy the Plugable 5-in-1 Thunderbolt Hub (USB4-HUB3A)

Thunderbolt displays are prevalent in the Mac market, but this hub can be used for an emerging market of Thunderbolt/USB-C monitors. They’ll likely become more prevalent in the future.

But connecting a cable from each port on your laptop to each display is messy. You’d still like just one. The hub works as a “splitter” of sorts for the Thunderbolt connection.

Put another way, if you own a USB-C monitor, those displays tend to also have legacy ports (USB-A, USB-C) inside them, which means that a Thunderbolt dock and its cluster of ports may be redundant. This hub is a way to save a little money for the user who has a specific setup.

Read our full

Plugable 5-in-1 Thunderbolt Hub (USB4-HUB3A) review






Anker 568 USB-C Docking Station – Best USB4 docking station





















Pros


Two ports for fast-charging smartphones

Solid value

Eighteen-month warranty



Cons


Occasional instability on a second display or connected devices


















Why I like the Anker 568 USB-C Docking Station

Two power ports on the front: They’re a delightful little detail that I wish other vendors would adopt as well. As you may have read elsewhere in this roundup, USB4 and Thunderbolt4 are basically identical, so you might be wondering why we’re even separating out this category. Well, if you’re a notebook owner with an AMD Ryzen chip inside, you might be looking for dedicated dock, and this is a very good one. Quite frankly, this Anker 568 is in the running for the best overall docking station.

This 11-in-1 docking station favors DisplayPort, with two DisplayPort 1.4 ports, and a single HDMI 2.0 video port. The Anker 568’s distinguishing feature, however, is the pair of 10Gbps USB-C ports on the front, each supplying 30W of power as well as a separate 100W connection to the laptop. That’s quite unusual, and the two ports should fast-charge a smartphone and possibly even a tablet.

Who should buy the Anker 568 USB-C Docking Station

If you own a notebook with a Ryzen CPU inside, and you want the confidence that this dock has been tested to ensure USB4 compatibility, this is the dock for you. You’ll also want to buy it if you charge multiple phones or use high-powered peripherals, such as a high-end SSD.

I really like this dock, and I’d recommend it to about anyone. It does lack microSD and SD card slots, though, which may rule it out for photographers.

Read our full

Anker 568 USB-C Docking Station review






Plugable USB4 Dual HDMI Docking Station (UD-4VPD) – Best USB4 docking station runner-up





















Pros


Great price and value, even at MSRP

4K120 display capabilities open up gaming possibilities

Stable performance

Excellent charging capabilities



Cons


Significant thermal issues

Storage tests across the dock were lower than average
https://www.pcworld.com/article/393714/best-thunderbolt-docks-for-a-laptop-pc.html

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