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The best Thunderbolt 3 docks

We tried out 10 different Thunderbolt 3 docks on multiple laptops to test consistency, power, usability, and price. Thunderbolt 3 might be a firm standard, but that doesn’t mean these peripherals are all made equal. While audio, Ethernet, and USB connectivity might be stable, features like external display support were very hit or miss.

With that testing in mind, a few options easily stood out from the crowd. The best Thunderbolt 3 dock is the CalDigit TS3 Plus since it’s compatibility and includes every port.

The best Thunderbolt 3 dock: CalDigit TS3 Plus Dock

The CalDigit TS3 Plus dock is easily the best Thunderbolt 3 Dock you can buy. It’s reliable, consistent, and includes every port imaginable.

Not only does the CalDigit TS3 Plus have all the usual bases covered — USB-A, USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, Ethernet, audio — but it also tosses in an SD card reader and an optical audio output. Photographers and video editors will appreciate that. It also worked the best with all of the laptops I hooked up, and was the most reliable that I used in my day-to-day routine. It’s expensive, but you won’t find a better option for your Thunderbolt 3 needs.

The best budget Thunderbolt 3 dock: Cable Matters Dual HDMI Thunderbolt 3 Dock

The least expensive dock that I tested was the Cable Matters Dual HDMI Thunderbolt 3 Dock. It’s also the most portable, making for a nice travel companion.

You don’t get power to the laptop or a myriad of ports, but what you do get is good performance and compatibility.

The Cable Matters dock worked well with my test laptops, providing reliable display support and quick and easy Ethernet and USB-A connections. It’s small, discrete, and affordable — just what many people are looking for in this kind of dock.

The best Thunderbolt 3 dock for Mac: CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock

CalDigit has two possible placements in this category: Its TB3 Plus and USB-C Pro docks both worked best with the MacBook Pro 16 out of all the docks I tested.

However, the USB-C Pro was more reliable overall, requiring fewer reboots to get everything up and running. The best part? It works with non-Thunderbolt 3 laptops as well and is a bit cheaper than the TB3 Plus.

If you have a laptop with only USB-C ports, then the CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock is the dock for you.

Our guide to Thunderbolt 3 docks

Why you need a Thunderbolt 3 dock and what to expect from one

CalDigit USB-C Pro

Even the best laptops can be connectivity-challenged. While desktop PCs have scads of ports and internal expandability, laptops are most often stuck with what ships from the factory. These days, that can mean being limited to only USB-C or Thunderbolt 3.

If you want to expand storage, add external displays, connect to Ethernet, and sometimes even plug in an SD card reader to transfer your picture over, then you’ll need to either have the appropriate port on-hand — which you might not have — or you’ll need a dongle. Sometimes, you simply can’t connect everything at once, and that’s a real problem if you want your laptop to serve as your primary machine in your office setup.

That’s where hubs come in. They plug into one of the USB ports on your laptop and provide for some level of expansion. But most USB hubs, including those made for USB-C, are limited in how much and what kinds of data they can transmit. USB-C can transmit 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) and might support an “Alt Mode” that can connect two 1080p displays at 60Hz.

Thunderbolt 3 changes all that. First, it supports up to 40 Gbps of bandwidth, allowing you to connect and use many more peripherals at once. And second, it supports HDMI and DisplayPort out of the box, allowing you to connect up to two 4K displays at 60Hz. That’s a real difference. Thunderbolt 3 can also be daisy-chained, allowing you to string together up to six Thunderbolt 3 devices.

How we tested

CalDigit TB3Plus

I tested ten Thunderbolt 3 docks using four different laptops, three running Windows 10 (a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2, an HP Spectre x360 15, and a Dell XPS 13) and one running MacOS (a MacBook Pro 16). I checked how well each dock and each laptop supported two external 4K displays, a USB flash drive, a gigabit Ethernet connection, and audio. I tried connecting the displays via two DisplayPort connections (for docks that had them; I used dongles when necessary) and with a mix of HDMI and DisplayPort.

It was display connectivity that caused the bulk of my challenges during my testing. Audio, Ethernet, USB, and SD card (where it was available) support all worked fine. I used the docks as you will, downloading drivers and firmware where it was available, and judged them based on their performance out of the box. It’s possible that had I spent serious time with technical support I might have “fixed” a few of the docks and laptops — but that’s not time that a consumer should have to spend on getting “plug-and-play” products working. In this regard, CalDigit, in particular, should be commended for producing two docks that just worked.

The most remarkable observation was just how inconsistent the docks and laptops performed when it came to connecting to both 4K displays. The ThinkPad was by far the most consistent — it only had issues with one of the docks in connecting to both displays at 60Hz (what each of the docks should be able to provide). None of the docks could fully power the ThinkPad or the HP, though, thanks to their high-end components and 130-watt power draw.

Cable Matters Dual HDMI Thunderbolt 3 Dock

The Spectre was the least consistent — HP opted to configure only a single DisplayPort channel through the Thunderbolt 3 ports because of the laptop’s full-size HDMI port. It had all kinds of problems connecting to the external displays through the docks, either connecting to just one display or connecting to one at 30Hz and the other at 60Hz. Sometimes it connected at weird resolutions, and not once was it able to connect to both displays at 4K and 60Hz. The best bet with the HP was to plug one of the displays into the dock and one into the laptop’s HDMI port, which takes away some of the convenience of a dock’s single connection. The Spectre also draws up to 130 watts and so couldn’t be fully powered by any of the docks.

The XPS 13 fell in between the other two Windows 10 laptops. It connected just fine through six of the docks, but had issues with four, and all of the docks provided plenty of power. And the MacBook Pro 16 was similar to the Dell, connecting through seven docks but falling flat with three. Note that the MacBook did need to be rebooted a few times to get it to recognize the connected displays at 4K and 60Hz, and only the HP TB3 G2 dock (which provides up to 100 watts of power) could match the MacBook’s 97-watt power draw.

Why the CalDigit TS3 Plus is the best Thunderbolt 3 dock

It should be clear by now that CalDigit produces well-behaving products. The TS3 Plus was the most reliable and consistent dock I tested, with its sibling, the USB-C Pro, falling just a step behind. Each of the laptops I tested worked better with the TS3 Plus than with any other dock, enabling convenient plug-and-play almost across the board. It was incredibly refreshing to simply plug in a laptop (all but the HP) and watch both of the displays connect at a full 60Hz. That’s what I expected I’d see from the Thunderbolt 3 standard — and was disappointed to discover that it wasn’t true of other docks.

The TS3 Plus also provides the most comprehensive array of connections and 87 watts of power delivery (the third-most). You get five USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, one additional Thunderbolt 3 port, both audio in and out connections, a digital optical connection (the only one in all the docks I tested), an SD card reader, and a gigabit Ethernet port. The only downside is the single DisplayPort connection, meaning you need a dongle to connect a second display. CalDigit even managed to pack all of that connectivity into a box that’s relatively small compared to some of the competition. It’s not a real looker, but it’s a highly functional brick that doesn’t take up too much space and won’t stick out on your desk.

The TS3 Plus was the most expensive dock at $250, compared to the least costly full-size dock (the HP TB3 G2) at $190. But the extra $60 is well worth it for the diversity of connectivity and the impressive compatibility and reliability. If you want to be as sure as you can be in picking a dock that will work with your laptop, then the TS3 Plus is your best choice.

Why the Cable Matters TB3 is the best budget Thunderbolt 3 dock

The Cable Matters TB3 to dual HDMI dock was the clear choice as the best budget dock thanks to its $116 price. Most Thunderbolt 3 docks fall in the range of $190 to $250 that I saw with the 10 docks I tested. To get into real budget territory, you need to give something up.

What the Cable Matters dock gives up most of all is power delivery — it’s fully powered by the laptop and doesn’t even come with a power brick. But that’s okay, because that also makes it a highly portable dock. Just stick it in your backpack along with your laptop, and you can move from office to office with ease.

You only get two USB-A ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, and two HDMI ports, but that’s enough to set up a reasonably well-equipped office. And the dock did a great job of connecting to the two 4K displays at 60Hz via the two HDMI ports, with only the HP Spectre x360 15 giving it fits (I could only get a single display to connect through the dock).

Why the CalDigit USB-C Pro is the best Thunderbolt 3 dock for Mac

The CalDigit USB-C Pro was easily the prettiest dock I tested, featuring a long, shallow design, marked by a dark grey aluminum that matches MacBooks well. It goes far beyond just aesthetics though.

The MacBook Pro 16 I used for testing was a finicky machine when it came to connecting to both of the 4K displays. It’s the only laptop that routinely needed to be rebooted for everything to connect correctly, and that included from session to session. In other words, even once I had everything working, if I rebooted the laptop, I would sometimes need to reboot again to get both displays to connect. That was true with all of the docks, but the CalDigit USB-C Pro was by far the most reliable in this regard.

The USB-C Pro was the best dock to use with the MacBook Pro, and it provides a robust set of connectivity. You get three USB-A ports, one USB-C port, audio in and out, an SD card reader, and a gigabit Ethernet port. The two DisplayPorts provide dongle-free connections to two external displays. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the USB-C Pro is that it can also connect to laptops with non-Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports. You’ll need to drop down to the USB-C specifications, such as two 1080p displays instead of 4K and much slower bandwidth, but it’s an excellent option for anyone who needs to support more than one laptop.

The USB-C Pro was also on the lower end of the price scale at $200. Given its exceptional reliability, 85-watt power delivery, and compatibility with USB-C, the USB-C Pro is a solid second choice behind the TS3 Plus.

The alternatives we tested

HP TB3 G2: This is the best-looking dock that I tested and even offers an optional speaker that snaps onto the top. It provides diverse connectivity, including three USB-A ports, a USB-C port, an additional Thunderbolt 3 port, audio in, and gigabit Ethernet. The TB3 G2 has two DisplayPorts and is the only dock with a VGA port. Unfortunately, the dock had some issues connecting both displays at 60Hz with all but the ThinkPad. Its one standout feature is the most power delivery at the Thunderbolt 3 maximum of 100 watts and the lowest price of the powered docks at $190.

Kensington SD5300T: The first of two Kensington docks I tested, the SD5300T, costs $245 and comes with five USB-A ports, an additional Thunderbolt 3 port, audio in, an SD card reader, and gigabit Ethernet. Display connectivity is limited to a single HDMI port, so connecting two displays — which was fourth-most reliable across the laptops — requires a dongle. The SD5300T only provides 60 watts of power delivery, which was just enough for the XPS 13 but very insufficient for the larger laptops.

Kensington SD5500T: This Kensington dock is priced at $220 and provides three USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, audio in, and a gigabit Ethernet port. Two DisplayPort connections provided the fifth-most reliable display support, and again the 60 watts of power delivery was underwhelming. Note that like CalDigit’s USB-C Pro, the SD 5500T also supports USB-C connections, with the requisite decreases in performance.

Cable Matters TB3 60W: The other Cable Matters dock that I tested was rather pricey at $240 and provides good connectivity with five USB-A ports, an additional Thunderbolt 3 port, audio in, a gigabit Ethernet port, and a single HDMI connection. It was the third-most reliable in terms of connecting to the two 4K displays at 60Hz, although there isn’t a way to connect to two DisplayPort displays with this particular dock, and it only provides 60 watts of power to the laptop.

Plugable TBT3-UDV: The last dock that I tested cost $230 and provides a minimal 60 watts of power delivery. Connectivity includes five USB-A ports, an additional Thunderbolt 3 port, audio in, and a gigabit Ethernet connection. One DisplayPort and a dongle provide display support, and the dock was in the upper half in terms of reliability.

Belkin TB3 Pro: The Belkin dock costs $235 and provides 85 watts of power delivery, the fourth most in my test group. The overall connectivity of the TB3 Pro was very good, with five USB-A ports, a USB-C port, an additional Thunderbolt 3 port, audio in, an SD card reader, and a gigabit Ethernet port. Display connectivity is via a single DisplayPort and a dongle, but the Belkin struggled in consistently connecting to the two 4K displays.

Dell WD19TB: Dell’s premier dock comes in at $235 and provides three USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, an additional Thunderbolt 3 port, both audio in and audio out, and a gigabit Ethernet port. Two DisplayPort connections are on-hand, but I found the dock to be surprisingly finicky in connecting to both 4K displays at 60Hz. The WD19TB even struggled to support the XPS 13. It does, though, provide up to 130 watts to Dell laptops and 90 watts to non-Dell laptops.

Editors' Recommendations