Whether you use a MacBook Pro or a Windows laptop, you might want to consider buying a Thunderbolt 3 docking station. Their high bandwidth opens the door to desktop accessories, like 4K monitors and external GPUs. Here are the best Thunderbolt 3 docks you can buy right now.
Why Buy a Thunderbolt 3 Dock?
Docking stations allow you to use your laptop like a desktop computer. They make it easy to connect to external monitors or speakers, and they expand the number of high-speed USB ports you have at your disposal.
In a way, laptop docking stations are very similar to the Nintendo Switch docking station. Some people can live without one, but they enable you to use your laptop as either a mobile or desktop computer. They’re invaluable to professionals, creatives, and (increasingly) laptop-loving gamers.
New Thunderbolt 3 docks are an expensive luxury, but their increased bandwidth of this standard means they have a wider port selection than the USB-A or basic USB-C counterparts.
Plus, Thunderbolt 3 docks support high-speed pass-through charging, 4K or 5K video, gigabit ethernet, and a variety of other features that make them essential to some professional, creative, or gaming setups.
Here are a few things you can do with a Thunderbolt 3 dock:
- 4K dual display: Most Thunderbolt 3 docks offer 4K 60hz video for two displays. Some expensive docks even offer 5K 60hz for a single display.
- Fast host charging: Some Thunderbolt 3 docks support super-fast, 60- or 87-watt host charging. For reference, the 13-inch MacBook Pro charges at 60 watts, while the 15- and 16-inch models charge at 87 and 96 watts, respectively.
- Full speed data transfer: TB3 docks have uncompromised data transfer rates. This means any extra TB3 ports in a dock operate at 40 Gbps transfer speeds—great news for people who have TB3 external drives and accessories.
- Gigabit ethernet: Thunderbolt 3 docks come with a built-in gigabit ethernet port for 1,000 Mbps upload and download speeds.
- External GPUs: Laptop gamers rejoice! Thunderbolt 3 docks with a secondary TB3 input will work with external GPUs.
- Mac and PC compatibility: Thunderbolt 3 docks work with any Thunderbolt 3 ports—they don’t discriminate between Windows or Apple computers. Still, some Windows computers aren’t built with the proper Thunderbolt 3 standard. Before you buy a dock, check the manufacturer’s website for device compatibility.
Clearly, Thunderbolt 3 docks kick ass, but there’s a chance you don’t need (or can’t use) one. Many monitors are limited to 1080p resolution, and USB 3.0 accessories or storage devices won’t work any faster through a Thunderbolt 3 dock.
Plus, only premium laptops have Thunderbolt 3 ports. If your computer has USB-A or basic USB-C ports, it won’t work with a Thunderbolt 3 dock. In case you’re confused, USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are the same shape, but they aren’t the same.
However, if you would benefit from the speed and power of a Thunderbolt 3 dock, go for it! It’ll expand your computer’s port selection and open up the door to 4K monitors, gigabit ethernet, and power-hungry accessories, like eGPUs.
Best Overall: Cable Matters Dock
The Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock is sleek, reasonably priced, and built with premium features that should satisfy most professionals, creatives, gamers, or hobbyists. It charges connected laptops at 60 watts (that’s full speed for the MacBook Pro 13), and can send 5K 60hz video to a single display via Thunderbolt 3 cable (or dual displays at 4K 60hz).
Port-wise, the Cable Matters dock features two Thunderbolt 3 ports (one for accessories, and another for your computer), five USB-A 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, a gigabit ethernet port, an HDMI output, and an audio I/O jack. That’s 11 ports total—more than you’ll find in similarly priced Thunderbolt 3 docking stations.
Certified Cable Matters Aluminum Thunderbolt 3 Dock with HDMI 2.0 and 60W Laptop Charging for Windows PC and MacBook Pro (Not Compatible with USB-C Ports Without The Thunderbolt Logo)
The Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 docking station has 11 expansion ports and charges connected laptops at 60 watts. It's ideal for most professionals, creatives, and hobbyists.
Best Premium Pick: CalDigit TS3 Plus Dock
The CalDigit TS3 Plus dock is expensive, but it has more ports and horsepower than any other docking station on the market. It features two Thunderbolt 3 ports (one for accessories, and another for your computer), five USB-A 3.0 ports, two USB-C ports, an SD card reader, DisplayPort, a gigabit ethernet port, audio I/O jacks, and an SPDIF jack for optical audio.
Of course, the CalDigit TS3 Plus is more than just a bunch of ports. It charges docked laptops at a whopping 87 watts (enough to charge the 15-inch MacBook Pro at full speed), and it’s capable of outputting 5K 60hz video to a single display via Thunderbolt 3 cable (or 4K 60hz video to two displays simultaneously).
CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock - 87W Charging, 7X USB 3.1 Ports, USB-C Gen 2, DisplayPort, UHS-II SD Card Slot, LAN, Optical Out, for 2016+ MacBook Pro & PC (Space Gray - 0.7m/2.3ft Cable)
The CalDigit TS3 Plus dock has 15 expansion ports, charges your laptop at wild, 87-watt speeds, and outputs 5K 60hz video via a Thunderbolt 3 cable.
Best Midrange Option: Plugable Docking Station
Plugable’s Thunderbolt 3 docking station is a strong, slightly less expensive alternative to the Cable Matters dock. It supports 60-watt laptop charging, gigabit ethernet, and 4K 60hz video to two displays simultaneously.
The only real difference between these products is the Cable Matters dock can push out 5K 60hz video to a single display, but the Plugable docking station is limited to 4K video. It also lacks an SD card reader, which makes it a poor option for some creatives. Still, at this price, the Plugable dock is perfect for professionals and gamers. It’s fast, has an extra TB3 input, and supports modern video standards.
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock Compatible with MacBook and Windows Laptops with Thunderbolt 3. Charges Laptop, adds HDMI / DisplayPort up to 4K 60, Ethernet, Audio, 5 USB 3.0 Ports
Plugable's Thunderbolt 3 docking station has 10 expansion ports and supports 60-watt charging and dual 4K 60hz video. For most professionals and gamers, this is the best midrange docking station on the market.
Best Budget Option: Belkin Travel Dock
If you’re looking for the cheapest Thunderbolt 3 dock on the market, then Belkin’s Travel Dock is your best bet. Like our other docks, it can output dual 4K video at 60hz (via two HDMI ports), and it has a gigabit ethernet jack for fast up- and download speeds.
Beyond that, the Belkin Travel Dock sports a USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 port, and that’s it. It doesn’t have a Thunderbolt 3 port, an SD card slot, or audio jacks. Also, unlike our other favorite docks, you can’t charge your laptop while you use it.
That’s a bummer. But hey, the Belkin Travel Dock is one of the only Thunderbolt 3 docks that costs less than $200. At that price, it’s a solid option for gamers or professionals who want to run dual monitors at 4K 60hz.
If you don’t care about fancy monitor setups, an inexpensive VAVA USB-C hub might be an even better option than the Belkin Travel dock. This USB-C hub supports 65-watt pass-through charging, gigabit ethernet, and 4K 30hz video for a single display.
Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini W/Thunderbolt 3 Cable (Thunderbolt Dock for MacOS and Windows USB-C Laptops, Dual 4K @60Hz, 40Gbps Transfer Speeds)
The Belkin Travel dock is an inexpensive option for laptop gamers who want to output 4K 60hz video to two displays. Still, it doesn't support pass-through charging and has a limited port selection.