Use your MacBook/Air/Pro as a desktop computer by adding multiple ports with a dock

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Plug and unplug your MacBook from a multiport docking station to quickly add peripherals and external displays to your laptop.

We’ve tested several and managed to skim the best Thunderbolt 3 and 4 and USB-C hubs and docks available to owners of the latest MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.

Thunderbolt 3, 4 or USB-C

The connectors all look the same, but there are significant differences, especially in speed. USB-C reaches a maximum throughput of 10 Gbps, compared to 40 Gbps for Thunderbolt 3 and 4. This additional bandwidth not only allows for faster data transfer, but also higher frame rates for external displays, as well as other benefits.

In Apple’s current laptop lineup, the 13-inch MacBook Air M1 and MacBook Pro M1 feature two Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) ports, while the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro M1 and M1 Max are equipped with three Thunderbolt 4 (TB4) ports.

Apple’s older 12-inch MacBook has a 5Gbps USB-C Gen 1 port, while MacBook Air (2018 and later) and MacBook Pro (from 2016) processors Intel are equipped with two or four 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 ports.

If your MacBook has a TB4 port, then you really should go with a TB4 dock to get more ports than the 14/16 inch ones have.

A Thunderbolt 4 docking station is a wise move, even for TB3 Mac owners, as the standard is backwards compatible with TB3 and USB-C. That said, there are still great TB3 docking stations out there, and most Apple users won’t see a big difference between TB3 and TB4.

The Thunderbolt 4 standard primarily aimed at upgrading Windows laptops, although there are technical benefits for MacBook Pro users, such as tethered daisy chaining and faster PCI hard drive connections.

We’ve included a few cheaper USB-C docking stations that require less bandwidth, they may suit your needs and lower your costs.

Add external displays to your MacBook with a docking station

If you use your laptop as your primary computer, you might want to consider connecting it to at least a larger screen to create a hybrid desktop/ laptop (with a keyboard, mouse, and printer all available through a single connection to your MacBook).

You can turn your 13-inch laptop screen into a 27-inch screen the size of an iMac or even bigger by adding an extra screen or connecting two more monitors.

If you want to hook up more than one external display to your MacBook, you’ll need at least a Thunderbolt docking station, rather than USB-C.

In native USB-C mode, Macs can only connect to 1 external display in extended mode (it extends beyond what you can see on your computer laptop, as opposed to mirror mode which mirrors exactly what you get on your laptop screen), but you’ll get two in extended mode through a Thunderbolt connection.

While MacBooks with M1 Silicon chip are very fast compared to Intel models, they have a significant limitation: they do not support more than one external display in extended mode, even through their Thunderbolt 3 ports. < /p>

This means that when using a docking station, MacBook M1 users cannot extend their desktop across two or more displays, and will be limited to two mirror displays or one external display, though< span>there is a software solution to add more than one external display to a MacBook M1.

Fortunately, the latest MacBook Pro M1 or M1 Max have the ability to support multiple displays. Indeed, these new models integrate more ports, so it is not necessary to have a docking station.

With three TB4 ports and one HDMI, a MacBook M1 Max could connect up to four external displays without a docking station. However, its user would undoubtedly need additional TB ports to compensate for the occupancy of others, and perhaps even wired Internet access via a Gigabit Ethernet port (not present on laptops).

Ports galore

A port for charging is required, although 14/16 inch MacBooks can also be powered through the MagSafe port, and probably at least one more for connecting peripherals (USB sticks, hard drives, Ethernet, screen external).

There are plenty of inexpensive adapters out there that allow you to add other peripherals to a USB-C or Thunderbolt MacBook, but for maximum flexibility, take a look at our selection below. They could meet your criteria and make your life easier, at the office or at home.

In this roundup, we’re focusing on Thunderbolt docks, but we’re also including USB-C less, MacBook Thunderbolt-compatible, but all at the cost of reduced bandwidth and display limitations.

Owners of Mac mini (2018 and later) and iMac (2017 and later) may also consider expanding their port count with a Thunderbolt docking station.

USB-C and Thunderbolt speeds

Thunderbolt and USB-C docking station compatibility

Regular USB-C runs at 5Gbps or 10Gbps, while the Thunderbolt (TB3 and TB4) hits speeds of 40Gbps. It’s possible to connect a Thunderbolt laptop to an SB-C dock, but you won’t have access to the very high speeds.

Stations with a Titan Ridge or Goshen Ridge chip will work with Thunderbolt and USB-C laptops. Other Thunderbolt docks are not compatible with USB-C computers, such as the 12-inch MacBook.

With Titan Ridge and Goshen Ridge, you get all the benefits of a Thunderbolt docking station, and can use it with non-Thunderbolt laptops.

USB PD: Power Delivery for your laptop

Here is how to choose your docking station with USB PD, PD for Power Delivery.

Charging the MacBook: The 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Air require a docking station with at least 30W of power. The 13-inch MacBook Pro charges at full speed at 61W, the 15-inch MacBook Pro at 87W, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro at 96W.

An 85W/96W MacBook Pro can charge at 30W or 60W, but slower than it would with its original charger.

Charging Connected Devices: Some docking stations don’t have an external power supply because they rely on your laptop to charge. If you add too many peripherals to one of these stations, you may run into power issues, as USB-C can only handle 7.5W of power, while Thunderbolt can handle 15W.

Benefits of Thunderbolt and USB-C Docking Stations

A docking station makes it much easier to use your laptop in two places, as it is easy to dock and undock it, although you may need a dock at each end for similar setups.

You can also use it as a base for home office setups with multiple laptops.

The inclusion of an SD or microSD card reader isn’t just for photo enthusiasts. It’s also a convenient and affordable way to add storage to your laptop.

The 14/16-inch MacBooks have their own SD card readers and jacks, but lack the Gigabit Ethernet port. To overcome this shortcoming, add a USB-C Ethernet adapter if you have an additional Thunderbolt port.

Here are the best Thunderbolt 3 & 4 and USB-C for MacBook from the market

1

CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus (TS3 Plus) – Best Thunderbolt 3 dock for Mac

  • Pros
    • 15 ports
    • PD 87W
    • Digital Audio
  • The Cons
    • Thunderbolt 3 not 4

TheCaldigit TS3 Plus is compact and its 15 ports have made it our favorite high-end Thunderbolt 3 docking station for its functional flexibility and power, the all at an affordable price.

Other docks have faster USB ports, but few have seven like the TS3 Plus.

It lacks the Titan Ridge processor, so it’s not suitable for non-Thunderbolt portable Macs, but since most MacBooks have at least T3, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Even though Thunderbolt 4 is the latest connection standard, its high-end benefits won’t be noticed by most MacBook owners, as TB3 equals TB4 in data transfer speed. Caldigit has also released a TB4 dock that leads to the Thunderbolt 4 generation.

To connect a second external screen, you will need an HDMI or DisplayPort USB-C video adapter. To skip the adapter, opt for a dock with two video ports instead. Both screens can handle 4K displays at 60Hz, or even 5K at the same frame rate.

Its dual digital audio inputs set it apart from its Thunderbolt 3 competitors. It also charges your laptop at 8W, making it a great companion for 15″ or 16″ MacBook Pros.

  • One Thunderbolt 3 port (40Gbps, 87W PD)
  • One Thunderbolt 3 port (40Gbps, 15W)
  • Up to two external displays (4K@60Hz)
  • DisplayPort 1.2 port
  • Five USB-A ports (5Gbps, 7.5W)
  • One USB-C port (10 Gbps)
  • One USB-C port (5 Gbit/s)
  • SD card reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
  • Gigabit Ethernet port
  • 3.5mm audio line-in and line-out ports
  • One digital optical audio (S/PDIF) port
  • 180W power supply

2

Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 – Best Thunderbolt 3 & USB-C with 2 T3

  • Pros
    • 13 ports
    • PD 85W
    • 18W USB-C
  • The Cons
    • Thunderbolt 3 not 4

The Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station is a great Titan Ridge for T3 and USB-C computers , with plenty of top-notch ports in a sleek, compact package.

It’s a strong competitor to the Caldigit TS3 Plus, which has one more USB-A port, but the Anker has a faster USB-C port and is compatible with non-Thunderbolt USB-C laptops.

All of the Power Expand Elite’s ports are premium: the two USB-C ports, for example, are Gen. 2 to 10 Gbps, while some docking stations only have 5 Gbps Type-C ports.

The on/off button on the front is a feature we haven’t seen on other docks, and there’s really nothing apart from the price that sets it apart from other stations we’ve seen recommend.

This Anker dock has several advantages: a compact design, a nice selection of ports, and the presence of two fast USB-C ports as well as two T3s.

  • One Thunderbolt 3 port (40Gbps, 85W PD)
  • One Thunderbolt 3 port (40Gbps, 15W)
  • Titan Ridge chip (USB-C and T3)
  • Up to two external displays (2 x 4K @ 60Hz; or 1 x 5K @ 60Hz)
  • One HDMI 2.0 port
  • Two USB-C (10Gbps) ports (one at 18W)
  • Four USB-A (5Gbps) ports (one at 7.5W)
  • SD card reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
  • MicroSD 4.0 (SD 4.0 UHS-II) card reader
  • Gigabit Ethernet Port
  • 3.5mm hybrid audio port
  • 180W power supply

3

CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 mini Dock – The most portable Thunderbolt 3 dock

  • Pros
    • Laptop
    • Dual Display Port
  • The Cons
    • Thunderbolt 3 not 4
    • No front TB3 port

The CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 Mini Dock supports dual 4K displays at 60Hz in a lightweight, portable form. It connects to the laptop via an integrated TB3 cable.

It is available with two DisplayPort ports or two HDMI ports, although there are other differences between the two models apart from the type of display connection.

The Dual HDMI Mini Dock has two HDMI ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and two USB-A ports: one at 5 Gbps (4.5W), the other at 480 Mbps (2 .5W) much slower. It has two DP slots, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a USB-A port (5 Gbits/s, 4.5 W).

Both models run 4K displays at 60Hz in extended mode, which is great for movies and gaming. More ordinary USB-C docking stations can take on two 4K displays, but only at 30Hz and only one in extended mode.

The downside is that there is no power supply (which it draws from the host laptop), so you will have to power your laptop through another port.

  • Bus-powered, so no PD charging
  • Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) Cable
  • Up to two external displays (4K@60Hz)
  • Two DisplayPort 1.2 ports or two HDMI 2.0 ports (4K@60Hz)
  • DP: One USB-A port (5Gbps, 4.5W)
  • HDMI: two USB-A ports (5 Gbps and 4.5W, one 480 Mbps and 2.5W)
  • Gigabit Ethernet port

4

SD5700T Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station – Best Thunderbolt 4 Dock

  • Pros
    • 11 fast ports
    • 4x TB4
    • 180W power supply
    • On button
  • The Cons
    • 4.5W USB-A ports

The Kensington SD5700T Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station has everything a dock should have: four TB4 ports, three fast USB-A and a slow port (with 7.5W charging power, compared to 4.5W for the faster USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 port), Gigabit Ethernet, SD card reader and 3.5mm audio jack.

At 180W, the power output is the highest we’ve seen, which is ideal if you’re charging multiple devices connected to the dock. And the On/Off power button (rare on docking stations) means you can let the laptop battery rest while you’re away.

LEDs let you know when the dock is powered and when it’s connected.

We think it’s worth paying a little more for this Thunderbolt 4 station, especially considering its three-year warranty.

  • One Thunderbolt 4 port (40Gbps, 90W PD)
  • Three Thunderbolt 4 ports (40Gbps, 15W)
  • Three USB-A ports (10Gbps, 4.5W)
  • One USB-A port (480Mbps, 7.5W)
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • UHS-II SD card reader (320 MBps)
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • 180W power supply

5

CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub – The Best Thunderbolt 4 Hub

  • Pros
    • 4x TB4
    • 4x 10 Gbit/s USB-A
    • 150W total power
    • Compact
  • The Cons
    • 60W power may be too low for 16 inch

The CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 Element hub is not a docking station as it has nothing but Thunderbolt and USB ports, no Ethernet, SD card reader or audio port. But it has so many high-end TB and USB ports that you can customize it to your liking.

It includes four TB4 ports and four fast 10Gbps USB-A. You can use two of the three TB4 ports to connect directly to USB-C monitors, HDMI or DisplayPort displays using inexpensive adapters.

You still have a spare TB4 port and the four USB-A ports to add other peripherals, such as an adapter for Gigabit Ethernet and/or an SD card reader, SSDs, USB keys, etc.

Because it’s a hub rather than a docking station, its 60W laptop charger isn’t powerful enough for larger laptops, but the overall 150W power supply will be useful for all hub ports.

  • One Thunderbolt 4 port (40Gbps, 60W PD)
  • Three Thunderbolt 4 ports (40Gbps, 15W)
  • Four USB-A ports (10Gbps, 7.5W)
  • 150W power supply

6

HyperDrive GEN2 16-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock – The most complete Dock

  • Pros
    • 16 ports
    • 85W
    • Digital Audio
  • The Cons
    • Thunderbolt 3 not 4

This HyperDrive (Thunderbolt and USB-C) docking station is loaded with 16 high-performance ports.

Its compact form factor is neat, just like the Caldigit TS4 and TS3 Plus, and it can be stood upright or horizontally, depending on your needs and preferences.

There are six USB-A ports in total, four 5Gbps and two 10Gbps USB-A ports, plus a fast-charging USB-A QC 3.0 port.

On top of that, you’ll get a 10Gbps USB-C port that you’ll need if you want to supplement DisplayPort for a second external display.

You’ll also get pro-level digital audio ports, as well as a front-panel 3.5mm analog headphone jack.

  • One upstream Thunderbolt 3 port (40Gbps, 85W PD)
  • One downstream Thunderbolt 3 port (40 Gbps, 15W)
  • Titan Ridge Chipset (USB-C and T3)
  • Up to two external displays (4K@60Hz)
  • One DisplayPort 1.4 (4K@60Hz)
  • Three USB-A ports (5Gbps, 4.5W)
  • Two USB-A ports (10Gbps, 4.5W)
  • One USB-A port (QC 3.0, 36W)
  • One USB-C port (10Gbps, 7.5W)
  • SD card reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
  • MicroSD card reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
  • Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Front 3.5mm analog audio line-in and line-out port
  • One Toslink optical digital audio port (S/PDIF)
  • One coaxial digital audio (S/PDIF) port
  • 180W power supply

7

Twelve South StayGo – The Best Compact USB-C Dock

  • Pros
    • Laptop
    • 85W passthrough charging
  • The Cons
    • USB-C and not Thunderbolt

Twelve South StayGo is a simple dock, but this small, lightweight box packs enough punch to rival larger laptop docking stations larger and more expensive. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket and travel with you.

It has three USB-A ports (including one with fast charging), USB-C ports for connection to the laptop and also 85W PD charging, an HDMI port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and SD/Micro SD card readers.

This is a USB-C port rather than Thunderbolt, but it will work with both connection types (we tested it with a 15-inch MacBook Pro). Of course, you’ll lose that full 40Gbps bandwidth and the option of a second external display, but it’s still great for portability.

  • One USB-C port (5Gbps)
  • One USB-C (5Gbps) port for 85W passthrough PD charging, charger required.
  • An external display (4K at 30Hz)
  • HDMI port (4K@30Hz)
  • Three USB-A ports (5Gbps, one at 7.5W)
  • Gigabit Ethernet Port
  • SD (UHS-I) card reader

8

OWC ​​Thunderbolt 3 Dock – Ports galore

  • Pros
    • 14 ports
    • 85W PD
  • The Cons
    • Thunderbolt 3 not 4
    • MiniDP

The OWC ​​Standard Thunderbolt 3 Dock has a nice array of ports and charges at 85W. This is enough to quickly restore energy to the 16-inch MacBook Pro (96W).

All five USB-A ports are 5Gbps, and one USB-C Gen 2 port is 10Gbps, something few Thunderbolt docks have.

The oddly old-fashioned choice of Mini DisplayPort over DisplayPort isn’t a technical barrier, but you’ll need adapters for external displays, which adds to the overall cost.

Apart from that, OWC Thunderbolt 3 has everything a docking station should have, all in a sleek, slim package.

  • One Thunderbolt 3 port (40Gbps, 85W PD)
  • One Thunderbolt 3 port (40 Gbps)
  • Up to two external displays (2 x 4K at 60Hz or 1 x 5K at 60Hz)
  • One Mini DisplayPort 1.2
  • One USB-C port (10 Gbps)
  • Five USB-A ports (5Gbps, two at 7.5W)
  • SD card reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
  • MicroSD card reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
  • Gigabit Ethernet Port
  • 3.5mm hybrid audio port
  • S/PDIF digital audio out port
  • 180W power supply

9

StarTech.com Thunderbolt 3 Dual Display 4K Docking Station – Compact with lots of ports

  • Pros
    • 12 ports
    • PD 85W
  • The Cons
    • Thunderbolt 3 not 4

The StarTech.com Thunderbolt 3 Dual-4K dock is, as the name suggests, for laptops with a fast Thunderbolt 3 version (40 Gbps) of USB-C. It’s not compatible with slower (5-10 Gbps) USB-C computers, such as the 12-inch MacBook, but will connect to newer Thunderbolt 4 models.

It can also be used with Windows laptops and Chromebooks. Designed for Thunderbolt 3, it allows pairing of two external 4K displays at 60Hz, ideal for rich graphics and gaming. One of the monitors can be connected via the DisplayPort.

You’ll probably need an adapter to connect the second port through the spare Thunderbolt 3, unless the display also has a USB-C port.

  • One Thunderbolt 3 port (40Gbps, 85W PD)
  • One Thunderbolt 3 port (40 Gbps)
  • Up to two external displays (4K@60Hz)
  • DisplayPort 1.2
  • One USB-C port (5Gbps)
  • Five USB-A ports (5Gbps, one at 7.5W)
  • SD card reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
  • Gigabit Ethernet Port
  • 3.5mm audio input and output
  • 180W power supply

10

Symbus Q Compact USB-C Charger with Wireless Charging System – Best USB-C Dock with Wireless Charging

  • Pros
    • 15W wireless charging
    • Compact
  • The Cons
    • USB-C and not Thunderbolt

The Symbus Q USB-C Docking Station has a non-slip wireless charging pad that you can place your phone on and put it on. recharge without needing to occupy any of the USB slots.

It has an HDMI port ([email protected], [email protected]), an Gigabit Ethernet and two old-school USB-A ports (5 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 1).

Qi-certified, it can charge a phone with a protective case up to 5mm thick, and supports 7.5W fast charging from Apple and 10W from Samsung.

It is compatible with USB PD functionality for fast charging (up to 50W) of your laptop.

  • PD laptop charging up to 60W
  • An external display (4K at 30Hz)
  • HDMI port
  • Two USB-A ports (5 Gbps)
  • Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Qi wireless charging (15W)

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The BEST Accessories for YOUR M1 MacBook Pro 13!

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