If you have one of the new compact laptops like the MacBook Pro or the HP Spectre x360, you must already know about all the benefits that these laptops bring to the table. Not only are they slim and stylish to look at, but they are also super flexible. The inclusion of Thunderbolt 3 ports brings both speed and flexibility, and the laptop's powerful processors let you go about your job without breaking a sweat. But these compact laptops have one huge disadvantage—lack of ports.
Most laptops bundle USB-C or Thunderbolt ports, and that's about it. There are no HDMI ports or DisplayPorts to connect to external monitors displays or Ethernet port to hook to a wired network. And that's where docking stations come into the picture. These laptop docking stations allow you to connect to a multitude of ports like HDMI, DisplayPort apart from connecting to storage solutions like SD cards and external drives.
But at the end of the day, not all laptop docks or docking stations are built equal. While some are slim and easily portable, others are a little bulky, making it a bit difficult to carry them from one place to another.
In this post, we will be exploring the former and looking at the best portable Thunderbolt 3 docks that you should buy to extend your laptop usage. But before that,
Both USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 look the same. However, that's where the similarities end. When it comes to speed, these two have a significant difference. While USB-C transmits at 10Gbps, Thunderbolt 3 steps up the game with up to 40Gbps throughput. This massive step-up lets you hook several peripherals all at the same time. If you look at it, USB-C can connect a maximum of two HD displays, and that's about it.
If we look at Thunderbolt 3 docks, you get the flexibility of connecting two UHD displays (60Hz) without any issues, meaning you can carry on your creative work without compromising on the quality of connection.
However, don't expect the docks to run smoothly from the get-go. Some laptops may require several reboots to recognize the connected dock, while others take time to recognize the connected displays.
So, if you are still on board, let's see some of the best portable Thunderbolt 3 docks that you can get.
1. Cable Matters Aluminum Thunderbolt 3 Dock
Ports: 5x USB-A, Ethernet, 2 x Thunderbolt 3, 1 x HDMI, UHS-I SD card reader, 3.5mm audio jack
The Cable Matters Aluminum Thunderbolt 3 Dock gives you an ample number of ports to connect your laptop. So be it running two 4K displays at 60Hz or reading data from your SD card, you can do a lot. At the same time, you get a power supply of 60W, enough to sustain your laptop. The crux of this dock is its small and sleek build, which ensures that you can throw it on your backpack and your laptop and get going. Plus, the aluminum looks goes well with most modern laptops.
Again the small build doesn't eat your desk space. You can place it underneath the monitors, connect the necessary ports, and that's about it. Simple, see.
Compared to most docks, you won't find as many ports. For instance, there are no DisplayPorts or dual HDMI ports or a power supply. But at the end of the day, this dock gets the work done in most cases, with the small (and stylish) build being one of its first advantages.
The display support is reliable, and you will be able to hook two 4K monitors seamlessly.
2. Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini
Ports: 2 x HDMI, 1 x USB-A 3.0, 1 x USB-A 2.0, 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
If you are looking for an affordable yet portable dock, the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini is your best bet. It's priced less than $150, and you get a mix of HDMI and USB ports. Plus, you can expect dual 4K resolution (see best 4K IPS monitors) to run without any glitch, you will have to trade off some of the features though. For one, this Belkin dock doesn't have Power Delivery and USB-C ports. On the bright side, it is compact and allows for a clutter-free setup.
The best thing is that the ports are distributed evenly between the front and the back of the device. Here, you get the flexibility to route the monitor and power cables as per your preference. The main benefit is that the ethernet port is located at the back of the device, meaning you won't have a thick cable snaking across your desk.
As we noted above, you will have to compromise on some of the features. For example, the Thunderbolt 3 is limited to one. The video link is via the HDMI port. And if you have USB-C devices like mice or keyboards, you will have to hook them to your laptop, since it doesn't have one.
All these limitations are removed if you upgrade to the Belkin TB3 Pro. This one comes fully equipped with multiple ports and SD card readers as well as DisplayPort connectivity. It costs about $100 more than its counterpart above.
Another highly portable dock worth your money is the CalDigit USB-C Pro. This one is designed to gel well with the Apple MacBook Pro, especially the Space Grey variant. The primary highlight of this laptop is that it allows you to switch between your USB-C tablets and your Thunderbolt 3-enabled laptops seamlessly, thanks to the USB-C compatibility. And it doesn't end there. These neat laptop docks also feature two DisplayPort connections, thus letting you connect your DisplayPort enabled monitors.
More importantly, it delivers power supply up to 85W and will keep the charge on your laptop.
When it comes to the display, you'll be able to get UHD display at 60Hz when connected to the Thunderbolt ports, while plugging to a USB-C laptop will allow you to handle dual FHD displays. The increase in the number of ports means easy connection to peripherals such as keyboards, mice, and wired headphones.
4. Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt Docking Station
Ports: 2 x USB-C, 3 x USB-A 3.1, 1 x Audio, 2 x DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0b, Ethernet, Thunderbolt 3
If you have a Dell laptop with Thunderbolt ports, the Dell WD19TB is your best bet. This sleek dock bundles an ample number of ports with Power Share capabilities and can provide up to 130W of power supply to your Dell laptop. Neat, I must say. What makes it stand apart from the rest is that it can support up to three monitors. The good thing is that the connected monitors go into sleep when the laptop is off, which can be a bit finicky in some docks.
The Dell WD19TB also hooks seamlessly to non-Dell laptops and supplies up to 90W of power. The two DisplayPort connections mean you can reap the full advantage of this high-speed display tech provided you have monitors with the said port.
Do note that this Dell dock is a bit pricier than its counterparts above, but the good news is that it works as advertised on compatible systems.
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A mention of Thunderbolt 3 docks isn't complete without mentioning the CalDigit TS3 Plus Dock. This one bundles plenty of ports and is one of the most popular docks out there. Apart from bundling an ample number of ports, this one also packs two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which is a bit uncommon, at least for now. And well, when it comes to performance, it's one of the best ones out there.
However, it's a tad bit bulky and not as sleek as some laptop docks out there. It measures roughly 5.15 x 1.57 x 3.87-inches, and the height can be an issue for many to carry it around easily.
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