Apple’s MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and discontinued MacBook are remarkable laptops, but they don’t make for the best desktop alternatives right out of the box. Like Henry Ford’s Model T, which gave you a choice of colors (so long as you chose black), modern MacBooks give you your choice of ports, so long as they are Thunderbolt ports.
Apple uses Thunderbolt 3 on laptops with Intel processors, and Thunderbolt 4 on laptops with Apple’s own M1 processor. Check out our primers on Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 to learn what makes Thunderbolt different from USB-C.
Thunderbolt and wireless connectivity are perfectly serviceable for most mobile professionals while they’re out and about. But many offices around the globe still rely on legacy ports such as HDMI and USB 3.0, not to mention SD card readers and Ethernet for wired connections. And in these fraught days, with most business travel reduced to wearing a path in the carpet between your home office and the kitchen, flexibility matters. At certain times, you want to work on a single laptop screen in the living room, and at others, you buckle down at a desk with a more elaborate multi-screen setup and desktop peripherals.
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If you don’t want to rely on a whole host of USB-C adapters or dongles back at your desk, a docking station can be your best solution short of buying a desktop Mac. This guide to the top MacBook docking stations for your Apple laptop will help you find the desktop peripheral setup that’s right for you.
Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core
Sometimes the best laptop docking station is simply the one that’s small enough to take with you. The $149 Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core is a compact (1.2 by 3.9 by 3.9 inches, HWD) docking station that you can easily carry everywhere with your notebook. Compatible with both macOS and Windows laptops, the Belkin Dock Core converts a single Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C port into one DisplayPort and one HDMI port (both supporting 4K UHD monitors at 60Hz), one USB-C PD, two USB-A ports, one audio in/out jack, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.
The only potential design concern we have with this docking station is part of what makes it so small: The integrated 6.8-inch Thunderbolt 3 cable cannot be replaced. So be careful how you handle the cable if you drag the dock around your local Starbucks.
Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro
If the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core listed above doesn’t have enough features for you, the company’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro ($299.99) might be just what you need. Compatible with both macOS and Windows, this aluminum-cased, 1-by-7.9-by-3.2-inch (HWD) docking station uses a 2.6-foot Thunderbolt 3 cable (included) to provide USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports plus an SD card reader and audio jack up front.
Around the back, the Dock Pro offers four USB 3.0 Type-A ports, DisplayPort, and Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a Thunderbolt 3 pass-through. Its 170-watt power supply plug charges your connected laptop with up to 85 watts, which is top speed for most recent MacBooks. (The very latest 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with a 96W charger that you should use if you want the absolute fastest charging—but in most cases, 85W will be plenty.)
Brydge Vertical Docking Station
Formerly known as the Henge Dock, the Brydge Vertical Docking Station is available for the 13-inch MacBook Air and the 13-inch, 15-inch, and 16-inch MacBook Pros. The Brydge Vertical Docking Station ($169.99) is an ideal solution if you’re looking to use your MacBook in an office environment with limited desktop space. Your laptop stands on end in the dock (left edge down), with its air intake and exhaust vents positioned to maximize airflow. Docking is extremely easy thanks to the precision alignment of the Space Gray metal dock itself.
The only complaint we have about this particular docking solution is that it functions more as a pass-through for the laptop’s own Thunderbolt 3 ports. Unlike previous models that included one USB-C to HDMI adapter, you aren’t getting any additional ports or features without installing a USB hub. That said, you are still saving desktop space by standing your MacBook Pro on its side.
Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock
The Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock ($259.99) turns a Thunderbolt 3 port into nine ports and slots: two data-only USB-C and two data-only USB-A ports, two DisplayPort outputs supporting a 4K signal at 60Hz, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a headset audio jack, and an SD card reader, plus a Kensington security-cable notch to keep your docking station tethered to your desk.
The dock stands 0.9 inch tall and has an 8.9-by-3.3-inch footprint. The included 100-watt power supply supports 85-watt fast charging.
Elgato Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock
Elgato has made a name for itself in recent years with a wide range of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 hubs and docking solutions, and the company’s Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock ($349.99) is another impressive desktop platform. It delivers two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, two USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C ports, a DisplayPort, a Gigabit Ethernet port, both headset (headphone and microphone) and headphone-only audio jacks, SD and microSD card readers, and a Thunderbolt 3 pass-through.
The Pro Dock’s DisplayPort supports 4,096 by 2,160 resolution at 60Hz while the Thunderbolt 3 port can drive a display at 5,120 by 2,880 resolution at 60Hz. If you want to connect two external monitors at the same time, both are limited to the lesser resolution.
G-Technology G-RAID with Thunderbolt 3
If more storage is your paramount need, Western Digital’s G-Technology G-RAID with Thunderbolt 3 (starting at $599.95 with 8TB) is a dual-drive RAID enclosure with convenient ports—two Thunderbolt 3, one USB 3.1 Type-C, and one HDMI—built into the back. This aluminum external storage solution is available in capacities up to 28TB using removable, enterprise-class 7,200rpm hard drives. It also features a security cable lock slot to protect the valuable data stored on the drives when you’re away from your desk.
Our only criticism of this docking solution is tied to its design as a RAID enclosure—its cooling fan is always running to keep the temperature of the drives low. This means you must learn to ignore a constant, faint whirring sound while at your desk.
IOGear Quantum Dual Mode Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro
If you’re looking for a docking station that simplifies a dual-display setup, then the IOGear Quantum Dual Mode Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro (model GTD737) might be just what you need.
Leave this small docking station on your desk with the included power adapter. When you connect a single Thunderbolt 3 cable (included), you’ll have instant access to three USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, two DisplayPorts (supporting dual 4K panels at 60Hz), a headset jack, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.
Kensington SD2500T Thunderbolt 3 Dual 4K Hybrid Nano Dock
Kensington has stepped into the modern age with a compact Thunderbolt 3 dock in the form of the SD2500T Thunderbolt 3 Dual 4K Hybrid Nano Dock ($199.99).
This dock supports MacBooks and Windows laptops and provides you with one USB-C port, two DisplayPorts, three USB 3.2 Type-A ports, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, a 3.5mm audio jack, an SD card reader, and even a microSD card reader. The included power adapter supports 60-watt power delivery.
Kensington SD5300T Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station
Kensington has a long history of providing versatile Mac and Windows docking solutions. The company’s SD5300T dock ($249.99) connects to your laptop via an included 2.3-foot Thunderbolt 3 cable and provides an SD card reader, two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, and a headset audio jack up front. Three more USB Type-A ports join HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet ports and a Thunderbolt 3 output in back.
The dock supports dual 4K displays at 4,096 by 2,160 resolution or one 5K (5,120 by 2,880) monitor, both at 60Hz. It provides 60 watts of power delivery for charging your laptop and 2.1 amperes of USB power for charging a handheld device. Of course, as a Kensington product, the SD5300T has both T-bar and nano-slot security locks to keep it from wandering away from your desk.
If you have a 15-inch MacBook Pro, 16-inch MacBook Pro, or the 13-inch MacBook Air, the LandingZone ($259 to $329) is an ideal docking solution if easy connectivity is your key concern. Just place your laptop between the left and right corners of the dock, slide the lock bar into position, and open the screen. You’re ready to go.
The LandingZone gives you three USB 3.1 Type-A ports, four USB-C ports, two Mini DisplayPorts, an HDMI port, a headset jack, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack. Also aboard are SD and microSD card slots and a Kensington security-cable notch for locking it all down. You can connect up to three monitors to the LandingZone, but only one of the USB-C ports is a Thunderbolt 3 pass-through, and the other USB ports support only data transfer (no video). Bear that in mind if you’re planning your video-cable mix with multiple monitors.
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Mini Dock
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a portable docking station that turns a single Thunderbolt 3 port into a desktop-worthy array of one USB 3.1 Type-A port, one USB 2.0 Type-A port, two HDMI ports (both supporting 4K displays), and a Gigabit Ethernet port.
The compact (0.7 by 4.9 by 2.6 inches, HWD) aluminum dock also includes OWC’s Dock Ejector software, which safely disconnects external drives connected to the dock and ensures all data is written before disconnection.
Plugable TBT3-UDC1 Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Dual Docking Station
Sometimes being able to connect a whole bunch of USB devices is more important than having just one Thunderbolt 3 port. The Plugable TBT3-UDC1 Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Dual Docking Station ($199) converts a single Thunderbolt 3 port into two DisplayPorts for connecting dual monitors. (Supported resolutions include dual 4K panels at 60Hz with Thunderbolt 3, and dual 4K panels at 30Hz with USB-C.)
You’ll also get two USB-C ports (data only), plus three USB-A 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, and a headset audio jack.
StarTech.com Mini Thunderbolt 3 Dock
Much like the Belkin Dock Core, the StarTech.com Mini Thunderbolt 3 Dock ($153.99) is another travel-friendly docking solution for MacBook users. The petite, bus-powered dock connects to your MacBook via an integrated 7.9-inch cable and provides two DisplayPort outputs capable of 4K (4,096 by 2,160) resolution at 60Hz. It can also drive a single 5K (5,120 by 2,880) display at the same refresh rate.
There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet jack and a USB 3.0 Type-A port to help you connect to office networks and flash drives or other external storage peripherals. If the dual DisplayPort dock (model TB3DKM2DP) doesn’t suit your needs, StarTech.com also offers a dual HDMI version (model TB3DKM2HD) for $168.99.
As with the Belkin dock, we have some minor concern about the durability of any integrated Thunderbolt cable that can’t be replaced, but that might not be a worry for folks who just want a compact dock that supports dual displays. Bottom line: If you want a Thunderbolt 3 docking solution that’s easy to carry with you, this is another good choice.
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