Laptops are great, but a Thunderbolt docking station can make them even better. Anyone who had an older machine will miss the plethora of ports that was once available. USB-A, B, video outputs like VGA and HDMI, and even disc drives used to populate the sides of our mobile machines. Unfortunately, as laptops got thinner and more tightly integrated and the need for certain ports vanished, the ports slowly faded away.
The Dell XPS 13 I’m typing on right now, for example, has a measly 2 USB-C ports and a combination headphone/microphone jack. To use multiple accessories these days, you’ll need to take a look at some Thunderbolt docking stations for your machine.
Thunderbolt 1 and 2 used a Mini DisplayPort port as their mediums, but the modern implementations, Thunderbolt 3 and 4, use USB-C for superior power delivery and data transfer speeds. Some laptops, such as AMD-powered machines, have USB-C ports but don’t support a Thunderbolt protocol, so be sure to check with your specific manufacturer for information about your particular device.
If your machine has USB-C but doesn’t support Thunderbolt, you may still be able to use these docking stations, albeit with restricted functionality, such as specific ports not being available for use. This will vary from machine to machine, so, unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to tell you how well your device will support one of these docking stations.
Be sure to check with your laptop manufacturer for compatibility information.
Most mid-range and high-end Intel systems support either Thunderbolt 3 or 4 depending on how new the machine is but know that the only significant difference will be data transfer speeds and possibly the number of external screens your device will support. Again, check with the maker of your machine for information about your specific model before investing in a laptop docking station.
Lastly, consider where you will be using your docking station. Some are made to be portable, while some are tailored for desktop use.
Belkin Thunderbolt 3 docking station
This docking station from Belkin has 2 HDMI ports capable of supporting two 4K displays if your laptop can do the same. It also has a USB 3.0 port for fast data transfers from an external hard drive. The USB 2.0 port on this dock is perfect for an external keyboard and/or mouse.
Lastly, the dock has a gigabit ethernet port for reliable internet access on the go, such as in a hotel. The small size and durable aluminum construction make it perfect for travel.
Dell Business Dock
Dell’s docking stations are best-suited for desktop situations. Keep your display(s), mouse and keyboard, ethernet, and other needed accessories plugged into the dock so that when you come home with your laptop, you can simply dock it and have a full-force desktop environment.
This one has VGA, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, Displayport, ethernet, 2 USB 2.0 and 3 USB 3.0 ports, 2x 3.5mm audio output, and a Kensington lock, if you’re into that. Conveniently, it also has another Thunderbolt 3 port on it. The selection is massive, which is why this docking station needs its own AC adapter plugged into an outlet to function properly.
Satechi Thunderbolt 4 Dock
This Thunderbolt 4 dock is backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 3 as well. Like the Dell model above, this Satechi docking station has so many ports that it will need extra power from the wall when many high-powered gadgets are in use. Oddly enough, it seems to have everything except a display output, meaning you’ll need an extra dongle for any HDMI, VGA, or DisplayPort devices you may want to plugin.
With this dock, you’ll get four USB-C ports, four USB-A ports, gigabit ethernet, an SD card reader, and 3.5mm audio. Any of the USB-C ports will also provide power passthrough for charging the laptop that it is plugged into. The plethora of USB-C ports on this dock creates many possibilities for those who use many USB-C devices daily.
You may have heard of Anker from the company’s various earbuds, USB-C accessories, battery banks, etc. Anker makes great stuff for a great price. Its docking station is no different with its two HDMI ports, three USB-C ports, gigabit ethernet, SD card reader, and 4 USB-A ports.
This is another fantastic desktop option where, like the Dell model above, you can leave everything plugged in and dock a laptop to it with a single USB-C connection. This dock supports Thunderbolt 4 as well as Thunderbolt 3.
j5create Triple Display Docking Station
This docking station from j5create is a beauty. It contains almost every port you might need in a slim form factor. The wedge-like shape allows you to set a laptop on top of it, which will create an ergonomic typing angle while providing you with a large selection of ports.
Port selection is as follows: USB-C for charging, gigabit ethernet, SD and microSD card readers, another USB-C, three USB-A, two HDMI ports, DisplayPort, and VGA for legacy connections. All those video outs give this docking station the ability to support up to three displays at a time. Naturally, however, it will also need to be plugged into the wall to unlock full functionality.
Kensington Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station
This laptop dock from Kensington may be one of the best docking stations for creative professionals with UHS-II SD and microSD card slots, and gigabit ethernet for fast connections to a NAS or camera cards. The DisplayPort 1.4 ports are a great addition since they will offer the best image quality on high-end content creation monitors.
Other ports include an extra USB-C, three USB-A ports, and a 3.5mm audio jack. This dock may be small, but due to its powerful specs, it will need extra power from the wall, which will be perfectly ok if this dock stays on a desk.