Thunderbolt 3 docks are excellent products that greatly extend the connectivity and usefulness of your laptop to give you the functionality of full-fledged desktop computers. They come in usually compact forms that can rest on your desktop and provide a wide array of different ports to connect your display devices, external drives, USB ports, and much more.
Best Thunderbolt 3 Docks
Thunderbolt docks aren’t cheap, so you’ll have to be considerate about which one you spend your hard-earned money on. We’ve carefully gone through a wide set of Thunderbolt 3 docks available in the market right now and handpicked the 5 best ones out there.
To understand what Thunderbolt 3 technology is and what you should look for in a Thunderbolt 3 dock, be sure to read our buyer’s guide after the reviews.
Our Top Pick
CalDigit TS3 Plus
Lots of Ports in a Compact Size
The CalDigit TS3 Plus is a compact Thunderbolt 3 dock with plenty of ports and lots of power delivery. It also has excellent speeds and offers more connectivity options than most Thunderbolt 3 docks.
The CalDigit TS3 Plus is more expensive than most Thunderbolt 3 docks, but the additional price is well worth it as it gives you lots of ports and connectivity options in a compact form.
Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 Dock
Fast but Large
The Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock offers some of the fastest read/write speeds out there, but it comes second to the CalDigit TS3 Plus because it doesn’t have as many ports and is fairly large.
If speed matters to you, the Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock is one of the fastest ones around.
The CalDigit TS3 is small, compact, and has a useful array of connections at great speeds that make it the best overall Thunderbolt 3 dock out there.
It features two Thunderbolt 3 ports, five USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, an SD card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, audio in/out jacks, SPDIF connection, and a DisplayPort connector. That’s no HDMI connection there, but you can buy an inexpensive adapter to convert the DisplayPort to HDMI easily.
Speeds across all connections are fantastic, with the USB-A ports reaching expected read/write speeds of around 350MB/s and 300MB/s respectively. The USB Type-C ports are much faster, functioning at read/write speeds of around 730MB/s and 600MB/s respectively. As expected, the Thunderbolt 3 ports are the fastest, going above 800MB/s write and 700MB/s write speeds.
You also get power delivery of 85 watts to charge just about any laptop and can run up to two displays at 4K and 60Hz.
The CalDigit TS3 Plus boasts all these brilliant ports in a compact shape that can be placed either horizontally or vertically. It’s not the outright fastest and works best with specific connected hardware, but it’s the best overall package and worth the extra money you’d pay for it over the competition.
- Compact design
- Plenty of ports
- Features SPDIF port
- 85 watts power delivery
- More expensive than competition
In many ways, the Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock is faster in overall read/write speeds across its USB-A and Type-C ports when compared to the CalDigit 3. However, it doesn’t feature nearly as many ports as our top pick, which is why we consider it a close second.
The Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock features two Thunderbolt 3 ports, five USB-A 3.0 ports, one HDMI port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, an SD card reader, and a headset/mic combo audio jack. You don’t get any pure USB Type-C ports with this dock, and the maximum power delivery is limited to 60 watts. 60 watts is fine for most laptops but can’t charge laptops like the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro.
With the Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3, you can run two displays at 4K and 60Hz thanks to the second Thunderbolt 3 port that has display delivery with an active USB-C cable.
The Cable Matters dock design is rather lengthy, so it will take up some space on your desk. Though slim, it can’t be placed vertically and the ports are spread horizontally. Yet the Cable Matters dock offers perhaps the fastest performance out of all Thunderbolt 3 docks, making it an excellent choice for speed chasers.
- Very fast ports
- More affordable than the CalDigit TS3 Plus
- Great overall performance
- Takes up lots of space
The Plugable Thunderbolt 3 dock isn’t as fast as the Cable Matters one or as versatile as the CalDigit TS3, but it’s a great overall dock that is more compact than the Cable Matters one.
As far as ports are concerned, you get two Thunderbolt 3 ports, five USB-A 3.0 ports, a single DisplayPort, a Gigabit Etherport, and a single combination port that can support line in/out port that supports speaker/mic setups.
Perhaps the biggest downside of the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 dock is that it can only support a single display through its DisplayPort, running up to a maximum of 4K at 60Hz. This means daisy chaining multiple displays on this device isn’t possible.
What do you get with the Plugable dock is a great design. It comes with a rubber black base which can house the Thunderbolt 3 dock vertically on a desk. The base is also weighted so it sticks in position even better than the CalDigit TS3. Like the Cable Matters dock, the Plugable’s power output is limited to 60 watts.
- Versatile design
- Decent performance
- Only supports a single display
The Promise Technology TD-300 Thunderbolt 3 dock is quite similar in both design and performance to the Cable Matters one listed above. In fact, it even has similar pricing as well. You get the same spacebar styled elongated design, which limits its orientation while sitting on a desk, concomitantly taking up more space than the CalDigit TS3 or Pluggable Thunderbolt 3 docks would.
The Promise Technology TD-300 still performs very well. It comes with five USB-A ports, an SD card slot reader, an HDMI port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an SD card reader, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and an audio combo jack. With the TD-300, you can run two displays at 4K resolution and 60Hz refresh rate thanks to the second Thunderbolt 3 port which supports the display. You can also choose to run a single display at the 5K resolution
As with the Plugable and Cable Matters docks, the power of the Promise Technology TD-300 is limited to 60 watts only. You could charge most laptops with it, but you’ll find it hard to charge the 15-inch MacBook Pro easily. Speeds are quite good – not as fast as the Cable Matters but on par with the CalDigit TB3 dock and sometimes edging the CalDigit dock on the Thunderbolt 3 ports.
- Offers plenty of ports
- Fast performance
- Takes up lots of space
The StarTech Dock we’ve featured is a powerhouse. It’s a fairly large dock that is built like a tank and has plenty of ports in it.
With this dock, you get six USB 3.0 ports including a fast-charging port for mobile devices. Additionally, there’s a single USB Type-C port up front, Gigabit Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a DisplayPort, an SD card reader, and a combo audio jack.
Like the CalDigit TS3, this is one of the few Thunderbolt 3 docks that has power delivery that can reach up to 85 watts, essentially capable of quickly charging just about any modern laptop out there. The DisplayPort can be combined with the Thunderbolt 3 to run up to two displays at once at 4K and 60Hz, or you can use a single port to run a display at 5K as well.
Speeds of the StarTech Dock are average, on par with the likes of Plugable and Promise Technology. We love the addition of a regular USB Type C 3.0 port as well on this port, allowing you to fully utilize the Thunderbolt 3s and simultaneously run other Type-C peripherals with it.
The design is bulky though, but this StarTech Thunderbolt 3 dock is designed to withstand abuse, even though it’ll likely never move off your table.
- 85 watts power delivery
- Features regular non Thunderbolt USB Type-C port
- Bulky design
USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 look confusingly similar but offer a lot more than the other. USB Type-C currently has two standards: Gen1 and Gen2. The main difference between the two is transfer speeds, with Gen2 capable of double the transfer speed as Gen1 (10Gbps). Additionally, Gen2 offers 20 volts of power delivery, so it can be used to connect external drives and charge devices.
Thunderbolt 3 offers all that and more. Thunderbolt 3 is even faster than Gen2, offering speeds at a whopping 40Gbps. Moreover, 100 watts power delivery is combined with the ability to support 4K 60Hz displays, four lanes of PCI Express Gen3, eight lanes of DisplayPort 1.2, and daisy chaining of up to six devices at a single time.
This makes Thunderbolt 3 not only faster than USB 3.1 connections, but also one port to rule them all. Thunderbolt 3 is still at its infancy in use compared to other USB types, but it’s expected that it will ultimately replace the majority of the ports out there.
More and more laptops are coming with Thunderbolt 3 ports in them, and this has given rise to powerful Thunderbolt 3 docks that can greatly extend the functionality of these laptops.
The number of displays you run is important and often one of the major reasons people buy Thunderbolt 3 docks. Most Thunderbolt 3 docks will include at least one HDMI or DisplayPort connection, but several of them also feature additional Thunderbolt 3 ports that can run multiple displays at a single time.
If you’re looking to extend the functionality of your laptop and run multiple displays through it – whether occasionally or all the time – it’s paramount that you consider Thunderbolt 3 docks with that capability.
Transfer speeds will vary with the type of connection. USB 2.0 is obsolete thanks to the backward compatibility of the faster USB 3.0, which is why you’ll almost always see USB 3.0 ports in all Thunderbolt 3 docks.
Interestingly enough, USB 3.0 is often the slowest port featured on a dock. The fastest are Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a few docks feature regular USB Type-C Gen1 or Gen2 ports in addition as well which sit in the middle of the road.
While you can connect Type-C peripherals to your Thunderbolt 3 port, having multiple ones allows for more versatility. You can then utilize the full potential of the additional Thunderbolt 3 ports for added connectivity and use the USB 3.0 and Type-C ports data transfer and connecting other peripherals.
Power delivery is also done through Thunderbolt ports and is often limited to 60 watts or 85 watts. 60 watts should be enough to power most laptops, but certain laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pro utilize higher wattage for charging.
A Thunderbolt 3 dock expands the functionality of your laptops. As laptops become thinner, the number of viable ports decreases. Many manufacturers are now utilizing the slimmer Type-C port form factor and offering Thunderbolt 3 technology on them. This not only provides immense transfer speeds but also gives the user to expand the functionality of the laptop through a dock which can provide additional connections that are not available on the laptop.
Can I charge more demanding laptops with 65 watts, such as the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro?
Yes, you can, but the charging time would greatly increase, and frequently charging at a lower wattage could potentially damage the battery life over a long time.
Are Thunderbolt 3 ports backward compatible?
Thunderbolt 3 ports are backward compatible with older Thunderbolt technology and also USB Type-C (both Gen1 and Gen2) peripherals. However, the reverse is not true.
What is daisy chaining?
Daisy chaining is when multiple devices are connected in a sequence through a single connection. This configuration is governed by the priority of the devices. It is essentially the computer equivalent of a series electrical circuit.