Anker is well-known for its affordable quality accessories, and has now launched a pro-level Thunderbolt 3 docking station, the PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock.
Docking stations help you create a full desktop setup with your laptop, which you can connect to and disconnect from using just one cable – in this case a Thunderbolt 3 cable if your laptop has this fast connection standard.
As most modern laptops have just a few USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 (T3) ports, you need either a few dongle/adapters or a port-heavy dock to connect to all your required devices and services, such as hard drives and other storage, Ethernet, screens and audio.
This Anker docking station is among the best Thunderbolt 3 docks we’ve tested.
As its long name suggests, the PowerExpand Elite dock has an impressive 13 ports – second only to the Caldigit TS3 Plus dock.
- 85W PD charging
- Up to two external displays (2 x 4K at 60Hz; or 1 x 5K at 60Hz)
- HDMI 2.0 port
- Two Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) ports
- Two USB-C (10Gbps) ports
- Four USB-A (5Gbps) ports
- SD Card Reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
- MicroSD 4.0 Card Reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
- Gigabit Ethernet port
- Hybrid 3.5mm audio port
- 180W power supply
This is a heavyweight set of ports, and in some aspects stronger than the TS3 Plus, Later, we’ll compare the two docks in more detail.
Triple display potential (not for Macs)
The PowerExpand Elite can connect up to three external displays, but for Windows only as that operating system supports MST (Multi-Stream Transport) unlike macOS. Macs can work with the PowerExpand Elite with one or two external displays but not three (insert sad smiley here, Mac users).
One display would use the HDMI port. Another connects via USB-C or T3 – although you’ll need an adapter (not included) using this connection unless your display has a USB-C connection itself. This is the setup pictured above.
And a possible third display (Windows only) can be accommodated if you use a USB-C-to-dual-HDMI splitter (not included).
The dock can handle one 5K display at 60Hz or two 4K at 60Hz. Using a splitter to add a third display will likely reduce the 4K quality to 30Hz, which might not be good enough for more dynamic video such as in sports, action and gaming.
Anker PowerExpand Elite vs Caldigit TS3 Plus
The PowerExpand Elite reminds us a lot of one of our favourite docking stations for Thunderbolt 3 laptops, the Caldigit TS3 Plus.
The two look remarkably similar, with stubby, compact vertical designs and a multitude of ports. The Anker is slightly shorter, and, I think, a little cuter – although at 470g, it’s 20g heavier.
Caldigit’s dock has 15 ports to Anker’s 13, with a high-quality digital optical audio (S/PDAF) port and an extra USB-A port. Audio buffs will appreciate the straight digital audio port, but if you just want to play some tunes or add a speaker for conference calls, the combo analogue audio in/out port will do just fine.
Both have two USB-C ports, but each of Anker’s is 3.1 Gen 2 so 10Gbps – while Caldigit offers one at 10Gbps and one at 5Gbps.
This might not be a deal-breaker but there’s no denying that the PowerExpand Elite wins in on USB-C.
Anker’s dock has both an SD and MicroSD card reader, while the TS3 Plus has just an SD, although most MicroSD cards come with an adapter anyway. Both docks’ SD card readers support SD 4.0 and UHS-II speeds, so boast a maximum theoretical throughput of 312MBps.
Caldigit favours a DisplayPort, while Anker has chosen HDMI. Depending on your external display’s connection options, this might have a bearing on your decision.
The TS3 Plus can charge at up to 87W, while the Anker is close behind at 85W. It’s not a huge gap, but the Caldigit power spec does exactly match that of the Apple’s 15in MacBook Pro.
The Anker has an easy-to-reach on-off switch, which is a neat energy-saving touch, and stops a laptop from having its battery continually topped up, which could degrade it after a while.
An LED indicator light glows green when the dock in on and blue when the Thunderbolt connection is active.
Both are similarly priced, although Apple offers the TS3 Plus at a reduced cost via its store.
If you don’t require as many ports or maybe just a couple of specific non-C-type ports, take a look at our roundup of the best USB-C adapters and hubs.
Anker’s PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a great docking station for T3 laptops. It is a serious contender to the crown of best Thunderbolt 3 dock, currently held by Caldigit’s TS3 Plus. It lacks the digital audio output, but not many people would use this anyway, and four USB-A ports should be enough for most of us.
All the Power Expand Elite’s ports are top-end: both USB-C ports, for example, are Gen. 2 at 10Gbps, where some docks boast just 5Gbps C-type ports.
This is a great option for perfecting your T3 laptop to a desktop setup.
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