Best USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docking station for MacBook, Pro, Air

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Plug your MacBook in and out of a multi-port docking station to swiftly add devices and external displays to your laptop. We tested a bunch to find the best Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C docks available to owners of the latest MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

Apple’s 12in MacBook features one 5Gbps Gen 1 USB-C port, while the latest MacBook Air (2018 and later) and MacBook Pro (from 2016) boast either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

If you use your laptop as your principal computer, you would do well to consider attaching at least one larger display to create a hybrid desktop/laptop setup (with a keyboard, mouse and printer all available via a single connection to your MacBook). You can turn that 13in laptop screen into an iMac-sized 27in or even larger monitor by adding an extra display – or add two large screens to extend your screen across your whole desk.

While Apple’s very latest MacBooks, featuring the company’s own M1 Silicon chip, are super speedy compared to the models sporting Intel processors, they come with an incredible limitation: they don’t support more than one external display in “Extended” Mode via their Thunderbolt 3 ports. This means that when using any docking station, users cannot extend their desktop over two or more displays, and will be limited to either dual “Mirrored” displays or one external display.

So if you want to attach more than one external display, stick with Apple’s Intel-based laptops for the time being.

One problem with using a MacBook as your main PC is its lack of ports. The 12in MacBook has just one USB-C port, the new MacBook Air boasts two USB-C (actually the superior but visually identical Thunderbolt 3 standard) ports, and the latest MacBook Pro models feature either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

You need one port for charging (albeit not all the time), and likely at least another to attach further devices (memory sticks, hard drives, Ethernet, external display).

There are many cheap adapters that let you add devices to a USB-C MacBook (see our roundup of the best USB-C adapters for Macs), but for maximum flexibility check out these docking stations that take care of all your extra port requirements, and allow you to simply attach it to your laptop with just one cable when you get to the office or come home.

Here we concentrate on Thunderbolt 3 docks, but also include cheaper USB-C docks – which Thunderbolt 3 MacBooks can use, but at the cost of reduced bandwidth; see below. For more non-T3 USB-C-only docks check out Tech Advisor’s roundup of the best USB-C docking stations for laptops.

Mac mini (2018 and later) and iMac (2017 and later) owners may also consider expanding their ports with a Thunderbolt 3 docking station.

Note that the 12in Apple MacBook supports only dual mirrored monitors when connecting two displays – a limitation now sadly carried over to Apple’s latest M1-based laptops.

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 speeds

Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C specs icons

Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C dock compatibility

Plain USB-C runs at either 5Gbps or 10Gbps, while Thunderbolt 3 (T3) hits speeds of 40Gbps. You can hook up a T3 laptop to a USB-C dock but you won’t access the faster speeds unless you buy a true Thunderbolt 3 dock.

And you can’t connect a 5GBps or 10Gbps USB-C laptop to a Thunderbolt 3 dock – except for CalDigit’s USB-C Pro Dock (see below), which handily works with both USB-C and T3.

In the review list below, we state at the top which type of laptop (USB-C or Thunderbolt 3) each docking station is compatible with.

USB PD: Power Delivery for your laptop

Look out for a dock with USB PD. The PD stands for Power Delivery. 

Charging the laptop: The 12in MacBook and 13in MacBook Air require a PD with at least 30W power. The 13in MacBook Pro charges at full speed at 61W; the 15in MacBook Pro at 87W; the 16in Pro at 96W.

An 87W/96W MacBook Pro can be charged by a 30W or 60W charger, but slower than it would be with its native charger. A larger MacBook with a heavy workload might start fading on a lower wattage charger.

Charging the docked devices: Some docks don’t feature an external power supply but actually use your laptop to draw power from. Add too many devices to one of these docks and you may well experience power issues, as USB-C can handle just 7.5W bus-device power while Thunderbolt 3 can pass back 15W.

T3 and USB-C docking station benefits

It makes it much easier to use your laptop in two locations, as it can easily be connected into and out of the dock – although you might need a dock at each end for similar setups. And you can use it as a base for hot-desking or multi-laptop home-office setups where one person can quickly attach their laptop to the mouse, keyboard, screen and printer as soon as another has detached.

The inclusion of an SD Card reader isn’t just for camera buffs. It’s a convenient and affordable way to add storage to your laptop setup. We found a 512GB Samsung Evo microSD card on Amazon for under £150 in the UK and $130 in the US. That’s a very cheap way of adding half a terabyte of portable storage. For more details read up on our best microSD cards.

These MacBook docking stations look and work great with a laptop stand, and we’ve also tested some MacBook-friendly stands that lack all the extra ports but keep your MacBook/Air/Pro upright and out of the way: further saving valuable desk space, reducing clutter, keeping your laptop cool, and saving it from spills.

Our favourite Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C docks are from Caldigit, Plugable and Belkin, but there are many to choose from. Fuller reviews are linked to underneath most of the tested docks.

CalDigit TS3 Plus – Best Thunderbolt 3 dock for Macs

CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus (TS3 Plus)

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CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 mini Dock – Best portable Thunderbolt 3 dock

CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 miniDock

Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro – Best hybrid dock for Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C 

Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock – Best hybrid Thunderbolt 3 & USB-C dock with SD

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock - Best hybrid Thunderbolt 3 & USB-C dock with SD

Works with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C laptops (T3 at full bandwidth)

CalDigit’s USB-C Pro Dock is a Thunderbolt 3 dock that also works on USB-C laptops – like the Belkin Pro Dock it uses a Titan Ridge chipset. As most people refer to Thunderbolt 3 as “USB-C” CalDigit called it the USB-C Pro Dock.

When connected to a T3 laptop it provides all the features of a Thunderbolt 3 dock, and when connected to a USB-C laptop it adapts to become a USB-C dock.

Since it works with USB-C, it can turn an iPad Pro into a full computer experience since it can charge the iPad Pro, connect a 4K monitor, keyboard, mouse and hard drives – and work with your T3 MacBook Pro when you hook that up instead of the iPad Pro.

Its closest rival is the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro. Caldigit’s Pro Dock is cheaper, features two DisplayPorts and an SD Card reader, which is lacking from the Belkin. 

The Belkin beats it on having an extra T3 port and one more USB-A port, but it’s a close battle for which is best – it most likely depends on whether you will use the SD Card reader.

  • PD laptop charging at up to 85W
  • Up to two external displays (4K at 60Hz)
  • Two DisplayPort 1.2 ports (4K at 60Hz)
  • Three USB-A (5Gbps) ports
  • One USB-C (10Gbps) port
  • SD Card Reader (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
  • Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Front-facing 3.5mm Analogue Audio In & Out port

Read our full Caldigit USB-C Pro Dock review.

Twelve South StayGo – Best portable USB-C dock

Twelve South StayGo USB-C Hub

Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock – great multiport dock

Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock – Best dock for 10Gb Ethernet

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock – ports aplenty

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

StarTech Thunderbolt 3 Dual-4K Docking Station – Packed with ports

StarTech.com Thunderbolt 3 Dual-4K Docking Station

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock – Upright stand dock

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock (TBT3-UDV)

Henge Stone – Tucks under MacBook

Henge Docks Stone Docking Station

Plugable USB-C Mini Docking Station – Compact USB-C dock

Plugable USB-C Mini Docking Station

Linedock 13 – Best USB-C dock for desk space

Linedock 13

Moshi Symbus Compact USB-C Dock – Dinky dock

Moshi Symbus Compact USB-C Dock

Moshi Symbus Q Compact USB-C Dock – Best USB-C dock with wireless charging

Moshi Symbus Q Compact USB-C Dock with Wireless Charging

LandingZone USB-C Dock – Dock with most ports

LandingZone Docking Station

OneAdapter EVRI Pro USB-C Hub – Hub that thinks it’s a dock

OneAdapter EVRI Pro USB-C Hub with 4K HDMI

Read our best MacBook accessories feature for more essential laptop gear.

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