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Best Overall: Akitio Thunder2 at Amazon
"The hardware looks like a hard drive that offers dock ports on three of its four sides."
Runner-Up, Best Overall: CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 at Amazon
"The inclusion of 10 additional ports makes it an all-around winner."
Best Splurge: Elgato Thunderbolt 3 at Amazon
"Supports dual 4K monitors or one 5K monitor with a single connection."
Best Speed: Amavision Thunderbolt at Amazon
"Speeds that can push right up to the 40Gbs mark, nearly eight times faster than USB."
Best Cross-Platform: Plugable Thunderbolt 3 at Amazon
"The best of the bunch for Windows users."
Best Windows: Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 at Walmart
"Designed solely for the Windows fan."
Best Multi-Monitor: Plugable USB-C Triple Display at Amazon
"More than capable of handling up to three additional displays, as well as providing 60 watts of power."
Best for Portability: CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 Mini Dock
"A lightweight, portable way to connect your laptop to a plethora of legacy devices."
Compact with sharp looks, the Akitio Thunder2 dock offers a terrific way to connect two Thunderbolt 2 ports. Capable of lightning fast speeds at 20Gbs a port, the Thunder2 dock can handle up to two 4K monitors and displays at a time without blinking an eye. The hardware looks like a hard drive that offers dock ports on three of its four sides. Unfortunately, that means your cables aren’t always likely to be hidden from view but that’s a tradeoff you can make if you aren’t connecting and disconnecting devices with great frequency. Beyond Thunderbolt 2, the Akitio adds dual eSATA ports, a FireWire 800 port and dual USB 3.0 ports that can also charge your portable devices. Geared for Apple-specific machines, what the Akitio lacks in audio connectors or HDMI connectivity, it more than makes up for with speed and good looks.
The dual CalDigit Thunderbolt 2 ports allow you to connect up to five devices in total and its brushed aluminum box offers good looks that help dissipate heat and keep noise to a minimum. Thunderbolt connectivity might be the CalDigit’s bread and butter, but the inclusion of 10 additional ports makes it an all-around winner. Connecting a monitor to the CalDigit is a snap (a lone HDMI port easily handles both 1080p and 4K, although only one monitor at a time is suggested for the very best performance). The front of the CalDigit offers a lone USB 3.0 port alongside a stereo in/out for headphones, as well as a mono microphone. The rear of the device is port-heavy, with the two Thunderbolt ports, HDMI, dual eSATA connections, two extra USB 3.0 ports and Ethernet connectivity.
Elgato is one of the best-known Apple accessory manufacturers available today and its Thunderbolt 3 dock continues that streak. The Thunderbolt 3 dock supports dual 4K monitors or one 5K monitor with a single connection while powering data transfer speeds up to 40Gbs. Plugging directly into the MacBook, specifically Apple’s 2016 and later models, it offers dual USB-C ports, which at 85 watts of power, can utilize pass-through to charge your MacBook Pro as well the rest of Apple’s portable devices, including the iPhone and iPad. Beyond Thunderbolt 3, the Elgato is supported by three USB 3.0 ports, an amplified stereo audio port for a no-compromise audio experience, as well as a Gigabit Ethernet port for faster overall performance than Wi-Fi. Non-Apple users will find the Elgato works well with Windows machines (although the pass-through charging is designed solely with Apple computers in mind).
If it’s speed you’re after with a Thunderbolt dock, look to the Amavision dock for speeds that can push right up to the 40Gbs mark. Nearly eight times faster than USB, the Amavision is designed to be both small and powerful. As a six-in-one HUB, the Amavision lets you leave other dongles at home, especially with Apple’s newest lineup of 2016 and later MacBook computers. The plug-and-play design doesn’t require any software or lengthy installation process. Just attach and go. Compact enough to be carried with you in your pocket, the Amavision supports dual Thunderbolt 3 ports capable of handling one 5K monitor or dual 4K monitors at 60Mhz video performance and 40Gbs data transfer speed. Additionally, the Amavision includes USB-C for 5Gbs data speed, as well as a microSD slot, standard SD size slot and dual USB 3.0 ports.
While most Thunderbolt docks are geared with Apple devices in mind, the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 dock is the best of the bunch for Windows users. With support for dual Thunderbolt 3 docks handling up to 40Gbs of data transfer speed, the Plugable can tackle a 4K monitor at 60Hz via the integrated DisplayPort. Gigabit Ethernet supports up to a 1Gbps speed transfer, while other connectivity options include stereo headphone and mono microphone inputs, as well as dual UBS 3.0 and standalone USB-C 3.1 ports. Weighing 15.4 ounces and measuring 8.8 x 3.1 x 1 inches, the Plugable is pocket-friendly and portable. Laptops such as Dell's Latitude, XPS and Precision laptop models offer Thunderbolt 3 connectivity as an optional, non-standard feature, while Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro lineup only exist with USB-C connectivity (you'll need a dock for additional connection options).
Sorry, Apple fans. The Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock is designed solely for the Windows fan working best on models where Thunderbolt is available (Dell, Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba). On a supported computer, you’ll find enough power to support dual 1080p monitors or a single 4K monitor at 30MHz video performance. Installation on Windows machines is a breeze, with the lone requirement being an Ethernet driver to support the included Ethernet port on the Cable Matters dock. The inclusion of dual USB-C ports, four USB 3.0 ports (backward compatible with 2.0), a 3.5mm audio headset and a 3.5mm microphone round out the features. Smartphone owners can take special note of the USB 3.0 charging ports, which are capable of fast charging.
If connecting multiple monitors at once is a must-have, the Plugable USB-C Triple Display dock is the answer. Supporting both Mac (2016 MacBooks and newer) and Windows environments, the Plugable is more than capable of handling up to three additional displays, as well as providing 60 watts of power for directly charging a Windows-based laptop with pass-through technology. The rear of the Plugable offers a slew of connectivity options, including three USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, dual HDMI output, DVI output and USB-C. The front of the Plugable offers even more connection options such as USB-C and USB 3.0 ports, audio input for 3.5 mm stereo headphones and a microphone, as well as a status LED for data transfers. Setup is easy for Windows users (it just requires a single download from Plugable’s site), but Mac owners can plug-and-play.
The CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 Mini Dock is a lightweight, portable way to connect your laptop to a plethora of legacy devices. Compatible with Windows 10 and macOS 10.12 and later, the CalDigit handles data transfer speeds up to 40Gbs across Thunderbolt 3 ports. It packs a pair of HDMI 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0, and a slot for Gigabit Ethernet. Weighing just 8 ounces and measuring 4.9 x 2.6 x 0.7 inches, the CalDigit is compact enough to fit in a front jeans pocket, backpack or messenger bag. It's a great way to pair a couple of 4K 60hz displays to your laptop at work, or transform your hotel room into a fully equipped work station when you're on the road.
Thunderbolt 2 vs. 3 - What kind of ports does your laptop have? If you’re working on a late 2016 MacBook Pro or newer, you’ll need a Thunderbolt 3 (or USB-C) dock. If your machine is an earlier model, then you should pick up a Thunderbolt 2 dock.
Windows vs. Mac - While the term “Thunderbolt” immediately brings to mind Macs, many of these docks are compatible with Windows machines as well. If you need a dock that works with both Mac and Windows, then you should take that into account. If you’re looking for just a Windows dock, though, you may want to look at a USB 3.0 model instead of a Thunderbolt.
Ports and size - Do you need to be able to stick your dock in a bag and travel with it? If so, you’ll likely be looking for more of a dongle than what is traditionally thought of as a dock. These are powerful little docks, but they have a limited number of ports. If your dock will remain at a desk, you may want to look at a larger model that will give you options for dual monitors, an Ethernet port, an SD card slot, and more. However, these are often more pricey, so it’s important to balance what you need with the cost.