Picking the right Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C dock for your desk

“USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are the way of the future, but most of our accessories are stuck in the past,” Valentina Palladino writes for Ars Technica. “PC and smartphone OEMs lead the way by adopting USB-C as standard, but that often leaves users to search for an adapter or dongle to connect all of the peripherals they already have. On top of that, many new peripherals are still using the old connections.”

“Rising to the occasion are USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks—boxy devices punctured by USB-As, HDMIs, DisplayPorts, and SD card readers—and other ports. A dock or hub connects to all your peripherals so you can then connect it to your PC through just one USB-C port,” Palladino writes. “But not all docks are created equal. After reviewing a wide array of what’s available today, we’ve found there are a few key features users should look for to determine which option is best for you to bridge the gap between your PC and everything you want to use with it.”

“The USB-C 3.1 standard now has two generations, Gen 1 and Gen 2, which differ in their transfer speeds. Gen 1 supports transfer speeds up to 5Gbps while Gen 2 support speeds up to 10Gbps. Additionally, USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 offers 20 volts (or 100 watts) of power delivery, allowing it to charge devices as well as connect to accessories like external drives,” Palladino writes. “Thunderbolt 3 ports provide more versatility than USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 ports do. In comparison, Thunderbolt 3 ports can transfer data much faster than USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 ports, supporting transfer speeds up to 40Gbps. They also support 100 watts of power delivery as well as two 4K 60Hz displays, four lanes of PCI Express Gen 3, eight lanes of DisplayPort 1.2, and daisy-chaining for up to six devices… Thunderbolt 3 is also bi-directional, letting you transmit and receive data at the same time.”

“Thunderbolt 3 ports typically have a small lightning bolt next to them, unless you have a device like a MacBook Pro that follows Apple’s stringent design rules (no lightning bolts mark any of that machine’s four Thunderbolt 3 ports),” Palladino writes. “This is where docks come in. Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 docks connect to just one of your USB-C ports to add access to a slew of other ports—more USB-C and USB-A ports, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, and audio jacks, and more.”

Pick the right dock by reading more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We actually use CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Stations (Ars’ “Best Overall”) and can also recommend them.

CalDigit TS3 Plus - Thunderbolt 3 Dock with 85W Charging, 7x USB 3.1 Ports, USB-C Gen 2, DisplayPort, UHS-II SD Card Slot, LAN, Optical Out
CalDigit TS3 Plus – Thunderbolt 3 Dock with 85W Charging, 7x USB 3.1 Ports, USB-C Gen 2, DisplayPort, UHS-II SD Card Slot, LAN, Optical Out


  1. The entire USB naming system is so confusing that even this author gets it wrong. There is no “USB-C 3.1” Gen 1 or Gen 2. The port is called USB-C and the protocols are USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 Gen 2.

  2. (With croaky old voice…) I remember the days when you didn’t need to choose ANY dock. One of the many things that was great about the Mac was that it came with everything most people needed, including ports. We were glad we didn’t use them PC thingies cos we didn’t have to pay extra every time we wanted to plug something in.

    (Back to normal voice…) Actually, it wasn’t very long ago at all. Sigh…

    1. Yes, Apple keeps removing things from the computers even as the price continues to rise.

      Battery compartments- gone.
      Storgage access – gone.
      Memory access- gone.
      Connector ports- increasingly gone.
      Extension cords on laptops- optional for extra cost.
      CD/DVD media drives- gone.
      Discrete GPUs- mostly gone in favor of Vampire Video.

      Then there is the whole sealed up battery thing on peripherals and forcing uses onto the vastly overpriced Bluetooth versions of formerly wired components.

    2. That is patently untrue, Des Gusting, unless you are a youngster. For example, consider the original Bondi blue iMac (CRT) from 1998 which popularized USB. But there were very few USB peripherals available. Dongles. There was an ultraportable back in the early 1990s – can’t recall the name – docking attachment.

      Apple once again took the I/o lead with USB-C connectors and TB3. Eventually, the peripheral vendors will catch up. Until then….adapt.

  3. The Caldigit Plus is only AU$460 down here in the antipodes. That’s about 1/3 of what I paid for a mini 2.6 GHz quad-core, also complete with lots of connectors. And only 4 years ago, the day after minis were downgraded.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.