usb c docks

Laptops and tablets are so much more convenient than desktop computers for the very obvious reason of portability – you can’t (or certainly shouldn’t) lug a desktop PC between your home and office or on holiday with you.

The portable computer’s limitation, though, is screen size and often a lack of ports to plug devices into. Some laptops have just one or two ports included as standard, and you need one of those for charging. And tablets have even fewer ports for device expansion.

There are plenty of people who prefer a mouse to the laptop’s trackpad, and even a full-size keyboard to tap away on – of course, there are Bluetooth keyboards and mice that don’t require a side port on the laptop.

The perfect setup would be a laptop for flexibility, plus one or more larger external displays, some USB ports for adding hard drives or a printer, and an Ethernet port so you can enjoy wired Internet access rather than flaky Wi-Fi.

The solution is a dock or docking station that includes all these ports, and lets you connect your laptop or tablet to it with one cable.

Setup is simple. Just connect your laptop or tablet to the dock, and it instantly has access to all the dock’s ports as if they were on the laptop itself – except to have that many ports, in reality, would make your laptop as thick as a brick.

In this review roundup, we’ll look at the best docks for USB-C laptops and tablets. Some laptops – notably Apple’s MacBook range – include a faster variant of USB-C called Thunderbolt 3 (T3). Such laptops can use USB-C docks, but the T3’s higher bandwidth (40Gbps vs USB-C’s 5Gbps or 10Gbps) will be lost if not using a dedicated T3 dock.

And many docking stations are compatible with Apple’s iPad Pro and iPad Air (4th Gen), and USB-C Windows tablets.

If you don’t want a full docking station, just a handy USB-C adapter or dongle, check out our Best USB-C hub roundup. We’ve included a couple of “hubs” here because they’re often cheaper but just as capable as docks.

USB-C laptops won’t work with most Thunderbolt 3 docks, although there are a couple reviewed here (from Caldigit and that will work with both. That makes them a great choice for hot-desking and mixed workflow environments. Office IT doesn’t have to buy different docks for different use cases – one dock can work on anything, and without adapters or drivers.

T3 laptops can use any of the USB-C docks reviewed here, but will lose some of their bandwidth and display advantages on the lower-spec docks. 

Owners of Thunderbolt 3 laptops – such as Apple MacBooks (Air, and 13in, 15in and 16in Pro) – should also read Macworld’s roundup of the best Thunderbolt 3 docking stations. It’s aimed at MacBooks but the docks mostly work with any T3 laptops unless specified.

Useful ports on the dock

USB-C: First, you need to connect your USB-C laptop to the dock, which takes up one of the dock’s USB-C ports, unless the dock has its own attached cable.

Some docks feature extra USB-C ports to attach compatible devices or connect to a USB-C display. You can also buy a USB-C to HDMI or USB-C to DisplayPort adapter to use this extra port to add an external display; see below.

USB-C comes in either 5Gbps or 10Gbps bandwidth varieties. If data-transfer speed is important, look for a dock with the higher rating. USB speed ratings are numerous, so pay attention to the technical specifications.

Also look for docks with USB PD, which stands for Power Delivery – this is a key feature on a full docking station. And then match that with the wattage your laptop needs to charge at full power. Most Windows laptops require 60W, but some larger laptops are begging for as much as 85W. Docks that can handle that much charging power can be more expensive as they need a larger power supply.

If the dock doesn’t have PD, then it will be drawing power from your laptop to run the other devices. The same will happen with PDs with a lower wattage than the laptop. An 87W laptop can be charged by a 60W USB PD, but at a slower pace.

(Windows PC users must check if their USB-C port is capable of laptop charging as not all PC manufacturers have added this functionality to their USB-C ports, limiting them to data or display only.)

We also list the total wattage of the power supply, as this will often allow the charging of connected bus-powered devices.

Standalone charging: This means the dock can charge devices, such as a phone or tablet, even when the laptop is disconnected.

USB-A: This is the ‘old’ USB standard that’s still used by many devices, such as hard drives, memory sticks, and printers. Work out how many of these you need when selecting the right dock for you. Like USB-C, USB-A comes in different speeds: from a lowly 480Mbps to the most common 5Gbps and the latest speedy 10Gbps.

Display: You’ll want to hook your laptop up to an external display for more screen space. Why not boost that 13in laptop screen to a 32in 4K monitor? Some external displays use USB-C, so you can connect via a laptop’s spare port or via one on the dock. Most docks, however, include either DisplayPort or HDMI ports, or a mix of both; some include the old VGA standard. And you can attach USB-C to HDMI or USB-C to DisplayPort adapters, too. 

Most dual-monitor setups allow for two displays at 1080p HD resolution, but the best high-resolution displays are 4K. 4K at 60Hz is the best for gaming and high-graphics performance, while 4K at 30Hz is good enough for more productivity-based tasks – but not as great as at that higher rate. 

Look out for the version of DisplayPort or HDMI, as the later versions have greater powers when it comes to higher resolutions and refresh rates.

HDMI 1.4: Supports up to 4K (3840-x-2160) at 30Hz, or 1080p HD at 120Hz.

HDMI 2.0: Supports up to 4K at 60Hz

DisplayPort 1.2: Supports up to 4K at 60Hz

DisplayPort 1.3: Supports up to 4K at 120Hz or 8K at 30Hz

DisplayPort 1.4: Supports up to 8K at 60Hz and HDR

Natively, USB-C struggles to handle 4K at 60Hz, so falls back to 30Hz as its maximum. Some companies have got around this by using DisplayLink driver, but this does mean you need to install extra software. And Caldigit’s SOHO Dock uses separate lanes for data and video, and so can hit 60Hz on a 4K display.

For laptops that have only a 5Gbps USB-C port, 4K at 60Hz is out of the question. So check your laptop specs. (Thunderbolt 3 laptops have no problem getting 4K at 60Hz even on two displays.)

Most mid- to high-end displays now have DisplayPort and HDMI built into the monitor, allowing users to choose the connector they want to use. The resolution is the same on HDMI and DisplayPort, but DisplayPort can be more stable and capable in certain situations. Read more on HDMI vs DisplayPort.

Note that Macs support only one external display over USB-C (two over Thunderbolt 3), although you can get round this limitation by installing DisplayLink drivers.

Gigabit Ethernet: With an Ethernet port on the dock you can connect to wired Internet, which is usually much faster than Wi-Fi.

SD or Micro SD Card Reader: We usually think of these as camera memory/storage cards, and one of these reader ports will allow you to quickly slip in your photo-laden card for immediate access from your laptop. However, more usefully, SD or Micro SD Cards are also an incredibly inexpensive way of adding portable storage to your laptop. Take a look on Amazon for affordable SD and Micro SD Cards (Amazon UK or Amazon US), where you can buy 256GB for around £30 or $40. Adding that amount of storage to a laptop would normally cost you around £150.

Tablets: A lot of these docks work with USB-C tablets, such as the iPad Pro and Windows tablets, but check first that the Windows tablet has USB-C and the appropriate video options. Also, check out the best tablet stands.

Caldigit USB-C HDMI Dock – Best value for mixed USB-C and Thunderbolt 3

Anker PowerExpand Elite Dock – Best USB-C/Thunderbolt dock with multiple ports

Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock

Plugable’s USB-C Triple Display 4K Docking Station – Best for three external displays

Plugable USB-C Triple Display 4K Docking Station

HyperDrive GEN2 12-Port USB-C Hub – Best value USB-C dock with 12 ports

HyperDrive GEN2 12-in-1 USB-C Dock

Twelve South StayGo USB-C Hub – Best portable USB-C dock

Twelve South StayGo USB-C Hub

OWC USB-C Travel Dock E – Best compact USB-C dock

OWC 6-Port USB-C Travel Dock

Caldigit USB-C SOHO Dock – Best portable USB-C dock for external display

Caldigit USB-C SOHO Dock

PNY All-in-One USB-C Dock – Lightest USB-C dock with power

PNY 9-in-1 Mini Portable USB-C Hub

Lention USB-C Docking Station – Under-laptop USB-C dock for Windows

Universal Lention USB-C Docking Station

Moshi Symbus Q – Best USB-C dock for wireless phone charging

Moshi Symbus Q Compact USB-C Dock with Wireless Charging

HyperDrive GEN2 6-Port USB-C Hub

HyperDrive GEN2 6-Port USB-C Hub

StarTech USB-C Multiport Adapter Mini Docking Station USB-C Multiport Mini Docking Station

StarTech Thunderbolt 3 USB-C Docking Station – A universal dock Universal Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C Host Docking Station

Dell DA300 – A dinky mobile USB-C hub

Dell USB-C Mobile Adapter (DA300)

Plugable USB-C Mini Docking Station – A compact mini hub

Plugable USB-C Mini Docking Station

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