The MacBook Pro is a beast of a machine. Easily outperforming most competing products in the market, the MacBook Pro does it for everyone: photographers, videographers, content creators, game developers, and even music producers. Without question, it is the most powerful portable device right now.
The MacBook Pro is renowned for its portability. The thin and lightweight design is ideal for working on the go. But have you ever wondered if you can dock your MacBook when you're at home or the office, to give it a more desktop feel and utilize a bigger screen?
Unfortunately, you cannot dock the MacBook Pro without an additional device as it comes with only 4 USB-C ports, one of which gets occupied by the power cable. With just 3 USB-C ports left, there isn't much potential to attach many peripherals to the MacBook Pro. In this situation, a Dock provides the perfect solution. Utilizing the versatility of the USB-C port, it connects to the Mac, opening up massive potential in terms of working in a desk setup.
These docks come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. For this review, we tested and narrowed our recommendations down to the three best docks for your MacBook Pro.
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Elgato Thunderbolt Dock
Providing an additional 12 ports to expand on the four existing ports, the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock is perfect for simplifying your workflow. The 12 ports include four USB-C ports, one of which doubles to provide power to your MacBook, an ethernet port, a display port, two USB-A ports, a headphone jack, an SD card slot, as well as a Mini SD Card slot.
Build quality is where the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock really shines. It's an all-aluminum build and it comes in grey color. Its sleek design helps it perfectly complement the MacBook Pro. Calling it 'premium' would not be an over-statement.
The four USB-C ports allow you to do whatever you want. You can connect your Mac to external displays, connect external SSDs, increase your MacBook's power even further by adding an external GPU, or even charge your phone while you're at your desk. One of the ports even allows you to supply power to your MacBook Pro!
With a feature that really is missed in today's laptops - the Ethernet port, you can ditch the Wi-Fi connection and utilize a more fast and reliable cable connection. When you're uploading that 5 GB file to your Cloud storage, there is nothing worse than a bad Wi-Fi signal. An ethernet port solves that problem by providing an uninterrupted internet connection to your device.
The two USB-A ports may not necessarily be a selling point, but it's definitely good to have them at your disposal. There are many peripherals, from external hard drives to keyboards and graphic cards, that still use that older port. You might even own some of them, and it really is convenient to have these ports as it saves you the extra cost of dongles you might require connecting them to the newer USB-C ports.
Appreciated by musicians, producers, sound designers, and even gamers, the headphone jack on the Elgato Thunder Bolt dock is a refreshing sight. For these users, it is crucial to have a wired audio connection to get that sound perfect – the Elgato Dock does not disappoint.
One of the shortcomings of the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock is the SD and Mini SD Card Slot. For just a little extra feature, you need to pay around $100. Even though most of the people who carry around SD Card readers will be fine paying that extra amount, the problem is, this reader is slow. Also, by just clicking your card in place, you realize how cheap the build quality of the reader is. We think Elgato could have really improved in this department, to make a more speed efficient device.
Another widely faced issue with the Elgato Thunderbolt dock is that while it advertises the ability to connect two external displays simultaneously, we experienced numerous glitches during our tests. While gaming, frame rate drop was a common sight, and while working on 4K video editing, the smooth scrolling you get on a MacBook Pro didn't seem to be working perfectly on the external display.
Users have also reported frequent disconnection issues. The dock works fine for around 20 minutes, after which it disconnects, and you have to remove and plug it again for it to start working again. Although that could be a fault on some of the units, it is something to be kept in mind. If you are working with sensitive data and an unprecedented disconnection might cause you a loss, we suggest you look at our other two recommendations.
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CalDigit TS3 Plus Dock
The second dock on our list is the CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock. To transform your MacBook Pro into a workstation, it provides a single-cable solution which is available in two colors, Silver and Space Gray, which go perfectly with your MacBook in a desk setup. It has one USB-A, one USB-C, a headphone jack, a full-sized SD Card Reader in the front, and on the back, there is an ethernet port, a display port, three USB-C ports, and four USB-A ports.
One of the prime advantages of the CalDigit TS3 Plus is that there is no need for manual driver installation. As soon as you get it out of the box, you can plug it to your MacBook Pro, and it will be good to go. This makes it extra convenient if you are a non-technical person, as there is no software installation of any sort involved.
All the USB ports on the CalDigit TS3 operate at USB 3.1 speeds, so transferring data using this dock is a breeze. This is not just useful for data transferring, but also helps the peripherals which require USB 3.1 to perform at their optimal level.
To add to all that, the CalDigit effectively connects two external monitors without any glitches or frame rate drops, giving it an edge over the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock.
One major issue with the CalDigit TS3 is the abundance of USB-A ports. While the abundance is appreciated to a point, it comes at the cost of having less USB-C ports, which are required more in number: you get only three USB-C ports as compared to five USB-A ports. It almost feels as if CalDigit did not take into consideration the number of external devices that now use the newer USB-C connection.
Additionally, even though there is a headphone jack, but the quality of its audio is where the TS3 takes a huge blow. There is a noticeable hiss to the sound when the headphones are connected, and even when tested out with multiple headsets, that problem remained constant. If sound quality is something that is important to you, this might not be an excellent option.
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TOTU USB-C Hub
Starting well below $100, The TOTU USB-C Hub is the cheapest option in this list, while providing the same functionality you would expect from any other dock. It has three USB-A ports, one USB-C port, which also charges your MacBook Pro, one full-sized HDMI, SD, and a Mini SD Card reader – all in this small little package.
Price is a huge selling point for the TOTU USB-C Hub. Costing only a third of our other options, it offers more than enough features for an average user. If you are someone with a few external hard drives, a mouse and keyboard, and an external monitor, this is probably the best option for you since it is not heavy on the pocket and delivers on what it promises.
We were surprised that this cheaper option comes with a full-sized HDMI while the more expensive ones don't. This means you won't need an extra dongle to connect to your TV or your monitor. It is perfect if you're an average user and don't work on anything that requires a lot of power.
The SD Card reader is remarkable too. It does not feel cheap like the one on the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock. Instead, it's fast, granted not as fast as some of the specialized SD Card Readers, but it still does the job exceptionally. The fact that you can plug in your mini-SD card directly shows just how the creators actually put thought into making this device convenient for its potential users.
The cons are well predictable. For the price, it is a great device, but the trade-off is the cheap build quality. While it certainly looks premium with its gray aluminum polish, once you hold it up, it's no secret that this dock is just a piece of plastic. There is considerable flex if even slight pressure is put on it. And the two USB-C it uses to connect to the MacBook Pro doesn't really feel promising in terms of durability.
Another major concern with the TOTU USB-C hub is its single USB-C port. While you sacrifice two primary ports on the MacBook Pro to connect the hub, you only get one in return. That is actually a loss in the ports available. Although the port does support supplying power to your MacBook Pro, we found it charges our device considerably slower as compared to just plugging in the charger directly.
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Which dock to purchase really depends on what you intend to use it for. All three of the options we listed are great, but they come with their disadvantages. If you are a power user and are planning to spend a considerable amount on quality as well as tons of features, we suggest you go with the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock or the CalDigit TS3. However, if you are a regular user, and want something to give you a basic desk setup, we would recommend the TOTU USB-C Hub.
If you think this review was helpful, let us know in the comments!