Laptops are great for taking desktop-class computing power on the go. They make life easier, as you get to take what you need, wherever you go, but when you’re back at home, the lack of legacy ports on 2016 and later MacBook Pros is an issue.
Apple removed all legacy ports from these MacBook Pros. Connecting ANY device to any MacBook Pro with Touch Bar now requires a properly-equipped peripheral or a dongle. USB-C-based peripherals aren’t very common yet, and dongles make computing messy and complicated. Displays – actually multiple displays – are a particularly large problem. The best way to solve this is with a docking station.
Here are some of the best docking stations to address not only the need for legacy ports and reduced USB-C dongles, but also the need to attach multiple displays to your MacBook Pro.
1. Elgato Thunderbolt 3
Designed to rest alongside your Macbook Pro like the sleekest of sidekicks, the Elgato Thunderbolt 3 Dock isn’t the cheapest docking station out there, but it’s one of the best. It also comes with a two-year warranty, which gives it an edge over the default one-year you get with most other docks. Finally, it delivers a solid 85W of power to charge your Macbook Pro.
- Ports: three USB 3.0 ports with Qualcomm Quick Charge, two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, 50cm Thunderbolt cable, DisplayPort capable of 5k resolution, 4k at 60hz (2x 4K display possible via USB-C), Gigabit Ethernet, audio in and out.
- Build Quality: One of the best things about this dock is its tiny stature. At 3.2 x 7.9 x 1.1 inches, it has one of the smallest footprints for a dock. Its shape means that it can’t slot right under your Macbook like other options listed here, but it certainly doesn’t get in the way. The chassis is made out of sturdy aluminum, giving it a nice elegant look that complements that of your Macbook.
With a sleek, svelte design made to tuck neatly under your Macbook Pro, the Linedock is almost certainly the best-looking option in this list. In fact, it’s so low-profile that it almost looks like it could have been designed by Apple itself. The Linedock is designed for the 13″ MBP.
- Ports There are three USB-C ports, including USB 3.1, Full Power Delivery 2.0, and DisplayPort. Add to that another three USB 3.0 ports with Qualcomm QuickCharge, and you’re well taken care of on the USB front. There’s also an SD card reader, an HDMI 2.0 port and a Mini Displayport port. The display ports support displays at up to 4K resolutions at 60Hz.
- Build Quality It’s quite impressive that the designers have managed to squeeze a 20,000 mAh battery into this 0.9cm-thin chassis. It weighs just 2lbs, too, so will neither encumber you or stretch your Macbook sleeve if you pack the two together. One thing you need to be wary of if you do this is scratching your Macbook Pro. One of the neat design touches `is a little U-shaped dongle that connects the Linedock with your Macbook Pro, negating the need for a tangly, unsightly cable. Neat, in every sense of the word.
3. LandingZone USB-C Dock
The LandingZone USB-C Dock for MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is a non-Thunderbolt-based dock with a USB-C passthrough (which works with Thunderbolt accessories). This dock is meant for 15″ MBPs only and won’t work with Windows Machines.
- Ports The device has one dual HDMI/ miniDisplay Port (you can use one or the other) and a second HDMI port to allow you to use at least two monitors. It also has one SD and one microSD card slot, three USB-C ports (data only, no video support), three USB 3.1 Type A ports and a gigabit ethernet port. This dock is one of the few with dual display connections. You can connect at least two displays directly to the dock and can also connect a third via the passthrough on the right side of the dock. This is probably the best feature of the dock.
- Build Quality The device is made of plastic and unfortunately, feels cheap. Docking is done by manually inserting both USB-C ports on the left side of your MBP into the available adapters on the dock and then sliding the audio jack and third USB-C adapter into the ports on your Mac’s right side. The process slides adapters into three of four USB-C ports and effectively squeezes the dock together. The dock has a dedicated release lever to assist with undocking.This manual squeezing together is problematic. Things don’t always line up right and don’t always sit well together, and the ports don’t always activate. Sometimes you need to sit and resit cables to ensure everything fits tightly.
Of all docks in this roundup, this dock provides the right mix of legacy ports and display support. It provides the best overall mix of features for the cost but lacks Thunderbolt 3 support. The LandingZone Docking Station for MacBook Pro with Touch Bar sells for $299.
4. OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock
OWC has always produced quality products, and OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is one of my favorite Thunderbolt docks.
- Build Quality This is by far one of the BEST-built docks I’ve ever laid my hands on. It’s solid, well-built, and easy to use. Coming in two versions – one with Firewire 800 support and one without – the dock works with both Mac and Windows machines.
- Ports This dock has thirteen different legacy ports including five USB-A 3.1 ports, one FireWire 800 port, gigabit Ethernet, two TB3 ports, one miniDisplay Port, one SD card reader and one audio out port. You can connect multiple displays to this device via the miniDisplay Port and a TB3 port; however, unless that display is ALSO a TB display, you’re going to have issues daisy-chaining any additional devices to it, so be aware. USB-A ports don’t offer Thunderbolt compatibility.
The only issue I have with it is a lack of an additional TB port or two to easily connect more than one display without having to worry about additional connectivity or daisy-chaining devices. While five USB-A ports does help alleviate this, it may still be a concern for some.
The OWC TB3 Dock retails for $379. However, if you don’t need Firewire support, you can pick up the Mac/ Windows version for $289.
5. Kensington SD5200T Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station
The Kensington SD5300T TB3 Docking Station is another cross-platform dock, supporting both macOS and Windows 10, that provides support for a single 5K monitor or dual 4K displays at 60Hz. As an added plus to the whole package, the dock can be mounted to the back of any VESA-compatible external display (via a mounting plate, sold separately), allowing for a cleaner, less-cluttered desk.
- Build Quality Like the OWC dock, the Kensington SD5200T is wrapped in both plastic and brushed metal. It connects to your TB3-enabled Mac via a TB3 cable on the rear of the dock. It also supports 85W charging, so it will power your device while it’s plugged in.
- Ports The device has a single 15w power providing USB-A and USB-C/TB3 ports on the front of the device. On the rear of the dock it has a gigabit ethernet port, USB-A 3.1 port, audio in/out ports, support for Kensington lock, one TB3 port, one TB3-in port, a Display Port and DC in. While the connectivity here isn’t great, it does get the job done and does support both 4K and 5K displays.
The Kensington SD5200T Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station retails for $329.99, and at this price, it’s one of the more expensive docks in this roundup. However, it is available via Amazon at a 20% premium for $262.99.
6. StarTech.com Mini Thunderbolt 3 Dock
If what you’re looking for is multiple display support out of a Thunderbolt 3 dock, StarTech.com Mini Thunderbolt 3 Dock is the dock for you. It supports dual Display Port connections and also provides some additional legacy ports. With its cable attached, it really looks like an oversized dongle, but it’s also the most affordable dock in this roundup.
- Build Quality While this is mostly made of plastic, like the other docks in this roundup, it’s small and compact and easily fits on your desk. It has no moving parts and its size makes it easy to take with you, should you have a need to connect to displays outside of your home or office.
- Ports While this dock makes it easy to connect more than one display, it contains only four ports in total – two Display Port ports with support for dual 4K 60Hz displays or a single 5K 60Hz display, a USB3.0 port and a gigabit Ethernet port. The dock does not need any kind of external power source. It is bus-powered, so all you have to do is plug the USB-C cable into your Mac. This is nice but creates issues – without external power, it can’t support additional ports, and you won’t be able to daisy-chain additional devices through it.
If your only concern is connecting more than one monitor to your MBP, then this is one of the more affordable ways to do it. Buying two – the 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar supports up to four simultaneous 4K displays – would get all of those displays connected and still be cheaper than any of the other docks in this roundup.
7. WAVLINK USB 3.0 & USB C Ultra HD/5K Universal Docking Station
Connectivity is key with a docking station, meaning the WAVLINK Universal Docking Station could be the dock you want and need if you’re looking to set up a dual-display system.
- Build Quality The Wavlink USB-C Ultra HD/5K Universal Docking Station has an all-aluminum chassis. Encased in metal, it is likely to have the best housing of any dock in this roundup. This is by far one of the best, if not the best, constructed docks I’ve seen in a while.
- Ports The Wavlink USB-C Ultra HD/5K Universal Docking Station has fourteen ports. It has two USB-C ports, three USB-A type 3 ports, one gigabit ethernet port, one DVI port, one 4K HDMI port, one Audio in/ out port and one USB-C in port.
Finding the right dock for you is a matter of hit or miss, especially when it comes to the number and types of ports you need. When it comes to connecting multiple monitors, the better solutions don’t have you giving up a Thunderbolt port for display purposes.