Intro

There's no shortage of Thunderbolt dock options on the market. We took a look at five different units and compared them by price, features, and speed.

The new Apple M1 Mac Mini has a lot going for it: it's an amazing machine in a small form factor. Unfortunately, in what seems to be a continuing Apple trend, it has lost a couple of Thunderbolt ports over the previous version. Enter the Thunderbolt dock: a must-have solution for a lot of photographers and videographers looking to connect multiple high-speed drives and/or other peripherals to machines with minimal connection points.

In this article, we'll compare five popular Thunderbolt 3 Docks based on price, features, and speed to crown a winner. All of the docks in this comparison are capable of connecting to fast drives via USB-C and most offer built-in high-speed SD card readers as well as additional connectivity for various peripherals.

All of the docks in this comparison are capable of connecting to fast drives via USB-C and most offer built-in high-speed SD card readers as well as additional connectivity for various peripherals

Below you can see how these five docks stack up, on paper:

Price

Power delivery over Thunderbolt

USB-C ports

(10Gb/s)

USB-A ports

(10Gb/s)

Thunderbolt pass though

USB-A ports

(5Gb/s)

StarTech TB3DK2DPM2

$330

85w 1 0 Yes 2
Hyperdrive GEN2 16-Port $300 85w 2 2 Yes 3
Plugable TBT3-UDC3 $219 96w 2 1 No 2
Corsair TBT100 $250 85w 2 0 No 2

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

$250 85w 1 0 Yes 5

Note: Manufacturer availability was a factor in the docks we included. If your favorite Thunderbolt dock is not represented here, please mention it in the comments. We'll look to update this comparison in the not-too-distant future.

We'll start first with an overview of each dock, including its design, features and included accessories, and we'll follow up with a series of benchmarks where we pit all the docks against each other to see which drives excel in which areas.


StarTech TB3DK2DPM2

$330 | StarTech

The StarTech hides its key feature on the bottom of the case.

This StarTech dock has a single front-facing USB-A port running at 5Gb/s and a USB-C port running at 10Gb/s. There's also a UHS-II SD Card slot and separate microphone and headphone sockets. At the back is where you find the upstream and downstream Thunderbolt connections as well as a Gigabit Ethernet jack, a second 5Gb/s USB-A socket, and finally a DisplayPort connector. Included in the box is a 17-inch Thunderbolt 3 cable.

This dock is the only product here that offers the ability to insert an SSD into the enclosure

One thing that you notice right away is the size of the included power supply, which is larger than the dock itself. This is due to the power delivery requirements needed for attached devices so that a single cable hookup can be used for charging your laptop and the data connection.

This dock is the only product here that offers the ability to insert an SSD into the enclosure (specifically, an M2 80mm NVME drive) for integrated storage. StarTech says the enclosure supports transfer speeds up to 1.5GB/s, but your mileage may vary. Note: it will not work with the SATA variant as the internal slot is not compatible.

Some NVME drives may prove a tight fit, especially if they are double-sided.

On to a small issue, the compartment's lid already has a rather thick thermal pad attached. I found this interfered with the fit of my drive as supplied and you may find a similar issue if your drive has a heat spreader already attached. The XPG drive I used was double-sided, but the lid closed properly after removing the pad.

Upstream and downstream Thunderbolt ports are handy for adding fast SSDs.

All in all, I had no issues with the StarTech dock, although it can get warm in use, especially if you're using an NVME drive in the internal enclosure. But overall, it offers a nice mix of speed and connectivity.

What we liked

  • Ability to add internal SSD storage to the dock
  • Separate headphone and microphone sockets

What we didn’t like

  • Large power supply

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Hyperdrive GEN2 16-Port

$300 | Hyperdrive

Monolithic in design; the Hyperdrive takes up less desk space and includes a wide selection of ports.

The second dock I looked at is the diminutive unit from Hyperdrive. This small and dense unit with its solid all-metal construction has dual digital as well as analog audio ports, which is unusual. It also has full-size and micro SD slots supporting UHS-II cards.

If direct digital audio is important to you then the Hyperdrive has both Coax and Toslink connections.

It supports 10Gb/s speeds via dual front-facing USB-A ports in addition to a USB-C port. It also has the usual single 3.5mm socket with headset support. Additionally, there's a front-mounted USB-A port that supports power delivery standard for charging devices (but it has no data capability). At the back are the two Thunderbolt ports and connection points for Gigabit Ethernet, a DisplayPort connection, and another 3 USB-A ports with 5Gb/s speeds. If direct digital audio is important to you then the Hyperdrive has both Coax and Toslink connections.

There's a small power LED on the front of the unit which can be difficult to see in bright lighting. The included Thunderbolt cable is 17 inches long. As is the case with any of these docks, you might find the length of the included cable quite short, but this is to keep to the advertised speeds. Longer aftermarket active Thunderbolt cables are available, but these cost more and are available in copper or optical versions.

Digital audio is not something you often find on most Thunderbolt docks. This combined with twin Thunderbolt connections and a lot of USB sockets makes this dock extremely flexible.

I should mention that the SD card sockets on this dock are inverted from the norm, so if you want to put this horizontally on your desk, you need to insert your cards with the label face-down or flip the whole unit.

This dock is designed primarily for vertical orientation and while there's nothing to stop that from happening, I found it to be a bit unstable in practice. The design would be better if a stand or rubber feet were supplied to stop it from slipping on a desk.

What we liked

  • Well-built, small footprint (when used vertically)
  • Large number of connections including three at 10Gb/s
  • Dedicated front-facing USB-A charging port
  • Digital and analog audio ports

What we didn’t like

  • Limited stability in a vertical position

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Plugable TBT3-UDC3

$219 | Plugable

A budget option, but it's missing more than a high price tag.

The Plugable is the most affordable dock we looked at and also one of the smallest. It ships with a longer cable than most of the docks here (28.5 inches) and also includes an active DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor in the box. Considering the cost of these items by themselves, this might be a deal clincher. However, it does lack a second Thunderbolt port for daisy-chaining devices.

The Plugable is the most affordable dock we looked at and also one of the smallest

This is another unit with three 10Gb/s ports, all around-back, including two USB-C and one USB-A. It also has both DisplayPort and HDMI sockets, although on an M1 Mac you can’t use both at the same time.

As usual, you also get a Gigabit Ethernet support and a 3.5mm headset socket as well as two more 5Gb/s USB-A ports on the front. It’s also has a large LED power indicator on top and a side-mounted Kensington lock slot.

You get a total of three 10Gb/s USB Ports on the Plugable.

With the smaller than usual volume, you have to sacrifice something and with this dock, and we’ve lost the ability to use SD cards; there's also no second Thunderbolt socket. Then again, it’s all about balancing requirements with form factor and cost.

What we liked

  • Included cable options
  • Three 10Gb/s USB Ports
  • Price and size

What we didn’t like

  • No SD Card slot
  • No Thunderbolt passthrough
  • Glossy black front and back panel are prone to show scratches

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Corsair TBT100

$250 | Corsair

Corsair's offering is the only one here to include a power button.

The next dock comes from one of the heavy hitters in the PC space, Corsair. There's a certain visual appeal to this dock with its rounded edges, matt grey and black finish, and low profile design. Corsair has decided to include a power button and like the Plugable dock, you also get a longer-than-normal 25-inch Thunderbolt 3 cable.

This dock offers a lot of versatility, as long as you don't need a second Thunderbolt port or front-facing USB-A connectivity

This dock offers a front-facing USB-C socket, an SD card slot (with UHS-II support), and a headset port. At the rear your find a single Thunderbolt port, twin HDMIs, and two USB-A (5Gb/s) ports. There's also a USB-C port as well as the usual Gigabit Ethernet jack, as well as a Kensington lock slot.

Initially, I had some disappointing results when testing read/write speeds for the SD card reader. For some reason, the speeds were well below what should have been possible. This was rectified by power cycling the dock.

There's no Thunderbolt pass-through here, but you do get a second 10Gb/s USB-C port on the back.

This dock offers a lot of versatility, as long as you don't need a second Thunderbolt port or front-facing USB-A connectivity. It's also one of the more elegant designs.

What we liked

  • Appealing design
  • Length of included cable

What we didn’t like

  • No front-facing USB-A port
  • No Thunderbolt pass-through

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OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

$250 | OWC

While the OWC might give you everything you would need in terms of connections, the black plastic top is prone to showing scratches and fingerprints.

This offering from OWC gives you five USB 3.1 Gen1 ports, four on the back and one on the front. Two of these support high power devices (1.5A) and a 17-inch Thunderbolt cable is included in the box. Like a couple of other docks here you also get a Thunderbolt pass-through connection around the back as well as the usual Gigabit Ethernet socket.

This dock gives you just about everything you want in terms of connections. That said we'd happily give up one of the many 5Gb/s USB-A ports for the faster version

As with the Hyperdrive, it also gives you digital audio out, although this time it’s optical only and you do get the usual headset output on the front. It’s the only dock in this article that connects via mini DisplayPort for the video output and there’s no dongle in the box. You also get both a UHS-II SD and micro SD card slot at the front. Additionally, on the underside are two LEDs (green and blue) indicating host Thunderbolt connection and power status.

The OWC offers a Thunderbolt pass-through socket and a Mini DisplayPort socket to connect your monitor.

When testing the font USB-C port I was slightly surprised to find that it was quite a bit slower than the other docks on test here. This is because this socket uses a dedicated PCI-e Gen 3 x 1 lane. In practice, this means that while you only get about 8Gb/s it's not throttled by any other port when in use. From a design point of view, I was a little disappointed to see that the top and bottom are both pieces of glossy black plastic that tend to show up fingerprints and scratches long term.

This dock gives you just about everything you want in terms of connections. That said I'd happily give up one of the 5Gb/s USB-A ports for the faster version, although it does offer a couple of advantages over the similarly priced Corsair dock.

What we liked

  • Good selection of ports
  • Optical digital audio out
  • Value for money

What we didn't like

  • Glossy top and bottom panel
  • Mini DisplayPort output

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Speed test

Thunderbolt and NVME speeds in these tests are with an ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro 1TB. For USB-C testing it was placed in a Sabrent Tool-Less USB-C enclosure and for Thunderbolt speeds, the same drive was placed in an Orico Thunderbolt enclosure. A 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-II SD card was used to test the card reader speeds.

Tests were conducted using the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test app, the file size was set to 5GB and results were averaged over 5 runs.

UHS-II read UHS-II write TB read TB write NVME write

NVME
read

USB-C read

USB-C
write

StarTech TB3DK2DPM2 244 186 1405 956 1356 1073 723 654
Hyperdrive GEN2 16-Port 265 231 1409 973 n/a n/a 930 903
Plugable TBT3-UDC3 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 928 922
Corsair TBT100 256 211 n/a n/a n/a n/a 945 929
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock 255 205 1375 1043 n/a n/a 764 694

*All speeds recorded in MB/s.

The Hyperdrive dock offers the fastest UHS-II read and write speeds of the bunch, but not by a huge margin. Similarly, those docks with Thunderbolt connections all delivered similar read and write speeds, with the OWC dock being just a bit faster than the competition. In terms of USB-C speeds, the Corsair dock came out on top (again, not by much), with the Plugable and Hyperdrive docks following close behind.

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Conclusion

After working with each of these for a while, I chose the Hyperdrive for long-term use. The balance of good transfer speeds, the number of ports, and the small footprint led me to choose it as my daily driver.

However, just because this is the best dock for me doesn't mean it will work best for you. You need to work out what's best for your particular workflow. Do you need to connect up a lot of kit? How fast do the ports need to be? And if you're using these with a laptop, do they pass through enough power for charging your battery?

I chose the Hyperdrive for long-term use. The balance of good transfer speeds, the number of ports, and the small footprint lead me to choose it as my daily driver

The Plugable is the only one here with 96W support for charging and the StarTech is the only one with an NVME drive slot built-in. If you need digital audio then the Hyperdrive ticks that box and has faster UHS-II speeds as well. The Corsair gives very good UHS-II speeds and also has two 10Gb/s USB-C ports. The OWC gives you a good balance of the number and type of ports and is a great value.

Of course, you could always combine more than one if your budget allows. And things are about to get more complicated with the introduction of Thunderbolt 4.