21 September 2019, Comments: Comments Off on Six USB Laptop Docks Help Maximize Connectivity

 September 2019         Ian Chiu

Docking stations are a common sight in office environment; they allow a single link from a laptop (or an Android smartphone) to a larger display as well as a full array of peripherals through just one cable.  Their potential is now further realized with the new USB-C connection, and here, we have six docks to show just that.

What You Need to Know

  • USB-C docks – unless they are Thunderbolt 3 version – are universally compatible with legacy USB ports on existing PCs.  Battery charging as well as video output function, however, only works on USB-C ports that support both USB Power Delivery and VESA video alternate mode.  In comparison, true Thunderbolt 3 USB-C docks are able to support a host of advanced features.
  • It’s technically possible for USB-C docks to output 4k resolutions at 60Hz except speed (for that particular downstream port) would be brought down to USB 2.0.  In most cases, developers limit output to 4k 30Hz mode in order to keep the USB 3.0 mode.  Enabling 60Hz at 4k resolutions may require the manufacturers to provide the special firmware and equally important, the necessary outputs (e.g. HDMI 2.0).
  • USB-C docks usually come with Power Delivery (PD) pass-through feature that can recharge compatible laptops.  Find out from the manufacturer how much power your laptop draws to see if it can be charged at full speed.  These docks usually highlight compatibility with MacBook Retina which requires 29W but majority of them are capped at 65W in charging capacity.
  • Found on some USB-C docks, DisplayLink is a proprietary video solution that shares bandwidth with connected USB devices.  The technology is praised for its scalability to adapt in different environment in addition to guaranteeing backward compatibility.  Its latest DL-6950 now boosts dual 4k output with 60Hz refresh rate, and can work alongside USB-C and USB Power Delivery so you have the best of both worlds.

Feature Comparison

D6000 Dock
LD4650P Dock
Travel Dock E
USB-C Dock
Mini USB-C Dock
USB-C Dual Adapter
Dock Type:DesktopDesktopMobileDesktopDesktopMobile
Supported Platform(s):Windows
Windows 10Windows
MacBook Pro
(2018 & later)
MacBook Air (2018)
Mac Mini (2018)
USB PD Output:65W60W100W60W85W60W
Self- or bus-powered?Self-poweredSelf-poweredBus-poweredSelf-poweredSelf-poweredBus-powered
USB Type-C Port(s):0001 (rear)00
USB Type-A Port(s):2 (rear),
2 (front)
4 (rear)23 (rear),
1 (front)
3 (rear),
1 (front)
Video Out(s):HDMI 2.0 (2),
DP 1.2 (2)
DP 1.2HDMI 2.0HDMI 1.4b
(or Mini DP 1.2)
HDMI 1.4bHDMI 1.4b
Multiple Display Support:YesYesNoNoNoYes
Max Video Res. at 60Hz:5120 x 2880
3840 × 2160
2560 x 1440
1920 x 1080
2560 x 1440 (single)
1920 x 1080 (dual)
2560 x 1440
1920 x 1080
2560 x 1440
1920 x 1080
2560 x 1440
1920 x 1080
3840 × 2160
2560 x 1440
1920 x 1080
Other ports(s):3.5mm audio
Gigabit Ethernet
Gigabit Ethernet
3.5mm audio
Gigabit Ethernet
3.5mm audio
SD slot
Gigabit Ethernet
3.5mm audio
Gigabit Ethernet
3.5mm audio
Micro SD slot
SD slot
Gigabit Ethernet
USB-C cable length:No cable included1.6 ft. USB-C cable6" tethered USB-C cable with built-In cable storage18" USB-C cable12" USB-C cable6.25" tethered USB-C cable
Available Color(s):BlackSilverSpace greySpace grey
Rose gold
BlackSpace grey
Dimensions:6.6" x 3.1" x 1.2"
16.8 x 7.8 x 3cm
12.6" x 8.7" x 1.7"
320 x 220 x 83mm
3.2" x 3.2" x 0.7"
80 x 80 x 17mm
5" x 12.5" x 3.25"3.8" x 3.5" x 1.25"4.94" x 1.94" x 0.75"
Weight:1.47 kg
3.21 lbs
120 g
4.16 oz
400 g
14.4 oz
102 g
3.6 oz
Release Date:201720192020201620172019
Warranty:1 year3 years2 years2 years1 year1 year

Dell’s Triple 4K Display USB-C Dock

Designed for three-monitor setup as well as compatibility with legacy USB-A laptops

The $200 Dell D6000 is vastly different than rest of the other USB-C docks featured here in that it employs DisplayLink’s highly scalable video technology to drive a total of three 4K displays simultaneously with two of them boosting 60Hz refresh rate.

To achieve this, DisplayLink simply uses the lanes reserved for USB 3.0 traffic on a USB-C cable for video. Enabling the third 4K display, however, requires your PC to have a USB-C port with video alternate mode. The dock additionally supports a single 5K output; though, this needs dual DisplayPort connections.

The Dell dock – powered by a 130W AC adapter – also charges up to 65W laptop over a USB-C cable. You will also find Gigabit Ethernet jack; four USB 3.0 Type-A ports; an audio combo port; and a Kensington security slot. Unlike other native USB-C docks, you have to install DisplayLink driver first before plugging in the D6000 to get this up and running.

Kensington’s USB-C Dock with F-Fob Lock

Full-featured USB-C dock with smart lock protection

Kensington’s anti-theft lock has long proven itself to be an indispensable tool in deterring laptop theft in office spaces. So, it wouldn’t surprise us to see the lock becoming a staple feature in Kensington’s own USB-C laptop dock, LD4650P.

To secure your laptop, you simply adjust the dock’s security arms, which serve as a pair of brackets, to hook around your notebook’s screen above the hinge. The arms themselves can be extended to fit laptops from a 11- to 15-inch screen. Finally, simply tapping one of the two key fobs electronically locks the arms that hold the laptop in place. There are also scratch-resistant bumpers that act as a cushion along the base and back to protect your laptop. For additional security for the dock itself, you have an option to loop the accompanying lock cable to a table, or to use Kensington’s trusty K-slot behind the unit.

In terms of connectivity, the Kensington USB-C dock provides dual DisplayPort outputs that can drive two 1080p or one 1440p monitors at 60Hz. You will also find an abundance of regular USB 3.1 Type-A ports including a pair of 10Gbps variant. Lastly, there’a a Gigabit Ethernet as well as an audio combo port. Everything from video to data and power goes through a single USB-C port. USB power delivery is rated at 60W. The Kensington LD4650P dock requires Windows 10 laptops with DisplayPort alternate mode over USB-C. As the dock features are pretty much OS agnostic, there should be support for MacBooks, if not Chromebooks.

OWC’s Travel Dock with 100W Passthrough

Mobile dock with enough passthrough power to recharge any high-powered USB-C laptops

When it comes to docks, functionality far outweighs looks.  At first sight, the OWC USB-C Travel Dock E isn’t much to write home about its pedestrian design.  Yet, the bus-powered mobile dock delivers the industry’s first 100W passthrough over USB-C.  Even though we expect most docks will eventually match this, the OWC for now offers a no-compromise solution for those who need a power passthrough that can recharge their laptops at full speed even under heavy load.

In the connectivity department, you will find a pair of USB 3.1 Type-A ports and a full-sized SD slot as well as a HDMI 2.0 jack and a Gigabit Ethernet port.  Just don’t expect 4k output at 60Hz refresh rate.  A 6-inch USB-C cable is tethered to the unit.  So OWC thoughtfully provides a hideaway compartment on the underside of the dock to securely stow the USB-C cable.  It’s worth mentioning that the OWC ships with a dock ejector software which, well, ejects all connected drives (whether they be a USB or SD) in a single click, giving you peace of mind that all data is being saved before drives are unmounted prematurely.

OWC’s Classy USB-C Dock for MacBooks

Full-featured, color-matching USB-C dock for your MacBooks

OWC takes a more conventional approach with this $169 USB-C dock.  Despite of its pedestrian rectangular prism design, the dock is complete with a piano block glossy surface that gives it a classy look.  The aluminum chassis is also available in 4 different colors to match that of MacBook Retina.  Suffice to say, OWC is primarily targeting at this particular group of customers.

There are 10 ports in total on this dock.  Front facing ports include a full-sized SD slot (with UHS-I support) and a high-powered USB port as well as an audio combo jack.  The 4 other USB 3.1 ports, including a USB-C, Gigabit Ethernet and HDMI 1.4b (up to 4k 30Hz) are on the back.  The other model has a mini DisplayPort in lieu of HDMI.

The dock’s accompanying 80W power brick has allocated up to 60W for laptop charging while the rest is reserved for the aforementioned ports.  That means the dock cannot charge MacBook Pro 15″.  Judging from its size, the OWC isn’t meant to lug around like the Marble DCS1 or the Samsung DeX.  BootCamp is supported out of the box, but Ethernet driver is required if you are still running OS X Yosemite and El Capitan.  Last but not least, OWC backs the USB-C dock with two years of warranty.

Plugable’s Mini 85W USB-C Dock

Compact USB-C desktop dock packing a punch in functionality

Having a full-featured USB-C dock doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice precious desktop space. The Plugable UD-CAM Mini Docking Station, measuring at 3.75” x 3.5” x 1.25”, has nearly everything you need in a compact form factor. Despite of its pedestrian design and size, you will find ample of ports for your connectivity needs.

On the rear, you will find 3 USB 3.0 ports with Gigabit Ethernet powered by Realtek RTL8153 as well as HDMI 1.4 out. A USB-C jack on the same side has the capability of sending 85W of power to charge most USB-PD compatible laptops. Plugable has always been upfront with their docks’ compatibility. You can check the test results on their official site. To top it off, the supplied AC adapter is rated at 100W so there’s enough juice to power everything from a laptop to the most power hungry peripherals.

On the front, there’s a fourth USB 3.0 port as well as a 3.5mm TRRS audio combo jack. Only missing is a built-in SD slot. Last but not least, the $129 Plugable Mini Docking Station also comes with a VESA mount which is immensely useful when paired with a compatible desk, stand and a monitor.

Satechi’s Mac-exclusive USB-C Dock

Dual HDMI USB-C dock especially designed for MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac Mini

This oversized adapter from Satechi is the company’s second attempt at a mobile USB-C dock for Macs.  Available in both space grey and and silver, this year model takes a new direction with its dual USB-C plug design.  This allows the dongle to actually work with a protective case, unlike previous version that needs to fit flush against the side of a MacBook Pro.

In the connectivity department, the Satechi can charge a MacBook Pro 13” or Air up to 60W through it USB PD passthrough port.  You can expect recharging at full speed even under heavy load for said laptops.  There are also a pair of HDMI ports, one of which can even send video output at 4k 60Hz.  You will also find two USB-A ports and MicroSD card reader (up to 104Mbps data transfer) as well as a Gigabit Ethernet jack.  Interestingly, the 2018 Mac Mini is compatible with the Satechi as the compact desktop’s USB-C ports are spaced identically as that of its laptop siblings.

Did we leave off any USB-C docks we should have included?  Let us know in the comment section below.

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