As mobile professionals, it’s common to shuffle back and forth from your desk with your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. However, using these laptops as desktop alternatives straight out of the box can be a challenge. Despite giving you a choice of ports, modern MacBooks only come with Thunderbolt ports, which are oval-shaped and can be either Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4. To understand the difference between Thunderbolt and USB-C, you can check out our primers on the two technologies.
While Thunderbolt and wireless connectivity are adequate for most people on the go, many offices still use legacy ports such as HDMI, USB 3.0, SD card readers, and Ethernet for wired connections. With the pandemic limiting travel and most of us working from home, having the flexibility to switch between a single laptop screen in the living room and a multi-screen setup at your desk is essential. However, relying on a slew of USB-C adapters or dongles can be a hassle. Fortunately, a MacBook docking station is a great solution to this problem, short of purchasing a desktop Mac.
To help you find the right desktop peripheral setup for your Apple laptop, we’ve compiled a list of the best MacBook docking stations for 2023:
Anker’s PowerExpand 5-in-1 Thunderbolt 4 Mini Dock
Anker’s PowerExpand 5-in-1 Thunderbolt 4 Mini Dock ($199.99) is here to take care of all your docking station needs. Designed to provide maximum functionality, it triples your Thunderbolt 4 port and adds a USB 3.1 Type-A port, all while providing 85 watts of power to your laptop for fast charging. Its three downstream ports offer 15 watts to charge your handheld devices and can transfer data at a whopping 40Gbps, allowing you to copy a 20GB file in just over 10 seconds. With a compact size of 0.9 by 4.9 by 2.8 inches, the dock can easily drive two 4K monitors at 60Hz or one 8K display at 30Hz. Note that M1 MacBooks only support one external monitor.
Belkin’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini HD
Belkin’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Mini HD ($139.99) is another sleek and compact option, measuring 0.8 by 5.1 by 3.1 inches. With a 6.8-inch cable, this docking station provides a USB 3.0 Type-A port, a USB 2.0 port, a gigabit Ethernet port, and two HDMI ports supporting 4K resolution at 60Hz. It is protected by a sturdy aluminum enclosure and comes with a two-year warranty. Weighing just 6.3 ounces, it is as light as a wireless mouse and won’t weigh you down.
Also read: Transform Your Mac Mini Into Media Center With These Tips!
The Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock
The Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock ($259.99) is a comprehensive docking station that turns a single Thunderbolt 3 port into nine ports and slots. It includes two data-only USB-C and two data-only USB-A ports, two DisplayPort outputs that support a 4K signal at 60Hz, a gigabit Ethernet port, a headset audio jack, and an SD card reader, plus a Kensington security-cable notch to keep your docking station tethered to your desk. With a 0.9-inch height and an 8.9-by-3.3-inch footprint, it is larger than the other options mentioned but provides maximum connectivity. The included 100-watt power supply supports 85-watt fast charging for your MacBook.
The Dockcase Smart Hub 7-in-1
The Dockcase Smart Hub 7-in-1 ($99.99) is another great option for expanding a USB Type-C port. This gadget turns one USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 or higher port into three 5Gbps USB-A 3.0 ports, one USB-C charging port, an HDMI 2.0 port that can drive a 4K monitor at 60Hz, and SD and microSD card slots that can work simultaneously. It also has a 1.3-inch color LCD that shows port status, device types, and real-time chip temperature. The Dockcase is made of zinc alloy and tempered glass and comes in an integrated version that’s $20 cheaper but has a non-detachable 100-watt USB-C cable.
The J5Create M.2 NVMe USB-C Gen 2 Docking Station
The J5Create M.2 NVMe USB-C Gen 2 Docking Station ($149.99) is a unique way to expand your MacBook’s storage. The dock has a compartment for an NVMe or SATA M.2 solid-state drive (up to size 2280; not included) and connects to your laptop using two USB-C cables. It offers 100 watts of Power Delivery pass-through and has 4K DisplayPort and HDMI video outputs, a gigabit Ethernet port, SD and microSD card slots, and three USB Type-A ports (one 5Gbps and two 10Gbps). The gray and black aluminum dock is 1-by-12.5-by-3.1 inches and has a security cable lock slot to keep it secure at your desk. While its 10Gbps USB-C interface isn’t as fast as a laptop’s internal PCI Express connection, it’s a great option for expanding your MacBook’s storage capacity.
The Kensington SD2500T Thunderbolt 3 Dual 4K Hybrid Nano Dock
The Kensington SD2500T Thunderbolt 3 Dual 4K Hybrid Nano Dock, priced at $199.99, provides users with one USB-C port, two DisplayPorts, three USB 3.2 Type-A ports, a gigabit Ethernet jack, a 3.5mm audio jack, an SD card reader, and a microSD card reader. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Mini Dock, on the other hand, is a portable docking station that features one USB 3.1 Type-A port, one USB 2.0 Type-A port, two HDMI ports supporting 4K displays, and a gigabit Ethernet port. The aluminum dock also includes OWC’s Dock Ejector software, which ensures data is written before disconnection.
The Satechi Thunderbolt 4 Dock
The Satechi Thunderbolt 4 Dock, priced at $299.99, provides users with three 40Gbps Thunderbolt 4 ports with 15-watt charging, three 10Gbps USB 3.2 Type-A ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, an SD card reader, a legacy USB 2.0 port, and a 3.5mm audio jack. It weighs just under a pound and supports dual 4K monitors with a refresh rate of 60Hz. Another Satechi product, the USB-C Multimedia Adapter M1, designed for M1 MacBooks, features two HDMI monitor ports supporting 4K resolution, two 5Gbps USB Type-A data ports, one 5Gbps USB-C data port, and one 85-watt USB-C charging port.
Also read: Best Curved Monitor for MacBook Pro: Top Picks for a Seamless User Experience
The Plugable USB-C Quad HDMI Docking Station
The Plugable USB-C Quad HDMI Docking Station, priced at $299, provides users with four HDMI ports, four 5Gbps USB 3.0 ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, and a USB-C 3.2 connection to the laptop with 96-watt charging. It also offers an SD card reader, audio-in and -out jacks, and a 5Gbps USB-C port with 20-watt charging for phones or other handhelds.
The VisionTek VT7100 Triple Display 4K Docking Station with 100W Power Delivery
The VisionTek VT7100 Triple Display 4K Docking Station with 100W Power Delivery, priced at $369, drives up to three monitors and delivers 100 watts of power to charge the laptop. It also provides users with four 5Gbps USB 3.1 Type-A ports, a front USB-C 3.1 port, an audio jack, a gigabit Ethernet jack, and a USB 2.0 quick-charge port. This silver aluminum docking station stands 8.7 inches high and has a footprint of 6.3 by 3.7 inches.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can a MacBook Pro support dual monitors?
Yes, MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2023) and MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2023) models with the M2 Pro chip can support up to two external displays at the same time, based on the resolution (up to 8K) and refresh rate (up to 240Hz) of each external display.
How do I use dual monitors with my MacBook Pro?
To use dual monitors, connect a monitor to your MacBook Pro using HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, USB-C, or Thunderbolt ports. If your monitor doesn’t have the right input for your MacBook Pro, you may need to buy a special cable or adapter. After connecting your monitors, go to the Apple menu > Displays > Arrangement and uncheck the Mirror Displays box to use dual monitors.
Do I need a docking station for dual monitors?
Typically, you can use one of the available ports on your MacBook Pro to connect your first external monitor. However, if you want to use a third display or need more ports, you may need to use a docking station to add additional ports to your MacBook Pro.