With a bandwidth of 40 Gb / s, the Thunderbolt 3 interface provides sufficient performance, even for connecting external video cards. In addition, Thunderbolt 3 can supply up to 100W of power to the interface. As a result, manufacturers first introduced Thunderbolt docking stations, which connect to the laptop with one cable, but not only provide additional interfaces, but also charge the battery. Our Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express HD Dock model just entered our test lab.
With the advent of new models of the MacBook Pro, which are equipped with only the Thunderbolt 3 interface in the USB Type C format, there was a demand for the corresponding docking stations. One of the first manufacturers to present their solutions Elgato and OWC. Of course, with a price of about 300 euros, these docks are by no means cheap, so the choice of the model should be treated biased.
Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express HD Dock is made in the format of an external docking station. The width is 205 mm, the depth is 90 mm, the height is 30 mm. Weight for a stationary docking station is hardly important. For stability from the bottom, four rubber feet are added.
Together with the dock, a Thunderbolt 3 cable 1 m long is attached, the power supply unit together with a set of plugs for sockets of different standards.
The dock is enclosed in a silver plastic case with an aluminum finish. Side panels Belkin made of glossy black plastic. Materials are inexpensive, but for similar desktop accessories they are quite typical. The docking station is located on four legs very stably, the upper and lower panels are slightly rounded.
Most interfaces are backward, but Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express HD Dock has a number of front connectors that are easy to reach. Namely one USB 3.0 Type A port and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. If you need to quickly connect a USB stick, you can use the appropriate USB port. On the left side of the front panel there is a LED indicating the power supply.
The two most important Thunderbolt 3 ports are located behind it. The Thunderbolt 3 interface provides a theoretical 40 Gb / s bandwidth. A laptop or desktop computer can be connected through any port of two, and the remaining one can be used to connect other devices through a chain or, for example, to connect a display. You will need a USB Type C adapter on DisplayPort or HDMI (but the dock also has a separate DisplayPort 1.2 port). The DisplayPort 1.2 bandwidth is sufficient for resolution up to UHD and update rates up to 60 Hz.
There are additional interfaces 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 2x USB 3.0 Type A, 1x 3.5 mm audio, 1x DisplayPort 1.2, as well as a power supply socket. The Ethernet port provides bandwidth up to 1,000 Mbps, two USB ports up to 5 Gb / s. But thanks to Thunderbolt 3 and 40 Gbit / s “bottlenecks” does not occur – even if you connect the UHD display via DisplayPort 1.2 and load the Type C ports.
Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express HD Dock is powered by an external power unit up to 170 watts. Port Thunderbolt 3 allows you to feed on a laptop up to 85 watts of power. It will be enough not only to work the laptop, but also to charge the built-in battery. Other docks, for example, provide power only 35 or 55 W, which is simply not enough to power the laptop and simultaneously charging the battery.
For tests, we used the last MacBook Pro with four Thunderbolt 3 ports. We connected a dock to it. Then we connected the UHD display to the DisplayPort output and connected two Thunderbolt DAS drives to the second Thunderbolt 3 port along the chain. We connected USB keyfobs to the three USB 3.0 ports and then copied a large file over the network via the Ethernet port. The files on the MacBook Pro were transmitted not only via Ethernet, but also to USB drives and connected Thunderbolt DAS.
We did not encounter the bottlenecks associated with the work of the docking station. On all drives, data was copied at a speed of more than 125 MB / s (USB-stick), as for Thunderbolt drives, we got from 280 to 300 MB / s. The total speed of all the transmissions was about 1.250 MB / s. SSD of our MacBook easily coped with this speed.And the resulting 10 Gb / s problems for Thunderbolt 3 did not cause.
If you often switch between the desktop and mobile modes of the laptop, it makes sense to purchase a docking station. Classic docking stations, which docked through a strip of contacts on the bottom of the laptop, gradually come off the stage. Such docks are too cumbersome and uncomfortable, even in the case of mobile workstations such as the ThinkPad.
More and more popular are external docks, connected through a universal interface. But only Thunderbolt 3 allows you to install many interfaces on the docking station, which will work at full speed. Thunderbolt 3 can provide lines of PCI Express, Ethernet interfaces, USB, DisplayPort and many others.
However, the new Thunderbolt 3 interface adds one more important feature that is not available with the old Thunderbolt docks: besides pure data transfer, it can be fed to plug-in power supplies. That’s why the dock uses a more powerful PSU. In our case, the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express HD Dock can supply up to 85 watts of power, which is enough to run the laptop and charge the battery. Interestingly, with the complete PSU Apple, our MacBook Pro was charged no faster.
Thus, in the docking state to the laptop, it is not necessary to additionally connect the power supply, which makes life easier. It is enough to connect a single cable, after which you will have access to all ports and interfaces. With the new dock Thunderbolt remained in the past one more drawback. Previously, external monitors worked only with low resolution or low refresh rate. Now it’s possible to connect UHD monitors – via DisplayPort or Type C port.
Of course, there remains the question of the price of the dock Thunderbolt 3. Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express HD Dock will cost from 350 euros in Europe. However, Thunderbolt 3 competitors are not cheaper at all. There are no significant differences in the set of interfaces. Unless the addition of a Thunderbolt 3 cable to the package can be considered a significant advantage. So Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express HD Dock can be bought safely.
Not every user is ready to part with a decent amount for the docking station. But decide for yourself, whether such a waste justifies the improvement of everyday comfort, if you often have to switch between mobile and stationary workplaces.