The new year is here, and everyone's excited to get back to work. But if you've purchased a new Thunderbolt 3 equipped laptop, such as one of the new M1 Macbook Pros, or one of the few Thunderbolt 4 equipped laptops, such as the current crop of Lenovo and Dell models, you've probably noticed you are lacking in USB-C and also Ethernet ports. And, perhaps, you also need to drive multiple monitors, as well as external keyboards and mice.
The new SD5700T docking station ($319.99), just released for Kensington, seeks to make life easier for all those laptop users that, until now, have had to contend with port-deprived, jury-rigged desktop setups. I myself, for the last two years, have been one of these users, having migrated to the 2018-2019 16-inch MacBook Pro and needing to connect two external 4K monitors, in addition to several other USB peripherals as well as a hard-wired gigabit Ethernet connection.
Like all other MacBook Pro users, I quickly discovered the four Thunderbolt 3 ports on the laptop were insufficient. Sure, I could drive two monitors with twin Thunderbolt to DisplayPort cables (MST isn't supported; you can't "daisy-chain" DisplayPort devices on a Mac, as you can with Windows and Linux systems), but that leaves just one port free because one has to be taken up by an external power supply.
My previous solution to this was the CalDigit TS3 Plus ($249), which is a similar Thunderbolt 3 product that supports dual external 4K monitors (one with DisplayPort and one with Thunderbolt), as well as five extra USB ports, Ethernet, and various audio ports.
The SD5700T is definitely a step up from the CalDigit, at least for my use. With a single Thunderbolt cable coming out of the MacBook Pro (leaving three of the ports free for other use), I'm able to power/charge the laptop using the 90W USB PD connection and drive twin 27-inch 4K Samsung monitors with a dedicated Ethernet port, with room to plug in USB-C and USB-A devices.
The powered dock has the following features if you want to push the envelope with peripheral connectivity:
- Connect up to 3 Thunderbolt devices (version 3 or 4) directly or up to six in an MST daisy-chain (Windows or Linux) using four Thunderbolt 4 ports.
- Four USB-A ports (single 5V/1.5A in front, three Gen2 10Gbps in rear)
- UHS-II SD 4.0 card reader
- Headphone micro-jack
- Transfer speeds up to 40Gbps
- Dual 4K 60Hz video output (or single 8K 30Hz)
- Gigabit Ethernet
- 90W USB Power Delivery (PD) via included external power connector and block
The only downside to using this configuration is the same I have experienced with the CalDigit: Sometimes, the order in which the external monitors power up and instantiate themselves isn't the way I want (the one on the right gets swapped for the one on the left, and it requires going into System Preferences > Displays > Arrangement to fix it). I believe this to be a MacOS-specific problem and not the dock hardware. Still, it's something you'll likely need to deal with a few times a week when your laptop goes to sleep -- in MacOS 11. You can also go into System Preferences > Battery > Power Adapter and click on "Prevent computer from sleeping automatically when the display is off," but that will chew up more energy.
Overall, I think the SD5700T is a great solution for port-constrained home-based and office workers who want to get more connectivity with their Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 laptops.