Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station, hands-on: A slimline laptop dock with host charging option

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Laptop docks that work with USB-C are quite commonplace these days, thanks to the trend for working from home, but docks that support the greater performance and versatility of Thunderbolt 3 are rarer, even though many Windows laptops now support Thunderbolt, as well as Apple's MacBooks. 

Plugable makes a wide range of hubs and docks, from high-end docks that support triple display set-ups for professional users, through to 'legacy' docks designed for PCs running Windows XP and DVI monitors. However, the best all-rounder for owners of Thunderbolt-equipped laptops is probably its Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station.  

There are actually two versions of this dock available. The more affordable option, with model number TBT3-UD1-83, is designed for use with a single external display and costs £194.95 (inc. VAT) or $169. Housed in a sturdy metal casing, the dock has a low-profile design that stands just 28mm high, 225mm wide and 80mm deep, so it'll fit easily on your desk or under your monitor without taking up too much space. It does require a mains power supply, so it's not particularly portable, and it's a shame that Plugable doesn't include a stand -- as it does with some of its other docks -- that allows you to orient the dock in an upright position. 


The front panel has one USB-A and one USB-C port.

Image: Plugable

The front panel is fairly plain, with just single USB-A and USB-C ports for quickly connecting devices. The back panel has a more extensive set of connectivity features, with Gigabit Ethernet for your office network, a second USB-A port, and two 3.5mm jacks for audio input and output. There's one DisplayPort adapter for connecting an external display, supporting up to 4K resolution with a 60Hz refresh rate. Plugable also includes a DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter in the box, although this only provides 30Hz refresh for 4K displays. 

And, as you might expect, the dock also provides two Thunderbolt 3 ports -- although this is where things get a little complicated. One of these ports is used to connect your Mac or PC, leaving the second Thunderbolt port available for additional Thunderbolt devices. However, the Thunderbolt ports on the less expensive TBT3-UD1-83 model only support data transfer, so you can't charge a laptop or connect an external display via Thunderbolt.  


The $169 model (TBT3-UD1-83, top) has two Thunderbolt 3 ports but does not charge the host laptop; on the $229 model (TBT3-UD1-85W, above), one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports supports 85W host charging.

Images: Plugable

Plugable also sells a slightly more expensive version of the dock, with model number TBT3-UD1-85W. This model looks identical, and has the same set of connectors on its front and back panels, but one of its Thunderbolt ports provides 85W power output for charging a laptop, while the second Thunderbolt port can support video output for a second display. This model is slightly more expensive, costing $229 in the US, although it doesn't seem to have arrived in the UK yet. 

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Of course, many laptop owners will find that a less expensive USB-C dock is perfectly adequate for their needs, but if you do have a laptop that supports Thunderbolt 3, then the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station is a compact and versatile solution for office- and home-based workers.


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