More and more modern laptops are ditching older, chunkier ports for the multipurpose, svelte Thunderbolt 3 port that takes the form of USB-C. Thunderbolt 3 ports can be used to charge, to connect displays, or to connect pretty much any other accessories when you add a dock to the equation. The only problem here is that Thunderbolt 3 docks are still relatively new, and you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on a single piece of hardware. To make things easier for anyone who needs a budget dock now, I've rounded up some of the cheapest options out there.
Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 docking station
While most Thunderbolt 3 docking stations come with the ability to charge your laptop while everything is plugged in, this option from Cable Matters (about $160) is capped at 15W, effectively keeping the price down. You can still feed some juice to your peripherals, but don't expect your laptop to receive power at the same time.
You're still looking at a good port selection, including Ethernet, two USB-A 3.0, two Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort, and USB-C 3.1, and there are dual 3.5mm jacks for headphones and mic. If you don't mind plugging your laptop into power while using a dock, this is about as low of a price you'll find.
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 docking station
Another option that doesn't support host charging — meaning you'll have to keep your laptop plugged into power while using the dock — this station from Plugable (about $180) nevertheless delivers the ports you need for a lower price.
You're getting Ethernet, two USB-A 3.0, two Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort, 3.5mm mic and headphones jacks, and USB-C 3.0. Keep in mind that you won't be able to hook up dual 4K displays right out of the box and still get a 60Hz refresh rate, but it's certainly a low-cost option if you like running a single external monitor.
CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 dock
CalDigit's no stranger to making laptop accessories, and its Thunderbolt Station 3 dock (about $220) delivers 11 ports and 85W charging capabilities for your laptop or accessories.
Plug in dual 4K displays and see a 60Hz refresh rate, or daisy chain accessories thanks to two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Also included are three USB-A 3.1, DisplayPort, two eSATA (6GB), Ethernet, and 3.5mm audio and microphone jacks. For a bit more connectivity for a bit more money, also have a look at the Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus.
Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 aluminum dock
Coming in at about $200, the Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 dock can deliver 60W of charging power to your laptop and accessories, plus it can be used for dual 4K displays with 60Hz refresh rates. The Wirecutter gave this dock a nod in its review, stating:
If the CalDigit dock is out of stock or jumps in price, or if you're willing to go without USB-C ports and the fastest possible charging with larger laptops to save a few dollars, the Cable Matters Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station with 60W Power Delivery offers the same number of USB-A ports (five) as our top pick and an SD card slot for a slightly lower price.
This is a slim dock that sits flat on your desk, but it still manages to pack in five USB-A ports, HDMI, two Thunderbolt 3 (great for daisy-chaining accessories), Ethernet, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm headset jack.
Have you found a cheap Thunderbolt 3 docking station that works well but isn't mentioned here? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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