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Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock review: Glorious external NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics

Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3 (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

For a few years now, enterprise users have often grabbed docking stations with their favorite Ultrabook laptops. By allowing port expansion and multiple displays the docks, which are often not cheap, lets users have one computer to use all the time.

But what if you combined a port replicator dock with NVIDIA GTX 1050? That's exactly what Lenovo did with its Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock (G0A10170UL), and today I'll tell if it's worth the $399.

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Lenovo Graphics Dock: What it is

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock

The Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock works with all laptops that also have a Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port (sorry, Surface Book 2). It lets users add many more ports including multiple display outputs, Ethernet, and get a graphics boost from an NVIDIA GTX 1050.

CategorySpec
GraphicsNVIDIA GTX 1050 with 4GB GDDR5
Ports1x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
2x Display Port 1.2
1x HDMI 2.0
1x Gigabit Ethernet
1x Audio out
1x Thunderbolt 3
SecurityKensington lock slot
Power170W charger (proprietary)
Weight1.5lbs (680g)

It is surprising how small the dock is, including its 1.5-pound weight (without charger). While this dock is meant for the desktop and more permanent setups, it can easily fit into a bag or suitcase if one needs some extra power at a different location.

Build quality is decent, but nothing exceptional. The plastic materials used may make it feel a bit cheaper, but it also keeps the weight down versus an all-metal enclosure.

Who it's for

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock

While the Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock can be used for gaming its primary design is for owners of Lenovo ThinkPads – like the X1 Carbon or X1 Yoga – who need more graphics power in the office.

With this dock, users can now have up to three 4K displays running off their laptops plus Ethernet and a handful of USB Type-A ports all while charging through a single USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 cable.

This combo of features makes it ideal for creators who do some light video or photo editing, running Windows Mixed Reality, using large data sets in Microsoft Excel, compiling data, or app development.

Hardcore gamers will want something more like a Razer Core v2, which lets you pick your own GPU — like one from our roundup of the best graphics cards — and upgrade later. The downside with a Razer Core is price, $499 for Razer Core v2 (opens in new tab), or $299 for Razer Core X (opens in new tab) plus you still need to buy a video card. Neither system is as portable either as the Lenovo dock.

For graphics performance the GTX 1050 with 4GB of memory yields 75,000 on Geekbench 4.0, which is exactly in line with the Surface Book 2 13-inch, which has the same GPU. That is good enough for some light to medium-level gaming including many arcade fighters, side-scrollers, and first-person shooters.

What you'll hate about the Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock

The price and no ability to upgrade the GPU immediately raise some flags. The price, however, is not that bad. Dell's popular Thunderbolt 3 dock TB16 (opens in new tab) is around $205, and that doesn't even have a GPU. Paying extra for an external GTX 1050 may be worth it for some versus no other option.

You can also find the dock on sale for $370, and corporate discounts through Lenovo can drop the price down to $340. That makes it a great purchase for IT departments, which is the primary audience here.

Three graphics options on the MateBook X Pro + Lenovo Graphics Dock.

Not being able to upgrade the GPU is a bummer but expected for such a small and portable design. If you wanted something where you can swap out the cards and use full, desktop class GPUs, well, you have choices on the market for years already.

Software wise the Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock can also be tricky. Even on a ThinkPad X1 Carbon, it had some initial setup hiccups including Windows crashing. Things get more complicated if your laptop has onboard graphics already like the Huawei MateBook X Pro – which works fine (so long as you use an external display).

Finally, if your laptop doesn't even have Thunderbolt 3 support like the Surface Book 2 or Surface Pro then don't bother as this won't work at all.

Should you buy the Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock?

The Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock is meant for corporate, IT, education and pro environments versus vanilla customers or gamers. From that perspective, the dock is a success. If you own a ThinkPad with Thunderbolt 3 support, this suddenly makes your laptop that much more powerful and useful.

Letting people carry around a 2.5lb laptop for work and then dock to a nice GPU like the GTX 1050 was simply not an option a few months ago – not without spending twice as much for a giant Razer Core.

While it's easy to look at this dock as just the GTX 1050 you are also paying for that Gigabit Ethernet, three USB ports, and three display outputs so you can plug in multiple 4K displays or power your Windows Mixed Reality headset. When taken as a package the dock is a good deal – albeit not cheap.

It's exciting to see for really the first-time external graphics coming to the business and enterprise user rather than just gamers. That's the second step in mainstreaming this technology for regular consumers. If people buy them, more will be made with additional options for graphics and more. That could be very exciting.

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Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

10 Comments
  • Folks, remember this is not for gamers, but business/enterprise/IT and pro users who want a thin work laptop but the ability to run three 4K monitors, dev on a machine, do some video encoding, or even Windows Mixed Reality work. For some reason conversations around this device get hijacked by the gamer crowd who lament it's not a GTX 1060, or the price is too expensive (even if Razer Core v2 costs $100 more without a card), etc. This isn't for you and that's OK. Suggesting "it'd just be cheaper to by a gaming box" misses the entire point. Buying a thick gaming laptop or an XPS 15 is not the same as an enterprise-ready PC like EliteBook, ThinkPad, or Latitude, which this is more tuned for.
  • I wish this would've come out last year. I upped my 5-yr. old ultrabook (for work) to a gaming laptop so I could try out WMR, but if this were around, I would have bundled this with a more typical work laptop.
  • I've got one in the mail, they had a sale on these for $280 last week. IMO the biggest miss of this product is the fact that there's no USB-A or USB-C on the back. This means that you'll likely end up with at least one wire connected permanently to the front for peripherals. Not the end of the world, but not the most elegant solution for a dock.
  • Id say this actually is pretty decent for gaming. I bought this many months ago for my Intel Skull Canyon NUC. As a matter of fact, its gaming performance is quite exceptional and I've been able to max out many newish games. You are right though that the drivers have a few quirks here and there, especially on an unsupported device, plus the graphics drivers depend on Lenovo who haven't updated the drivers since launch back in February. That prevents me from playing some games like Wolfenstein 2 anymore since it requires a certain driver version and I can't update through nvidia's app. Oh also this has been advertised as VR capable and I have tested it with several VR and mixed reality games/apps. It actually works very well and the performance is fine. It's an impressive GTX 1050 with 2x the memory found in most GTX 1050.
  • Thx for sharing...
  • Could someone suggest link how to make use of both the internal Nvidia and external Nvidia (e. g. Lenovo dock) in parallel using tensorflow for windows 10 in laptop with thunderbolt 3???? thnx..
  • Does this need 4 lanes of PCIe? Can we use our laptop display as primary and only display?
  • I know we've seen a lot of these docks recently that can add graphical power, but would it be in the realm of possibility to add more processing horsepower too? I don't have the need for added graphical power, but I would love to carry around an ultrabook that I could dock at home with a desktop-class processor. Has something like this ever been talked about?
  • It really triggers me to see that everyone just has these overpriced razer egpu boxes in their head meanwhile Aorus sells eGPUs with a GTX 1080 for 699, 1070 for 599 and RX 580 for 499,
  • Was this ever refreshed? I'd like to buy a surface like tablet with Thunderbolt 3 port for portability but to have a eGPU for lite gaming (AoE remaster) while I'm at my desk. Of lobe for microsoft to do it with surface but I just don't see that happening :(