Amazon Prime Day offers an opportunity to find the best deals on Thunderbolt docks, a powerful, pricey accessory to expand your PC’s capabilities. USB-C hubs and dongles, thankfully, offer a cheaper alternative. Either way, we’ve hunted down the best deals in both categories in anticipation of Amazon Prime Day, which runs July 11 and 12.
We’d expect that Amazon will limit its best deals to Prime members, so consider signing up for the free 30-day trial. We’ve collected the best deals from Amazon as well as other retailers to present the best I/O bargains on Thunderbolt docks and USB-C hubs. We’ll also explain why we chose our deals, below, and offer additional buying advice. Let’s be clear: Thunderbolt docks rarely go on sale, so any discounts are welcome.
- Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock, 60W charging, $203.99 (18% off at Best Buy)
- Kensington SD2500T Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station, 60W charging, $164.01 (25% off on Amazon)
- Plugable TBT3-UDZ Docking Station, 96W charging, $229.95 ($20 off at Amazon with coupon)
- Anker Apex 777 12-in-1 Thunderbolt Dock, 90W charging, $239.20 (20% off at Amazon with coupon)
- CalDigit TS3 Plus, 87W charging, $269.95 ($30 off at Amazon)
We reviewed the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Core (not the model that’s on sale) and really liked it. The Kensington SD2500T is the cheaper little brother of the Kensington SD5500T, a much-loved dock which offers more ports. Our review of the Plugable TBT3-UDZ awarded it the title of the “Cadillac of Thunderbolt docks” and an Editor’s Choice award.
Our review of the Anker Apex 777 dock revealed some shortcomings, but knocking 20 percent off the price certainly helps. Nor were we terrifically impressed with the CalDigit TS3, either, but as our TS3 Plus review showed, it’s perfectly serviceable.
Early Prime Day deals on USB-C hubs, docks, and dongles
We haven’t reviewed the Wavlink docking station, but it supplies the capabilities of Thunderbolt via DisplayLink, a compression technology we’ve been impressed with. There are tons of ports, but no laptop charging. It’s at the price we’ve hoped these devices would achieve, though. The Hiearcool and Anker hubs are similar, but Anker is a more familiar name that includes an 18-month warranty.
What to look for when buying a Thunderbolt dock or USB-C hub
Though we consider a Thunderbolt dock and a USB-C hub to be two separate product categories, they share similarities. Both use a USB-C output from your laptop. The difference is that some laptops use this port as a generic USB-C port, and others route the high-speed Thunderbolt 3 or 4 protocol through the USB-C socket. The former allows for typically 10Gbps of throughput, useful for USB keys, external storage, and perhaps an external display.
Thunderbolt (either Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4) allows for 40Gbps of throughput, designed for high-speed external SSDs and multiple displays. Our roundups of the best USB-C hubs and the best Thunderbolt docks explain further in much greater detail.
Put simply, USB-C hubs and dongles are relatively cheap, rarely climbing over $60. Prime Day is an opportunity to pick up a USB-C hub with inputs for USB expansion, Ethernet, SD cards, and more for very little — all ports that your laptop might lack. Just don’t go too crazy: All of the devices that the USB-C connects to will transfer data over the same 10Gbps port. That’s fine for a keyboard, mouse, and a hard drive which will power on, send data, and turn off. But sending a fire hose of simultaneous Ethernet, storage, and display data won’t work. You’ll need a Thunderbolt dock (and a laptop port) instead.
Thunderbolt docks require more care. Here, consider what you want to do: connect a pair of 4K displays with HDMI? Look for Thunderbolt docks with a pair of HDMI ports. DisplayPort connections will work, but you’ll need a cheap intermediary cable. Thunderbolt docks have historically been in short supply, so this is an opportunity to pick up a pricey accessory at a discount. However, they’re almost a must for a home office.
I have a USB-C port on my laptop. How do I know what to use with it?
Consult your laptop’s manual. A Thunderbolt port may be labeled with a small lightning-bolt logo, but that icon can sometimes be used to signal that that port can be used for charging, too. If nothing else, a USB-C dongle/hub will always work with a USB-C port.
I still don’t understand what the difference is between USB-C and Thunderbolt. How does it all work?
USB ports have been around for years. USB-C replaced USB-A (the square port) because USB-C was more versatile: the port connector was both reversible and allowed for higher speeds. USB-C ports can be rated for either 5Gbps or 10Gbps, just like a normal USB-A port. Some USB-C ports connect to a Thunderbolt chip inside your laptop, though, and this allows the port to run at a higher 40Gbps speed. Physically, the connector looks exactly the same. It’s just what it can do that’s different.
What’s the difference between a USB-C hub and a Thunderbolt dock?
Speed and features. A USB-C hub connects to a single 4K (or 1080p) display, and provides a mix of ports: USB-A, SD card slots, and so on. You can usually plug in your laptop’s USB-C power cable (if it uses one) right into it.
A Thunderbolt dock supplies even more bandwidth for more ports. There are two key differences: it has enough bandwidth to drive a pair of 4K displays, and many docks come with their own power supply that can charge your laptop as well as your phone. All that occurs via the Thunderbolt cable that connects your laptop to the dock.
My laptop has USB4, not Thunderbolt. Can I use a Thunderbolt dock?
Yes and no. Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4, and USB4 all run at 40Gbps across the same connector. USB4 is identical to Thunderbolt 4. But if your laptop runs USB4, it won’t “understand” Thunderbolt 3 protocols.
USB4 laptops are still extremely rare, and have an AMD Ryzen chip inside.
Is Thunderbolt 4 better than Thunderbolt 3?
Physically, they use the same USB-C cable. Functionally, they’re almost the same. Thunderbolt 4 was released almost as a patch to Thunderbolt 3, ensuring that everything worked properly. If your laptop has Thunderbolt, you should probably be able to buy either a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 dock without any problems. However, since Thunderbolt 3 is being phased out, you’ll probably find more discounts on the older Thunderbolt 3 hardware. (For the gory details, see our roundup of the best Thunderbolt docks.)