By Mark Hachman
Senior Editor, PCWorld |
With Thunderbolt ports becoming more common in laptops, a Thunderbolt dock can be an important accessory. Think of the Thunderbolt dock as a more powerful, high-speed alternative to a USB-C hub, adding I/O expansion to your laptop, in the form of extra ports for mice, keyboards, external drives, SD cards, and, most importantly, displays. It can even charge your laptop and other devices.
Indeed, one important way that a Thunderbolt dock differs from its USB-C cousin is bandwidth. While a USB-C hub can support a single 4K display, often at an eye-wearying 30Hz refresh rate. Thunderbolt hubs can support up to two 4K displays, and at a comfortable 60Hz. If your laptop includes a Thunderbolt port, chances are it supports the Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 standard, both of which provide 40Gbps. Intel launched the Thunderbolt 4 specification in July 2020 as part of its 11th-gen "Tiger Lake" Core laptops, and the specification has become popular on gaming laptops.
The bandwidth behind Thunderbolt 4 is enough to drive those displays and shuttle data back and forth between peripherals without causing your display to flicker or your video stream to stutter. Of course, you can expect Thunderbolt docks to also carry a price premium (typically $140 to $300, compared to a USB-C dock’s $20 to $70 range.)