As I’ve been testing enterprise laptops, one of the things l like to do is see how well they work in a multiple monitor setup. This isn’t what you need on the road, but more and more I see office workers being given laptops that they can use both in the office and at home, where having multiple monitors is often a nice way of increasing productivity.
In an earlier story, I looked at some of the wide variety of docks that exist for connecting modern laptops. Where in years past, each vendor often had a proprietary connector for docks, today laptops use the USB-C connector and in many cases, if you’re using a laptop with an Intel chip, Thunderbolt to provide connectivity. All of the major laptop vendors now offer USB-C or Thunderbolt docks. I previously looked at Dell’s WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock, and Lenovo’s ThinkPad Thunderbolt 3 Dock Gen 2.
Since then I’ve worked with a couple of newer docks, including HP’s USB-C Dock G5 and OWC’s Thunderbolt Dock (pictured at top). As before I tried each with a number of laptops, using both a 2,560 by 1,440 HDMI monitor and an FHD DisplayPort monitor, along with a wireless keyboard and mouse.
The HP Dock has two full-size DisplayPort ports and one HDMI port on the back, as well as two full-size USB 3.0 ports and an Ethernet connector; on the front it has one 15-watt USB-C port out, as well as a USB-C cable to connect to the host laptop that can support up to 100 watts to HP systems and 75 watts on non-HP systems. This dock worked well with HP’s Elite Dragonfly Max, though I found the Elite Folio performed too slowly with multiple monitors with any dock.
At $229, it’s somewhat less expensive than the Dell or Lenovo products. It’s a bit less capable as well – USB-C 3.0 is limited in speed to 10 Gbps, compared with the 40 Gbps supported by Thunderbolt 3 or 4; and it offers less power out than the Dell, as it’s not designed for workstation-class laptops.
For comparison, the Dell dock has connectors to support four monitor connections: 1 through HDMI, 2 through full-size DisplayPort, and another through DisplayPort over USB-C, along with two USB 3.1 (full size, Type-A) ports and an Ethernet connector on the back; and a USB-C, two USB-A ports with power, and an audio jack on the front; and supports up to 150 watts of power out. (A newer version, the WD19TBS, which has a list price of about $300, removed the audio jack, and supposedly delivers up to 210 watts to Dell systems and 90 watts to non-Dell systems).
The Lenovo dock has two sets of HDMI and full-size DisplayPort ports on the back – though in each set, you can only use one of the ports, as well as a special USB-C port used to connect to your computer. There is also an Ethernet jack, and four USB 3.1 (Type-A), one with power on the back, as well as a USB-C, USB-A, and an audio jack on the front. It supports 65 watts out, enough for most business laptops (though not mobile workstations). It has a list price of $320.
One of the things I’ve found interesting is that dock compatibility isn’t always what you’d like. For instance, when I tested the latest Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga, I had trouble with the HDMI monitor flickering with Lenovo’s own dock, but when I used the OWC Thunderbolt Dock, everything worked great.
Speaking about the OWC dock, it has three Thunderbolt 4 sockets on the back, along with three full-size USB-A sockets (full size, USB 3, 10 Gbps) and a Gigabit Ethernet connector. The front has an SD card reader, a slower USB 2.0 slot, an audio jack, and a Thunderbolt 4 connector that you’ll use to power your laptop, with a list price of $279. In some ways, this is more flexible, but maybe not as convenient. I needed HDMI and DisplayPort adapters to connect to the USB-C/Thunderbolt sockets on the back for my monitors. (OWC says it supports two 4K displays or a single 5K/6K/8K display, though I didn’t have a higher-res monitor to try.) But having so many Thunderbolt ports will be great if you want to use multiple fast SSDs, such as OWC’s Envoy Pro series. This dock supports up to 90 watts of power, and I’ve tried this dock with laptops from HP, Lenovo, and Dell with no problems, though like most of the docks, it doesn’t have enough power for a workstation-class machine. While I understand the appeal of buying a dock from the laptop vendor, the OWC dock is a great compatible alternative.
If you want a smaller, more portable dock, I also tried OWC’s USB-C Travel Dock E, which has only one HDMI 2.0, along with two USB 3.2 5 Gbps ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and an SD card reader, and a USB-C port you’ll need to power the dock and pass-through up to 100 watts. This too worked fine with the 4K display. At $64.99, it competes more with Kingston’s Nucleum hub, which I reviewed earlier, but offers Ethernet and more power.