Review: Belkin's $350 Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD Looks Great, but Could Use More Ports

With the flood of full-featured Thunderbolt 3 docks about to hit the market, it's time to take a look at Belkin's Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD, one of the major contenders users have been waiting for in addition to the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock and CalDigit TS3 that we've also recently reviewed. As with the other docks we've looked at, Belkin's offering includes a variety of ports and even charging capabilities all over a single Thunderbolt 3 cable, making it a great option for turning the new MacBook Pro into a robust desktop setup.


Belkin's Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD is launching this Monday, June 5 (exact time still to be determined), and will be available directly from Belkin and through Apple, as well as from other select retailers, but we've already had a chance to spend a little time with it to see how it compares to the competition.

The Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD is fairly stylish, with a horizontal design constructed primarily of aluminum and tapering slightly back to front in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. The sides and rear port panel of the dock are a glossy black plastic that come with a clear plastic protection film that's surprisingly difficult to get a fingernail under to remove.

At 8.17 inches maximum width by 3.4 inches deep by a maximum of 1.2 inches high, it has the same general footprint as OWC's dock and CalDigit's TS3 Lite. The silver aluminum finish complements silver MacBook Pro machines well, and the darker gray Belkin logo and word mark in the front corner of the top are not overly distracting. A small LED near the left side of the front glows orange when there is power to the dock and turns green when the dock is connected to a computer.


As with other docks, Belkin's offering comes with a fairly large external power brick that rivals the dock itself in size, although it can usually be tucked away a bit. Belkin also includes a 1-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable in the box.

Like the CalDigit TS3 and Elgato's upcoming dock, Belkin's dock supports up to 85 watts of charging power over its Thunderbolt 3 cable, enough for not only the 13-inch MacBook Pro but also its larger 15-inch sibling. Docks with lower ratings, such as OWC's at 60 watts, may be unable to keep up sufficiently with a 15-inch MacBook Pro under heavy load.


One area where Belkin's dock comes up a bit short is in the array of ports offered. The front of the dock includes a single USB 3.0 (5 Gbps) Type-A port and a combined audio in/out port for easy access. The rear of the dock hosts a Gigabit Ethernet port, an audio port, two more USB 3.0 Type-A ports, a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a DisplayPort port. It's a basic set of options that may be sufficient for many users, but there aren't any advanced options here as seen on some other docks, and something as simple as a few more USB ports would have been nice to include.


As with other Thunderbolt 3 docks, Belkin's dock can support a single 5K display or dual displays at up to 4K resolution using a combination of one Thunderbolt 3 port, the DisplayPort port, and any necessary adapters.

Priced at $349.99, Belkin's dock is a bit more expensive than most of the other flagship models, which tend to come in at around $300, although Belkin's previous docks have frequently been available at less than list prices through Amazon and other retailers, so we'll have to wait and see whether that premium based on list prices can be overcome once it launches.

At the full $350 list price, it's hard to recommend the Belkin dock over other options though, especially since its array of ports is more on par with the $200 TS3 Lite from CalDigit than the $300-level docks that include additional ports such as an SD card slot, FireWire, eSATA, or extra USB ports.

The full 85-watt charging support is a welcome inclusion, which helps separate the Belkin dock from some other competitors. It's also a pretty good looking dock, with the subtle tapers in multiple dimensions and smooth curved aluminum body offering a sleeker look compared to some other simpler or more industrial looking designs.

Despite its drawbacks, Belkin's dock performs well for the features it has and is likely to be a popular option given the company's reputation for quality and its close relationship with Apple that should see prominent placement in Apple retail stores and at Apple.com.

Update: This review has been updated to remove a comment about the USB ports supporting stand alone charging even when there is no data connection to a computer. After additional testing, it appears this is not the case.

Note: Belkin provided the Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received.



Top Rated Comments

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19 months ago
Still wonder how these hubs cost as much as a low end laptop.
Rating: 12 Votes
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19 months ago

Anyone know why the cost is so high?


The problem is, a Thunderbolt dock is quite a complex beast internally c.f. USB hubs and port replicators which appear, superficially, to do much the same thing.

Whereas a USB hub just splits a USB "input" between several outputs, a Thunderbolt dock contains a Thunderbolt controller to extract PCIe and DisplayPort signals, and an internal PCIe bus to which are attached USB controllers, SATA controllers (in some docks) and maybe Ethernet and Sound controllers (I dunno if those are driven from PCIe or hang off an internal USB port - if you have one you could probably tell from System Report).

Unless you really need the full bandwidth of Thunderbolt 3, most users would probably be better off going with cheaper USB-C stuff, especially if you primarily want more USB ports. The wheels come off USB-C if you want to run a 4k display at 60Hz - which, on a single USB-C connection, only leaves enough bandwidth for USB 2. Still, if you've got 4 TB3/USB-C ports on your MBP you could always run your displays direct from the machine and use a USB-C dock for charge, USB and ethernet.
Rating: 6 Votes
Avatar
19 months ago
It costs the price of a small laptop or PS4 plus extra controller/game to add standard port options to a "pro" computer? Why not punch me in the groin while you are there.

My 2011 MBP is dying and I am finding it very, very hard to justify the price of a new MPB when it has less options than my current 6 year old computer. . .
Rating: 3 Votes
Avatar
19 months ago

So will this support two standard displayport/mini displayport monitors?


Yes, just use a USB C to displayport cable for the second monitor.

Why do these things keep having DisplayPort instead of HDMI? I thought full size DP was a flash in the pan protocol around 8-10 years ago?


Far from it. DisplayPort is the preferred protocol for computer monitors. The reason they are better on docks is that it's easier to go from Displayport to HDMI than HDMI to Displayport with adapters. HDMI 1.4 also doesn't support 4K @ 60.
Rating: 2 Votes
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19 months ago
Eh. Pass. If I'm adding ports... Let's add more ports.
Rating: 2 Votes
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19 months ago
Waiting to see how this compares to the upcoming Elgato one. They both have similar ports, but the Elgato is $50 cheaper. Just will depend upon quality probably. Belkin stuff in the past has been pretty reliable. Don't know much about Elgato.
Rating: 1 Votes
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19 months ago

That’s a great find! Just as functional as competing docks from the likes of Belkin and OWC at half the price!


Sorry to burst your balloon but that's a USB-C dock, not a Thunderbolt 3 dock - which is why its half the price of the TB3 docks and a similar price to the Caldigit USB-C dock. ('http://shop.caldigit.com/us/USB-C-Dock-US') You'll notice the difference between USB-C and TB3 when you hook up your 4k, 60Hz display and all the USB ports drop to USB-2 speed... Also, docks that support multiple displays on a PC via DisplayPort MST won't do that on a Mac...

Levovo do have a TB3 dock on offer ('http://www3.lenovo.com/us/en/accessories/docking/universal-cable-docks-usb/Thunderbolt-Dock-US/p/40AC0135US') but its still the thick end of $300 - and they don't deserve to sell any from that useless web page - I had to download the instruction manual ('https://download.lenovo.com/pccbbs/options_iso/tp_thunderbolt3dock_sp40m56890_ug_en.pdf') to find out the features! Looks like 5 USB connectors, Ethernet, analog audio, 2xDisplayPort, HDMI, VGA and TB3-thru... which is pretty good, but the multiple display connectors are a waste of space for Mac users until Apple supports MST multi-display - until then pick one, and hang your second display off the Thunderbolt-Thru.
Rating: 1 Votes
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19 months ago
Looks great but could use more ports.

Funny that's how I feel about the current line up of macs
Rating: 1 Votes
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19 months ago
Just shows whilst Apple's vision is to have no ports at all reality is we need more!!
Rating: 1 Votes
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19 months ago

For what it's worth, we've been testing out the Lenovo docs ('http://www3.lenovo.com/us/en/accessories/docking/universal-cable-docks-usb/Thinkpad-USB-C-Dock/p/40A90090US'). They work just fine with MacOSX.


I'd expect most USB docks to work on macOS, but that is good to know. Do note that the Beklin reviewed here is a Thunderbolt 3 dock, however, and not "just" a USB 3.1 Gen 2 dock (both of which use the same USB-C connector, so I think people are likely to get confused by this).

Alternatively, relevant ports and USB C would elevate us of the mandatory need for such secondary peripherals, just to regain the connectivity once offered natively...

Q-6


A dock isn't just about adding more ports. In fact, it's not even necessarily about adding ports at all. The point of a dock is ... docking: you can take your laptop away then put it back on your desk and just connect the dock in order to get power, video, keyboard/mouse, etc., without having to disconnect and reconnect all those cables individually. At this price point, however, I'd definitely expect to get more than three USB ports (and only two on the back)--but at least it comes with a regular DisplayPort, I guess.
Rating: 1 Votes
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