Laptops are so much more convenient than desktop computers for the very obvious reason of portability – you can’t (or certainly shouldn’t) lug a desktop PC between your home and office or on holiday with you.

The laptop’s limitation, though, is screen size and often a lack of ports to plug devices into. Some laptops have just one or two ports included as standard, and you need one of those for charging.

And there are plenty of people who prefer a mouse to the laptop’s trackpad, and even a full-size keyboard to tap away on – of course, there are Bluetooth keyboards and mice that don’t require a side port on the laptop.

The perfect setup would be a laptop for flexibility, plus one or more larger external displays, some USB ports for adding hard drives or a printer, and an Ethernet port so you can enjoy wired Internet access rather than flaky Wi-Fi.

The solution is a dock or docking station that includes all these ports, and lets you connect your laptop to it with one cable.

In this review roundup, we’ll look at the best docks for USB-C laptops. Some laptops – notably Apple’s MacBook range – include a faster variant of USB-C called Thunderbolt 3 (T3). Such laptops can use USB-C docks, but the T3’s higher bandwidth (40Gbps vs USB-C’s 5-10Gbps) will be lost if not using a dedicated T3 dock.

If you don't want a full docking station, just a handy USB-C adapter or dongle, check out our Best USB-C hub roundup.

USB-C laptops won’t work with most Thunderbolt 3 docks, although there are a couple reviewed here (from Caldigit and that will work with both. That makes them a great choice for hot-desking and mixed workflow environments. Office IT doesn't have to buy different docks for different use cases - one dock can work on anything, and without adapters or drivers.

Owners of Thunderbolt 3 laptops - such as Apple MacBooks (12in, Air, and 13in and 15in Pro) - should also read Macworld's roundup of the best Thunderbolt 3 docking stations. It's aimed at MacBooks but the docks mostly work with any T3 laptops unless specified.

Useful ports on the dock

USB-C: First, you need to connect your USB-C laptop to the dock, which takes up one of the dock’s USB-C ports, unless the dock has its own attached cable.

Some docks feature extra USB-C ports to attach compatible devices or connect to a USB-C display. You can also buy a USB-C to HDMI or USB-C to DisplayPort adapter to use this extra port to add an external display; see below.

Also look for docks with USB PD, which stands for Power Delivery - this is a key feature on a full docking station. And then match that with the wattage your laptop needs to charge at full power. Most Windows laptops require 60W, but some larger laptops are begging for as much as 85W. Docks that can handle that much charging power can be more expensive as they need a larger power supply.

If the dock doesn’t have PD, then it will be drawing power from your laptop to run the other devices. The same will happen with PDs with a lower wattage than the laptop. An 87W laptop can be charged by a 60W USB PD, but at a slower pace.

(Windows PC users must check if their USB-C port is capable of laptop charging as not all PC manufacturers have added this functionality to their USB-C ports, limiting them to data or display only.)

USB-A: This is the ‘old’ USB standard that’s still used by many devices, such as hard drives, memory sticks, and printers. Work out how many of these you need when selecting the right dock for you.

Display: You'll want to hook your laptop up to an external display for more screen space. Why not boost that 13in laptop screen to a 32in 4K monitor? Some external displays use USB-C, so you can connect via a laptop's spare port or via one on the dock. Most docks, however, include either DisplayPort or HDMI ports, or a mix of both. And you can attach USB-C to HDMI or USB-C to DisplayPort adapters, too. 

Most dual-monitor setups allow for two displays at 1080p HD resolution, but the best high-resolution displays are 4K. 4K at 60Hz is the best for gaming and high-graphics performance, while 4K at 30Hz is good enough for more productivity-based tasks - but not as great as at that higher rate. 

Natively, USB-C struggles to handle 4K at 60Hz, so falls back to 30Hz as its maximum. Some companies have got around this by using DisplayLink driver, but this does mean you need to install extra software. For laptops that have only a 5Gbps USB-C port, 4K at 60Hz is out of the question. So check your laptop specs. (Thunderbolt 3 laptops have no problem getting 4K at 60Hz.)

Most mid- to high-end displays now have DisplayPort and HDMI built into the monitor, allowing users to choose the connector they want to use. The resolution is the same on HDMI and DisplayPort, but DisplayPort can be more stable and capable in certain situations. Read more on HDMI vs DisplayPort.

Gigabit Ethernet: With an Ethernet port on the dock you can connect to wired Internet, which is usually much faster than Wi-Fi.

SD or Micro SD Card Reader: We usually think of these as camera memory/storage cards, and one of these reader ports will allow you to quickly slip in your photo-laden card for immediate access from your laptop. However, more usefully, SD or Micro SD Cards are also an incredibly inexpensive way of adding portable storage to your laptop. Take a look on Amazon for affordable SD and Micro SD Cards (Amazon UK or Amazon US), where you can buy 256GB for around £30 or $40.Adding that amount of storage to a laptop would normally cost you around £150.

Standalone charging: This means the dock can charge devices, such as a phone or tablet, even when the laptop is disconnected.

1. CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 laptop compatible

85W PD charging, plus standalone charging

USB-C (and 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3) to the host

2 x DisplayPort 1.2 (dual 4K at 60Hz to T3 laptops; or dual 1080p or a single 4K at 30Hz display to a USB-C laptop)

3 x USB-A (5Gbps); 1 x USB-C (10Gbps)

SD Card Reader 

Gigabit Ethernet

3.5mm Analog Audio In & Out

While it's called a "USB-C" dock, Caldigit's USB-C Pro Dock hides a secret in its "Pro" title.

This modern docking station uses the latest Thunderbolt 3 chipset called “Titan Ridge”, which allows the dock to work on both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C. Normally USB-C laptops can't use Thunderbolt 3 docks. T3 laptops can use USB-C docks but at a reduced bandwidth - USB-C runs at 5-10Gbps, but T3 at 40Gbps.

This flexibility means that Thunderbolt 3 laptops get to use all their bandwidth while USB-C laptop owners can use the same dock, and not have to buy a plain USB-C docking station. And since it works with USB-C, it can turn an iPad Pro into a full computer experience since it can charge the iPad Pro, connect a 4K monitor, keyboard, mouse and hard drives.

The USB-C Pro Dock has two built-in DisplayPort connectors for directly adding dual 4K (at 60Hz if using a Thunderbolt 3 laptop) monitors to your laptop without the need for any USB-C Video Adapters. USB-C laptops can run dual displays at HD (1080p) or a single 4K monitor at 30Hz.

If you want to connect a non-DisplayPort display, such as HDMI, you will need an Active DisplayPort to HDMI cable.

Unlike most USB-C docks, it also charges at 85W, enough for most larger laptops. Standalone charging functionality allows the dock to charge USB devices, such as a phone, tablet or smartwatch, at up to 7.5W without the laptop connected.

For even more ports, Caldigit's TS3 Plus is another excellent Thunderbolt 3-only option.

2. Thunderbolt 3 Dock with USB-C Laptop Compatibility Thunderbolt 3 Dock with USB-C Laptop Compatibility
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 laptop compatible

60W PD charging, plus standalone charging

USB-C (and 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3) to the host

2 x DisplayPort 1.2 (dual 4K at 60Hz to T3 laptops; or dual 1080p or a single 4K at 30Hz display to a USB-C laptop)

3 x USB-A (2x 5Gbps; 1 x 10GBps); 2 x USB-C (10Gbps)

Gigabit Ethernet

3.5mm Analog Audio In & Out

Like the Caldigit Pro Dock above, the StarTech.comThunderbolt 3Dock with USB-C Laptop Compatibility (TB3CDK2DPUE) can work with both T3 and USB-C laptops without limiting bandwidth.

It also shares the benefits of dual DisplayPorts. Thunderbolt 3 laptops can run two 4K 60Hz monitors (4,096 x 2,160), while USB-C Laptops can handle two HD displays (1080p) or one 4K 30Hz monitor (3,840 x 2,160).

The StarTech dock features one more 10Gbps USB-C port than the Caldigit Pro Dock.

It lacks an SD Card reader, and maxes out power at 60W, although this should be ample for most laptops.

3. Dell USB-C Mobile Adapter (DA300)

Dell USB-C Mobile Adapter (DA300)
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings

USB-C laptop compatible

USB-C cable to the host

DisplayPort 1.2; HDMI 2.0; VGA; (4K @ 30Hz, 1080p @ 60Hz)

1 x USB-A (10GBps); 1 x USB-C (10Gbps)

Gigabit Ethernet

Dell's DA300 Mobile USB-C Adapter is a much dinkier dock than most of the docks reviewed here. You could simply pop it in your pocket (it weighs 80g) and use both at home and away, although one at each location, pre-connected to your other devices, would make sense.

It comes with its own USB-C cable, and can rotate, so the ports you need closest are where you want them.

There's no power supply, so no PD charging. That means connected devices will take their power from your laptop - which can, of course, still be charged in a regular manner by its own charger.

It can support 4K resolution at 60Hz, with laptops that support DP1.3 and above with 4K displays. It will work with just about any display you are confronted with (DisplayPort, HDMI, USB-C, and even ye-olde VGA) so is great in the business person's briefcase for those tricky meeting room presentation situations.

And it's pretty cheap, too, if you can live without it charging your laptop while in use, and you don't need multiple external displays.

4. Moshi Symbus Q Compact USB-C Dock with Wireless Charging

Moshi Symbus Q Compact USB-C Dock with Wireless Charging
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings

USB-C laptop compatible

60W PD charging

USB-C to the host

HDMI 2.0 (4K @ 30Hz, 1080p @ 60Hz)

2 x USB-A (5Gbps)

Gigabit Ethernet

This is a small dock (11.6 x 7.2 x 3.2 cm) that has a neat trick we haven't seen on others - it doubles up as a Qi wireless charger for your phone!

This wireless charging supports iPhones at 7.5W and Samsung phones at 9W for fast charging. And it can charge through cases up to 5mm thick.

It doesn't have Audio In/Out but Bluetooth might suit you better than wired for sound anyway.

There's also a model (just Symbus) that doesn't include Qi wireless charging, for £125 - or under £100 from Amazon.

5. Plugable USB-C Mini Docking Station

Plugable USB-C Mini Docking Station
  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings

USB-C laptop compatible

85W PD charging

USB-C to the host

HDMI 1.4 (4K @ 30Hz, 1080p @ 60Hz)

4 x USB-A (5Gbps)

Gigabit Ethernet

3.5mm Analog Audio In & Out

This is another quite diminutive docking station (9.5cm-x-8.9cm-3.2cm) that is heavy on USB-A ports but doesn't have a spare USB-C port as it uses its one to connect to the laptop.

It performs well on charging but is a little underwhelming for adding external displays. It uses HDMI 1.4 rather than HDMI 2.0, and supports one external 4K display at 30Hz (3,840-×-2,160 pixels) or at 1080p HD at 60Hz. 

This dock can support a VESA mount, so can be attached to the back of a monitor if you want to hide this plain box away, and save desk space.