Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock for MacBook Pro (review)
4.0Overall Score

Price (RRP): $529.95
Manufacturer: Belkin

The Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock is a must have for MacBook Pro owners with Thunderbolt 3 ports.Thunderbolt 3 is the way to the future allows both Mac and PC to have smaller, lighter and thinner laptops. The only problem is that many laptops now only have Thunderbolt 3 ports forcing owners to carry a menagerie of dongles and adaptors.

Belkin Thunderbolt 3 is a MacBook Pro owners friend offering up to 85W power/charge, 2 x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 40Gb/s ports, Gigabit Ethernet, 3 x USB-A 3.0 ports (with sleep charge), a full-sized DisplayPort and a 3.5mm combo audio port.

Thunderbolt 3

We say for Mac because it tested flawlessly with both the MacBook Pro 13 and 15” models.

We had issues using it on a Windows HP EliteBook x360 1030 G2 where error messages about power charging and driver issues stymied us. In any case the fine print on the website states, ‘The Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD is not PC compatible.” D’oh!

With that one caveat out of the way on with the review

Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD

It follows the brushed aluminium style of its previous docks. It looks good on any desk as most of the ports are on the rear. One USB-A and 3.5mm audio are on the front for convenience.

The first thing we noticed was the 1m long ‘passive’ Thunderbolt 3 cable supplied. Other docks use a passive .5m cable.

Let’s look at Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cables 101

A good overview of Thunderbolt 3 is here. here. After reading about it that is all you will want for your next computer.

According to Thunderbolt 3 specifications, the .5m passive USB-C cable that comes with most docks provides

  • 40Gb/s downstream data (from a computer to the dock)
  • One 5K or two 4K displays via DisplayPort 1.2
  • Supports all USB versions (up to 3.1, Gen 2 10Gb/s)
  • And up to 60/15W upstream/downstream power.

Belkin provides a 1m 60W/20Gb/s F2CD081 cable for convenience. Those .5m cables are often just a little too short for easy placement. My only gripe is that it should have included a .5m cable as well.

So, if you need 85W/40Gb/s performance go back to a .5m passive cable. Or fork out somewhere north of $100 for an active 2m F2CD083 cable that uses fibre optics and has an integrated controller chip. This is a not a USB-C substitute cable.

Thunderbolt 3

How to connect monitors

USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 standard assumes that all graphics processing is via the host computer.

How to connect a single up to 5K monitor

The Dock’s full-sized DisplayPort 1.2 supports sound and video up to 5K. You can get DisplayPort to HDMI/VGA/DVI adapters.

How to connect dual, up to 4K monitors at up to 4096 x 2160, 30-bit colour at 60Hz

(Tested with LG 34UC98 and an HP z34c – both 21:9, 3440 x 1440 panels with DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 2.0)

The first monitor connects to the dock’s DisplayPort. The second uses a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 cable to a Thunderbolt 3 compatible monitor.

Or use a USB-A 3.0 to DisplayPort 4K adaptor that works well from any of the dock’s USB-A ports but adds $106.99 plus freight to the cost.

Thunderbolt 3

Tests

Ethernet was a rock solid 1Gb/s.

It was difficult to test the 40Gb/s (5,000 MB/s) Thunderbolt 3 claim. Attaching a Samsung T3, 1TB, SSD drive gave an amazing and consistent write speed of 400MB/s (the theoretical maximum rate is 450MB/s), so all I can surmise is that the port is very fast.

One USB-A port supports 5V/2.1A sleep charging and two support 5V/1.5A

GadgetGuy’s take – Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock for Mac

I have tested many docks over the years, and apart from odd driver issues that are usually promptly fixed they all work flawlessly.

I have been testing various Thunderbolt powered and unpowered docks on both Mac and Windows. This works well on Mac.

Pros

• Worked flawlessly with MacBook
• 1m cable is very convenient but provides maximum 60W/20Gb/s
• Provides 85W power upstream with a .5m cable (not supplied)
• Well built, Belkin quality and support

Cons

• Very large 170W power brick weighs as much as the dock
• Would have liked an HDMI port but realise the Thunderbolt 3 standard does not support this
• Need to supply a .5m cable as well
• No Apple specific ports link Thunderbolt 2, S/PDIF digital audio port, Firewire 800 or Lightning

Rating

As a MacBook dock.

Overall: 4 out of 5
Features: 4 out of 5 – No Apple specific ports
Value for money: 4 out of 5 – about the same cost as other docks
Performance: 4 out of 5 – in all tests it met specifications
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 – The 1m cable is convenient but confusing
Design: 4 out of 5 – Brushed aluminium

Competition

OWC Thunderbolt 3 – Best for Mac with extra Apple ports
Kensington SD5200DT – Best for Windows (Mac version available)

Price

A$529.95. Any typical MacBook owner should consider this especially as you can find amazing online bargains from about $450.

Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock for MacBook Pro (review)
Price (RRP): $529.95 Manufacturer: Belkin
Good for MacBook Pro 13/15"
No Apple specific ports like Firewire 800
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
4.0Overall Score
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