USB Docking Station vs. Thunderbolt Docking Station: What’s the Difference?
Choosing the right docking station based on the requirement has been challenging. There is a constant debate comparing the USB docking station and the thunderbolt docking station. Until now, these are the two best options to expand the laptop’s port capabilities. Business professionals and gamers get confused about whether to go for an affordable USB-C dongle or a powerful Thunderbolt dock. In this article, we have come up with better differentiation between the two docking stations. It will provide you with a clear insight into choosing the right type to meet your requirements.
What is a USB Docking Station?
A USB docking station is a device to turn your laptop into a desktop powerhouse. It offers connectivity to multiple monitors, LAN connectivity, the internet, and other external devices. The laptops have now turned slimmer with a single USB-C port instead of multiple USB connections. Hence, the USB docking system is equipped with several USB ports for multi-purpose usage.
Types of USB ports (2.0, 3.0, 3.1)
The USB ports are of three major types, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB 3.1. All the ports have their own superior features. USB 3.0 offers high speed compared to 2.0. Moreover, it also supports efficient power management compared to it. Also, it is backward compatible. USB 3.0 is similar to USB 3.1 Gen 1. USB 3.1 is also backward compatible with USB 3.0 and 2.0.
Moreover, the USB ports are compatible with several devices – computer keyboard and mouse, mobile (portable) digital telephones, portable media players, video cameras, printers, disk drives, and network adapters.
Benefits of a USB Docking Station
- Increased number of USB ports
A USB docking system enables you to get access to a variety of ports. You can efficiently use it to plug into different devices. A single connection will have a total of 12 downstream ports to connect peripherals.
- Multiple display connectivity
With USB docking stations, users can connect a new monitor and enjoy working or gaming on the new display. The docking stations support 4K resolution. Some also include dual 4K panels, and others may support one 4K display along with two monitors at lower resolutions.
- Charging capabilities
You can charge multiple devices from USB ports in USB docking stations. With the USB 2.0 port, you will get a maximum voltage of 5V and 2.5 maximum power. While in USB 3.0 and 3.1, you will get a 5V voltage and a maximum power of 4.5W.
Limitations of a USB Docking Station
- Limited data transfer speed
The data transfer speed is limited in a USB docking station. When you connect devices with different USB versions, the data transfer speed becomes limited.
- Limited display resolution
The display resolution gets limited when you have multiple monitor connectivity in your USB docking system. The supported qualities of video output ports are compromised.
- Limited charging capabilities
A USB docking station with USB Standard A-B doesn’t let you charge the PC. All the USB ports don’t have enough power supply to charge devices like laptops or Windows tablets.
What is a Thunderbolt Docking Station?
Thunderbolt is a new technology that was only compatible with Apple’s MacBook Pro earlier. But now the thunderbolt docking station is universalized and made it compatible with USB-C. With a single cable connection, you can connect the Thunderbolt port and then connect to various port types to connect your laptop. It includes an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, a 3.55 mm audio jack for headphones and multiple USB types. Moreover, it is fully compatible with USB-C cables and devices.
Benefits of a Thunderbolt Docking Station
- Increased data transfer speed
Thunderbolt dock station offers a high data transfer rate of up to 40gbps. Sharing files, applications, etc., just takes a few seconds to transfer.
- Multiple display connectivity with higher resolution
It supports larger and higher-resolution areas. It can be connected to 4K Ultra HD displays. It supports two 4K monitors with DisplayPort.
- Charging capabilities with enhanced power
It comes with a 170W power adapter to charge your MacBook Pro and Windows laptop. Eventually, it will power other peripheral devices connected to the dock.
Limitations of a Thunderbolt Docking Station
- Limited compatibility with non-Thunderbolt devices
It offers limited compatibility with USB and FireWire devices. It offers less peripheral device connectivity with a thunderbolt interface.
- More expensive
If you are looking for an affordable docking station, then Thunderbolt Docking Station is not an ideal option. It is highly expensive compared to other dock stations.
- Limited availability
Being an expensive technology, Thunderbolt has limited availability. Moreover, the device’s functionality is limited. You need to ensure that the dock station is supported with your PC.
Comparison of USB Docking Stations and Thunderbolt Docking Stations.
- Data Transfer Speed: Thunderbolt is best beyond the imagination compared to a USB dock station. Thunderbolt can transfer data up to 40 GBps, while USB 3.1 Gen 2 can transfer data up to 10 to 20 GBps.
- Display Connectivity: The USB dock station supports video output with a special DisplayPort Alternate. It supports up to 4Kx2K resolution on up to 2 monitors. You can also connect it directly with a DisplayPort or HDMI monitor. Thunderbolt supports up to two 4K displays or one 5K display or HDMI monitor.
- Charging Capabilities: The USB 3.1 PD Revision version can deliver up to 240W. The USB support for up to 100W and 20V with faster charging. Thunderbolt offers quick charging with 100W power for laptops and 15W for other computer-powered accessories.
- Other Features: The audio interfaces of Thunderbolt are superior due to its lower latency. The USB 3.0 version is capable of gigabit Ethernet. Thunderbolt dock may be faster than USB 3, but USB 3 is faster enough for Ethernet and HDMI.
Which Docking Station is Right for You?
When confused about choosing the right docking station, then you must consider multiple factors. The foremost factor is the high-speed data transfer and external monitor support. It is based on your bandwidth requirement as per your daily activities. The number of ports available is another major factor in buying a docking station to connect multiple devices.
The connectivity factor also plays a major role in connecting your dock with the laptop. It is also based on your usage, whether you need a portable dock or a standard one. Standard dock stations are reliable for a home-office setup and gaming. At the same time, portable docks are ideal for adding extra ports.
Recommended Docking Stations
1. Ugreen USB C Triple Display Docking Station (12-in-1)
- Ports –Total 12 ports – Hdmi Port: 2; USB Ports: 4; 100W PD 3.0; DP 8K; and DTR: 10Gb/s.
- Resolution –4k – 60Hz; 8k- 30Hz
- Network Speed –10/100/1000Mbps with a maximum voltage of 20V/5A.
Pros and Cons:
- Pros –Spectacular design and build, multiple ports availability and supports 8K monitor. You can transfer files in seconds. Supports 100W fast charging.
- Cons –It is not supported for M2 Macs. No power adapter and may use Thunderbolt support. No support for USB device charging except for the laptop.
Price – $329.99
2: Ugreen 9-in-1 USB C Docking Station
- Ports– 10 ports
- Compatible Devices– Monitors, Laptops, Macbook
- Special features– 4k HDMI, VGA, 3 USB 3.0 ports, foldable cable storage design, gigabit ethernet, card reader, sd card reader and PD charging.
Pros and Cons:
Pros – Connects with most devices like macOS and Windows. It is suitable for home and office workspaces. It offers 4K UHD Visual Feast, faster data transmission and wired gigabit ethernet.
Cons – VGA doesn’t work properly, limited ports and less effective accessories.
Price – $199.99
The comparison debate between the USB docking system and the Thunderbolt docking system is never-ending. Moreover, it is also a matter of personal preference. Both of them have their own specialized features and limitations. There are several important reasons why someone prefers Thunderbolt over a USB docking system or vice-versa. However, Thunderbolt technology is highly expensive. Many PCs and devices don’t support Thunderbolt technology. Consider your requirement, whether for stand usage or high-quality gaming or multiple device usage, and then choose the right docking station.