Quite simply, now is the time to buy a Thunderbolt docking station.
The argument is simple: Thunderbolt docks are finally on sale, and they haven’t been for several years. And we’re not talking about rinky-dink sales of a few dollars here and there. Discounts during this year’s two-day Prime Day sale are running as high as half off the Belkin Thunderbolt Dock Core, with the best Prime Day deals for Thunderbolt docks saving you close to $100.
Here’s what’s going on. Thunderbolt docks emerged from the shadows around 2019 or 2020 or so, as laptop makers began recognizing that the emerging USB-C port could replace the need for embedding HDMI, SD, USB-A, and other ports along the side of their laptops. Laptops could finally be thin, svelte, and look like Macs! The growing popularity of the 40Gbps Thunderbolt protocol across 10th- and 11th-gen Intel Core laptops also meant that this single USB-C port became vastly more powerful.
Cue the pandemic. Workers headed home, soon realizing that they would like to replicate their office workspace with multiple monitors and USB devices to get more done. What to do? Thunderbolt docks offered a solution: Plug in multiple 4K displays all from a single port. Demand rose. But the pandemic bit hard, here, too. With supply chains thrown out of whack, certain Thunderbolt dock components were being snapped up by electric car makers. Prices started spiking, and general availability became a problem.
About eighteen months later, things have changed. The pandemic may not be totally over, but the Thunderbolt dock supply chain has relaxed. Plugable founder Bernie Thompson told PCWorld last week that the company has tried to move its sourcing operations to Thailand to make it easier to buy and assemble docks. (China has aggressively locked down cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen, tech hubs where many computer accessories are made.)
Consumers also benefit from the desire to move on. You’ll find older Thunderbolt 3 hardware like this Editors’ Choice award-winning Plugable TBT3-UDZ dock receive discounts, in part because the latest specification is Thunderbolt 4. But Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 are almost functionally identical, meaning that you can snap up a Thunderbolt 3 deal like day-old bread: It’s really almost as good as the freshest hardware.
The trouble — which demands a separate story — is that there is a confusing mess of hardware that can fit into that USB-C port and expand your PC. This includes USB-C hubs and dongles, Thunderbolt docks, DisplayLink docks, and even high-bit-rate options that can squeeze out more performance on certain PCs. We’ve tried to keep it simple, focusing on slow, cheap USB-C hubs/dongles, and the faster Thunderbolt docks.
What it all boils down to, though, is that you’re finally seeing actually, honest-to-goodness sales on Thunderbolt hardware during these Prime Day sales. If you have held back from buying because you were unwilling to spend the extra money, start looking for a Thunderbolt dock deal. Things have finally changed for the better.