Apple had a change of heart after its introduction of USB-C with the 2015 12-inch MacBook: the company hasn’t put only a single peripheral port on any laptop it’s released since. (And it discontinued the USB 3.1-only MacBook, too.) Some Apple silicon MacBook Pro models even offer dedicated video and charging (MagSafe 3) ports!
But what do you do when you have, for instance, an M1 MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Pro that do not have MagSafe? With two Thunderbolt 4/USB4 jacks on each model, you need one for power over USB-C, leaving one free. You can opt for a USB-C dock that’s USB 3.x/4 only or that supports Thunderbolt 3. In either case, a dock typically adds multiple 10 Gbps or faster USB 3.x/4 jacks, HDMI, and passthrough power, freeing up the other USB-C slot on your computer.
Until last year, if you wanted to add multiple Thunderbolt 3 or 4 devices, however, you were stuck. An increasing number of external SSDs and other storage devices rely on Thunderbolt 3 or 4. And you might have Thunderbolt 2 legacy devices that can work via a Thunderbolt 3 adapter—but only when plugged into a Thunderbolt port.
It was impossible to buy a dock or hub with additional USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3/4 support. That changed with the introduction of Thunderbolt 4 hubs and docks, which rely on an optional feature of Thunderbolt 3 made mandatory in version 4: allowing external Thunderbolt ports. (Any version of macOS 12 Monterey will do. If you’re using Big Sur, you may need at least 11.1 or 11.4, depending on the dock or hub.)
A few companies have released external hubs and docks that fit the bill. The least-expensive option is the OWC Thunderbolt Hub ($159), reviewed in April 2021, which offers four Thunderbolt 3/4 jacks and one 10 Gbps USB 3.2 Type-A port. Because one port connects by cable to your computer, you net three Thunderbolt 3/4 ports on the hub.
At the other end of the spectrum is CalDigit’s mega-dock, the $400 Thunderbolt Station 4 sporting 18 ports of all kinds, including three Thunderbolt 3/4 jacks. We reviewed this unit in April 2022.
While hundreds of other USB-C docks might fit part of the bill, if you need more Thunderbolt ports than you can find on your Mac, make sure the dock you buy spells out that it offers full Thunderbolt 4 external support. Check out Macworld’s Thunderbolt and USB-C guide to docking stations for information on specifications and the best docks you can find.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Jim.
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