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Belkin's Best Thunderbolt 3 Dock

After obtaining new Lenovo laptops earlier this year, I’ve been digging into Thunderbolt/USB 3.1 technology around USB-C ports. Both my X380 Yoga and X1 Extreme include Thunderbolt-capable USB-C ports. I’ve put those to work with a variety of different connections. After this year’s SpiceWorld trade show — where Belkin is a long-time exhibitor and attendee — the company kindly offered me the chance to play with some of their USB-C based offerings. I mentioned the company’s Thunderbolt 3 Mini Dock (F4U098) in an October 9 blog post. That left me hankering for a full-featured dock with  USB-C outbound connections plus built-in charging capability. Upon request, Belkin obligingly sent me its Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD (F4U095). Recently, I’ve been familiarizing myself with its capabilities. Here’s what the unit, Belkin’s best Thunderbolt 3 dock, looks like:

Belkin's Best Thunderbolt 3 Dock.front

This dock measures 8.17×3.4×1.2″/20.74×8.8×8.8cm and comes housed in brushed aluminum that is sturdy and attractive.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Who Needs Belkin’s Best Thunderbolt 3 Dock?

Who will need or want this expensive beast (MSRP US$350, best price ~US$332)? It’s made for those who want to use a full-sized mouse, keyboard, display and extra storage when docked in the office. Undock, and they can use the same device uncoupled on the road. Simply put, this is a great solution for road warriors who bounce between “away” and “office” roles. In fact, it gives them a full-blown desktop experience in the office. Yet they keep the same core capability, OS, and built-in storage on the road. All that’s needed is to uncouple a single USB-C cable between dock and laptop, and you’re ready to travel. A look at the unit’s back shows the real action (there’s only one USB 3.1 and an RTS headphone jack on the front shown above):

Belkin's Best Thunderbolt 3 Dock.rear

Ports, from left to right: (1) Gigabit Ethernet, (2) RTS headphone, (3-4) 2xUSB 3.1, (5-6) 2xUSB-C/Thunderbolt, (7) DisplayPort, (8) DC-in.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

The USB-C connection between dock and laptop ferries power (up to 85W) and various signals (up to 40 Gbps). Thus, a single cable handles charging for the laptop. That same cable also handles audio, video (up to 2 4K displays, daisy-chained via DisplayPort or equivalents), another USB-C/Thunderbolt device chain (via the second USB-C/Thunderbolt port), up to 3 USB 3.1 device chains (via 1 front and two rear USB 3.1 ports), along with networking up to GbE speeds. That’s what gives the unit such appeal for those who want a quick and simple dock/undock experience without sacrificing speeds and feeds when in the office.

Typical Dock Setup

A typical docked usage scenario could include the following:

+ 1 or 2 external monitors
+ a conventional hands-on mouse and keyboard (wireless or wired, depending on the hardware used)
+ an audio connection (either to headphones or external speakers, depending on the hardware used)
+ wired Ethernet at up to gigabit speeds
+ one or more external USB storage devices (typical office use would mandate a least one external drive for extended storage and backup while docked)

Perspective from “The Boss”

My wife, Dina, has a 7-year-old Jetway Mini-ITC desktop with an Ivy Bridge i7, 16 GB RAM, 256 GB built-in EVO 940 SSD, and 2 external USB drives attached. Just for grins, I switched her over to one of my 8th-Generation i7 Lenovo X380 Yoga laptops (i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB Samsung OEM NVMe SSD) with her familiar mouse, keyboard, and display (a 4K Dell UltraSharp  2717D).  Of course, the Belkin F4U095 tied it all together. Her response to the changed set-up was “When can I switch over this this rig?”

She really liked the look and feel of the new setup, and said the performance from the docked laptop was noticeably faster than her Mini-ITC PC. Longer-term, we’re planning to switch her over to something similar. If it works for her, it should work for most people who want the flexibility of a full-blown desktop experience in the office, with the ability to unplug and “go mobile” as-needed. IMHO, this is a great choice for anybody who wants to make a laptop their primary (or only) PC.

Net-Net Summary

The Belkin F4U095 is attractive, capable, and equipped with enough docking ports for office/desktop hook-ups. My only real reservation about the unit is cost: best to shop around for a deal if you can. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending what could buy you a second, lower-end laptop or PC just for making connections. That said, for company or work use, this makes a great way to enable road warriors to get a desktop experience in the office and use a single laptop away as well.

 

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