Thunderbolt 4 is pushing aside Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, as the backwards-compatible and future-proof connecting technology you should be placing your bets on.
We’ve tested several smaller Thunderbolt 4 hubs, but only a few Thunderbolt 4 docking stations.
Anker is a well-known brand that makes one of our favourite Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) docks, the PowerExpand Elite 12-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock.
Its Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station has a few surprises and will appeal to people looking to add multiple external displays to their laptop setup.
Specs and features
The Apex Thunderbolt 4 Dock features one 40Gbps upstream TB4 port (that connects to the computer with the included Thunderbolt 4 cable) and one 40Gbps downstream TB4 port for other devices, such as a fast SSD storage drive.
The upstream Thunderbolt port can supply up to 90W of power to your laptop, while the downstream port can charge other devices at 15W.
The total power supply is 120W, so leaving 30W to power connected devices when charging a laptop at its full 90W.
At the front, there’s a 10Gbps USB-C port that can fast-charge at an impressive 20W.
On the back, there are four USB-A ports: two at 10GBps and two less-able USB 2.0 at 480Mbps. The weaker two will be fine for wired keyboard and mouse, or any device that doesn’t require fast data transfer.
All four USB-A ports charge at 4.5W.
We were surprised at the shortage of Thunderbolt 4 ports. TB4 can support up to four on a hub or dock (one upstream, three downstream), and that’s what you find in Anker’s own PowerExpand 5-in-1 Thunderbolt 4 Mini Dock. Why does the full, non-mini dock have just two TB4 ports?
The answer is probably space and power supply – three connected and charging TB4 ports will demand 45W of power, which would require a larger power supply.
And the space where we would have expected the other two TB4 ports to go offers something we haven’t seen on a Thunderbolt 4 docking station before: two HDMI ports to connect to external displays.
Other TB4 docks we’ve tested have relied solely on the Thunderbolt 4 ports for display connections.
Anker’s inclusion of two HDMI ports is less flexible than we’ve seen elsewhere but will please HDMI display owners, who won’t need to buy USB-C-to-HDMI adapters.
The sole downstream TB4 port can also be sued to connect an external monitor, so it’s possible to have as many as three displays running out of the dock: two HDMI and one TB4.
Display options include connecting a single monitor: 8K at 30Hz via the Thunderbolt 4 downstream port, or two 4K at 60Hz via either the HDMI ports or one HDMI and the TB4.
You can even connect three 4K monitors using the HDMI ports (both at 30Hz) and 4K at 60Hz via the Thunderbolt 4 downstream port.
Note that Apple’s M1 Macs support just one external display, and you’ll need to install third-party DisplayLink software to manage three monitors on an Intel Apple laptop.
Also on the front of the Anker dock is an SD Card slot for affordable portable storage, a combo 3.5mm Audio In and Out jack, and a power button.
Anker seems to be the only manufacturer to add a power button to its docks, and I applaud this as leaving a laptop permanently charged doesn’t do its batteries any good.
On the back with the dual HDMI, quad USB-A, and TB4 port is Gigabit Ethernet for fast, stable wired Internet access – something else you won’t get on a simpler Thunderbolt 4 hub.
The dock works with Windows 10 or 11 laptops equipped with Thunderbolt 4 (not Thunderbolt 3), and Macs running macOS 11 (Big Sur) or later. Anker warns that it doesn’t work with M1 MacBooks, which is very odd indeed. We know there’s a frustrating one-monitor limitation for the M1 MacBooks so maybe M1 owners wouldn’t fancy this dual-HDMI dock anyway.
Design and build
While Anker’s TB3 dock is a compact vertical format, its TB4 dock is slim and horizontal, although you can purchase a separate, if overpriced, stand ($29.99; £19.99) that sits it upright to save desk space.
It’s a good-looking dock that, like most others, unfortunately, places the upstream computer-connecting Thunderbolt 4 port on the front, which, in my mind at least, spoils the look and the required cable gets in the way.
Anker isn’t alone in this, so there’s no real alternative right now, except for the Caldigit Thunderbolt 4 Element Hub (with four TB4 and four 10Gbps USB-A) that situates the upstream TB4 port on one side.
The Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station is priced at $299.99 or £279.99.
This is about $100 more than a more basic Thunderbolt 4 hub but does boast many more ports, such as Gigabit Ethernet, SD Card reader, audio jack, and let’s not forget those two HDMI ports.
In comparison, the Sonnettech Echo 11 Thunderbolt 4 Dock costs $319.99 or £384.
The Apex ships with a 2.3ft Thunderbolt 4 cable.
The Anker Apex TB4 dock raises eyebrows with its sole downstream Thunderbolt 4 port, but it makes up for this with its two HDMI ports. If your external display setup uses HDMI rather than USB-C monitors, this may suit you better than a dock with three downstream TB4 ports that will require display adapters.
It’s a well-priced dock – although we would have appreciated the stand being part of the package – with everything you’d expect of a laptop docking station and powerful laptop and device charging capabilities.
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