Since 2016, Apple has made a lot of big changes to the number of ports you get with a MacBook. In the past, MacBooks came with an Ethernet port, HDMI port, card slot, and more. Nowadays, you only get a couple of USB-C ports plus a 3.5 mm audio jack.
If you have a monitor that uses an HDMI port or a DisplayPort instead of USB-C, then you'll need more than what your MacBook has to offer to connect to it.
An easy way to solve this problem is to get your hands on a USB-C hub or docking station to turn one of your MacBook's USB-C ports into much more. Whether you need an Ethernet port, an HDMI port, USB ports, or basically anything else, it couldn't be easier to do.
The only thing left to decide is whether you need a USB-C hub or a docking station.
1. USB-C Hub vs Docking Station
USB-C hubs and docking stations share the same basic functions, but there's a big gap in price.
USB-C hubs are smaller, lighter and more portable than docking stations, and usually come with a mix of common ports like HDMI, USB, USB-C, SD/microSD card slots, and Ethernet.
In addition to having a range of common ports, docking stations will generally support some higher-end functionality. That can range from 3-screen display, 8K support, and 40 Gbps data transfer speed. The number of ports is generally a lot more than a standard USB-C hub.
The only potential downside to a docking station is that they tend to be larger and heavier than USB-C hubs. They also come with hefty power adapter, so they're much more suited to being used in a fixed location.
2. How Many Screens Do You Need?
After using a MacBook for a while, you might get frustrated by the screen size or get sick of hunching over at your desk. That's why a lot of people will choose to connect one or more external monitors.
Most monitors on the market have an HDMI port, so you'll need a hub or a docking station to connect to your MacBook.
For example, Anker PowerExpand 8-in-1 USB-C PD 10Gbps Data Hub is equipped with an HDMI 2.0 port which allows you to hook up your MacNook to an external display.
If you are a macOS (non-M1) user and want to use MST mode, you'll need a USB-C hub or docking station (like this Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station) that has either 2 USB-C ports or supports Thunderbolt technology.
If you use a MacBook with an M1 chip, no matter what kind of USB-C hub or docking station you use, you will still only be able to connect to one screen.
If you want to learn more about setting up external displays, have a look at our dedicated guide here.
3. Is Charging Important?
Usually, because USB-C hubs are designed to be light and portable, they won't ship with an included power supply. You can connect your own charger to a USB-C hub's PD input port to give your laptop a pass-through charge, but a certain amount of your charger's output will be diverted to the hub. This means your charging speed will be slower than if you were directly connecting the charger to your laptop. Hubs also generally don't support high-speed charging to mobile devices.
So if you're looking for something that comes with a power supply, can charge at high-speed, and can even charge your mobile devices simultaneously, then a docking station sounds like the best choice for you.
Take for example Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station. It can provide up to 90W of charging power to your connected laptop, and you can also give your mobile phone or tablet a charge via the other ports.
4. Are You a Big Data Transfer-er?
Most USB-C hubs can transfer data at 5 Gbps, and a few can transfer at 10 Gbps. That's enough for occasional use, but if you're a graphic designer or a photographer who frequently needs to transfer files at high speed, then you'll need something with a bit more kick.
Luckily, docking stations can transfer data at up to 40 Gbps, which is fast enough to transfer a 20GB file in just 14 seconds (according to our internal testing). If you need that kind of speed, check out the newly-released Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 Docking Station.
5. On-the-Go or Never Go?
If you spend a lot of time working outside, moving around, commuting, or switching meeting rooms, then the compactness and portability of a USB-C hub will suit you well.
At present, there are two USB-C hub connection types. The first is the classic wired connection, and the second is a wire-free hub which plugs directly into your laptop.
Wired hubs have a built-in cable which connects to your laptop. This allows you to move the hub around more on your desk, but the cable can also get in the way or affect portability.
Wire-free hubs have built-in connectors which plug directly into your laptop's ports. With this kind of hub, you can easily carry your laptop around with you and keep the hub connected the whole time.
Anker PowerExpand 11-in-1 USB-C PD Hub is an example of a wired hub, while PowerExpand Direct 7-in-2 USB-C PD Media Hub is an example of a wire-free plug-in hub.
Docking stations are wired, and they also don't offer anywhere near the same level of portability as a USB-C hub. But if you're someone who works in one place and doesn't move around a lot, then a docking station could be the best option for you.
So when you're looking for a way to expand your MacBook's ports, it's important to carefully think about what functionality you need, and what kind of product will fit your lifestyle the best. It's also important to understand clearly what your MacBook can and can't do. The last thing you want is to buy a bunch of monitors and then find out that your MacBook can only support single screen output.
If you want to get a good recommendation for a USB-C hub or docking station, take our quiz here.
You can also check and compare 4 of our best-selling USB-C hubs and docking stations below.