Tech

StarTech USB-C Triple Monitor Dock review: Better options exist

StarTech.com USB-C Triple Monitor DockImage: Mark Hachman / IDG

At a glance

Expert’s Rating

Pros

Solid performance on focused, individual tasksTop-notch performance on our storage testGood documentation and labeling

Cons

Price is a little high for a DisplayLink dockThird display port is only 4K30 capableNo SD card slot“Charging” port can’t fast-charge a phone

Our Verdict

StarTech’s USB-C Triple Monitor Dock doesn’t quite live up to its promises, with a price tag that’s too high compared with the competition.

Price When Reviewed

271.99

Best Prices Today: StarTech USB-C Triple Monitor Dock

RetailerPriceAmazon$239.03View DealLenovo USA$271.99View DealOffice Depot$511.98View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

StarTech.com’s USB-C Triple Monitor Dock is one of a small but growing number of laptop docking stations that use the DisplayLink protocol to achieve the same sort of performance as a Thunderbolt dock; in this case, a connection to three distinct 4K displays.

This may very well be overkill, of course. But StarTech mixes in a bevy of additional ports, plus smartphone charging, to offer a compelling, future-proof(?) product. It arrived on the heels of the very similar Sonnet Echo 13, which offers a bit more at a lower price.

A DisplayLink dock offers similar capabilities as a Thunderbolt dock, and we combine both categories into our list of the best Thunderbolt docks and laptop docking stations. You’re probably aware that video delivered via YouTube or Netflix arrives on your TV or laptop in a compressed format, where it is decompressed and played back. Thunderbolt docks deliver uncompressed video between your laptop and display. DisplayLink uses special silicon to compress video and deliver it over a 10Gbps USB-C connection, without any visual artifacts.

It’s this capability that allows the StarTech USB-C Triple Monitor Dock to output to three 4K displays, something that Thunderbolt 3/4 (at least on paper) can’t do until Thunderbolt 5 rolls out.

Two of the dock’s display ports use the DisplayLink protocol. StarTech’s dock uses your PC’s native video output via DisplayPort 1.4 Alt Mode to power the third port — and while your laptop’s specs should tell you whether or not it supports that spec, it probably doesn’t. (The newer the laptop, the more likely it does.) Unlike Sonnet’s dock, the third port only gives you the choice of an HDMI connection — and only to a 4K display at a slower than expected 30Hz refresh rate.

Mark Hachman / IDG

However, the StarTech USB-C Triple Monitor Dock (model 116N-USBC-DOCK) does give you two other pairs of display ports to choose from: DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 on each. That’s a plus, since this means that you’ll be able to use the display cables that your monitor shipped with or that you own already.

On the front of the StarTech dock is a USB-A port running at 10Gbps, an unusually high speed for USB-A. This port is rated at 7.5W of charging power. Next to it are two USB-C ports, properly labeled: one supplies 10Gbps of bandwidth and 7.5W of power, the other 5Gbps and 4.5W of charging power. There’s a headphone/mic jack, too, and a power button, but no SD card slot.

The USB-C cable to connect to your laptop extends from the side of the dock, and is 3.3 feet long. It is rated at 100W of charging power. On the other side is a Kensington lock slot.

The majority of ports appear on the back of the dock, where the power is connected. Next to it is a gigabit Ethernet port, plus two 5Gbps USB-A ports. StarTech.com then adds the two pairs of display ports, plus the 4K, 30Hz HDMI port.

Like Sonnet, StarTech’s documentation is very good — not extravagant, but with every port labeled clearly. StarTech claims that the appropriate DisplayLink software should automatically download when the dock is plugged in. (I wasn’t able to test this as my test PC was already configured.) The company provides a URL to download the necessary drivers, too.

Mark Hachman / IDG

StarTech.com USB-C Triple Monitor Dock performance

So what does this mean in the real world? This dock works perfectly well to output to two 4K displays, but the third is slightly wasted on the 4K30 output. Personally, I don’t mind setting a 4K30 display off to the side for email or something I infrequently consult. But 30Hz may fatigue your eyes over long periods.

Neither of the USB-C ports puts out quite enough power to fast-charge a phone. (I’m a little confused over this dock’s labeling, as the USB-C “charging” port puts out about 8.2W of power, and the other put out about 7.8W. The USB-A ports put out 2.5W.) But the dock also transferred the most power to the laptop that I’ve ever seen, touching 95W. That’s remarkably efficient.

Performance was a mixed bag. The dock seemed to take an unusually long amount of time to connect when switching from one PC to another. Contention also seemed to be an issue. When I worked on one display, or streamed on one display, everything went well. But just streaming on one display, while moving the mouse on another, caused dropped frames and stuttering all over the place. On the other hand, working in a general day-to-day office environment (Web browsing, email, and so on) was absolutely solid, with no instability issues at all.

Mark Hachman / IDG

Likewise, StarTech’s dock had no problem with heat. StarTech warns that if a peripheral (such as an SSD) tries to consume more than 1.8A of power, the dock won’t let it. StarTech may then disconnect and reconnect the device. It sounds annoying, but I never experienced that.

The dock seemed to have trouble passing data over the USB-C cable. When I streamed a 4K60 video over Wi-Fi, all was well — no frames were dropped. Our PCMark storage test went fabulously: 145MB/s, barely the fastest I’ve seen. Copying a test folder of multimedia files from an SSD to the PC’s desktop completed in 48 seconds — again, among the fastest I’ve seen — and dropped to 54.3 seconds while streaming.

But on Ethernet, our test video dropped 470 out of 10,000 frames — not good. Performance on the 4K30 HDMI display wasn’t great, either. And during the SSD folder copy test, the video streaming suffered pretty severely. Watching video is not an unusual task, so you’ll want a dock that can accommodate that.

StarTech.com’s USB-C Triple Monitor Dock is priced rather high for a DisplayLink dock. Overall, it feels like a real mixed bag: top-notch performance when carrying out a single task, but then a real dropoff when asked to do too much. And that’s kind of the point of a laptop docking station, right?

Best Prices Today: StarTech USB-C Triple Monitor Dock

RetailerPriceAmazon$239.03View DealLenovo USA$271.99View DealOffice Depot$511.98View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

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