The tradeoff for transforming chunky laptops into thinner, super portable ultrabooks means getting rid of ports. The idea was that we’d be living in a fully wireless world, so why take up valuable space on physical slots? However, we still live in a world where physical devices still rule the roost, and not just for legacy devices. This is especially true for USB (Type A/C), SD cards, hard drives, even audio and video outputs. We’re not ready to quit them just yet.
The promise of Thunderbolt is that it can easily turn one thing into many things. For users with newer laptops missing all those precious ports they’ll need a dock. Something like Sonnettech’s Echo 11 Thunderbolt 4 HDMI Dock, an attractive aluminum box that restores a lot of your laptop’s missing features while adding tons of expandability options in the process. For some this could be the easiest way to transform their compatible Mac/Windows laptop into a real workstation.
To be honest, unless you’re someone who needs the biggest, bestest, fastest and most expandable dock out there, a USB-C option should do everything you want. Maybe you just need to add a mouse, or output video to an external monitor. A hub or dongle can easily handle these things and more – and for much less money.
But Thunderbolt is for power users; those wanting multiple displays, powered ports, high-speed transfer rates, expandable memory, or even external GPUs. And it needs to do all these things (and more) without overheating, without stuttering, without much compromise. It’s here where hubs and dongles fail, and Thunderbolt prevails.
However, given Sonnettech’s own marketing and (let’s be honest) fundamental truth that the Thunderbolt standard has always been, and likely always will be, more beneficial to Mac users than Windows, the majority of testing for these docks was done using a 2022 MacBook Air powered by Apple’s M2 processor and dual Thunderbolt 3 ports. For comparison sake, I also used a Windows machine with an Intel 12th Gen processor and dual Thunderbolt 4 ports. Both machines were updated and running their latest respective operating systems.
Does the idea of transforming your innocent looking MacBook (or compatible Windows laptop) into a peripheral-pushing workstation interest you? It sounds like Sonnettech may have just the Thunderbolt dock you’re looking for.
As mentioned above, just how much (or little) use you’ll get from any Thunderbolt dock will depend entirely on things that have nothing to do with the dock itself. Mainly, this includes what version of Thunderbolt your computer has, what cables you’re using, and what you’re trying to get done. Sometimes even the length of the cable itself can cause issues. Chances are, if you have a M1/M2 Mac or a Intel PC made after 2018, this Sonnettech dock should work fine.
Design and Ports
The Echo 11 Thunderbolt 4 HDMI Dock certainly earns its name; while largely indistinguishable from its predecessor, it swaps out a Thunderbolt port for a HDMI 2.1 port while upgrading a few other things. The “11” in the name stands for the number of available ports, though it’s a bit of a fib as there are really only 10 you can actually use (the titular 11 is the dock’s power supply port).
You want ports? The Echo 11 has ports. On the front is a single USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type A port, a single UHS-II full-size SD card reader (up to 312MBps), a 3.5mm combo audio jack, and power indicator / data lights. Also up front is a single Thunderbolt data/power connector port that powers your laptop (up to 100W) using a single Thunderbolt 4 cable (included) while providing all the data, display, and transfer speeds you’ll need – as long as it’s powered on. I wish this port was on the back, but you can’t have everything.
Things get more interesting on the back as you’ll find another 3 USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (Type A), 2 Thunderbolt 4 peripheral ports, a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port, the dock’s titular HDMI 2.1 port, and the power port.
The ports themselves are nicely equipped. The 4 available USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports each offer fast 10Gbps of data while allowing up to 7.5W of power while the front-facing port is listed as a dedicated charging port. With some laptops (hello, Macs) these may be the only USB Type A ports you’ll have available and they play nice with everything from mice, headsets, game controllers, printers, and external storage drives.
The SD reader is super fast but full-sized, though you can still use MicroSD cards with an adapter. The 3.5mm combo port works great and, interestingly, I was able to use the play/pause button using stock Apple Earpods. Still no volume control, sadly.
Easily the most confusing aspect of Thunderbolt/USB-C standards is how they output to external displays – and how many. These limitations are less about the dock and more about what your computer is. This is especially true for Macs as Apple’s popular M1/M2 laptops as they’re limited to just one external display – those needing more screen space need a Mac running M2 Max and M2 Ultra chips (Apple confuses us further by calling this Thunderbolt / USB 4). This is less an issue for Windows machines as you’ll get substantially better flexibility over how many external displays you want.
On a M1/M2 Mac the Echo 11 outputs to HDMI without issue, even with high refresh rates. You can even use a HDMI or DP USB-C dongle to output video but only just one at a time; it’s just a single external output. My Windows machine was a different story as I was able to output multiple displays without any issues (including full 1440p, 1080p, and even Type-C connections) at their maximum refresh rates. There is support for 4K, 5K, 6K and 8K running @60Hz but results will vary.
Sonnettech’s monitor compatibility list is extensive, and I strongly recommend taking a look before deciding if this is the right dock for your needs. Given its Thunderbolt 4 spec and HDMI 2.1 output, however, the Echo 11 is nicely future-proofed when the time comes for an upgrade. So even if you don’t need that 8K support now, you might some day!
Conclusion: An Instant Upgrade
With its HDMI 2.1 output, 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet, and better power output Sonnettech’s Echo 11 Thunderbolt 4 HDMI Dock is a sizable upgrade over its predecessor, the standard Echo 11 Thunderbolt Dock. For more users this will be more than enough. If you need more you can opt for the beefier Echo 20 SuperDock, but that could be overkill for some. Price for value, this is an ideal solution for Mac/Windows users needing an affordable way to instantly give their laptops a productivity upgrade.