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 20 Thunderbolt 4 SuperDock, a heavy chunk of aluminum goodness that restores a lot of your laptop’s missing features while adding tons more you never thought you needed. For some it could transform their compatible Mac/Windows laptop into a productivity beast.
USB vs. Thunderbolt Dock: Choose Wisely
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 20 Thunderbolt 4 SuperDock certainly earns its “super” name; not only is it larger and heavier than its Sonnettech brethren, it’s stocked to the gills with features. The “20” in the name stands for the number of available ports, though it’s a bit of a fib as there are really only 19 you can actually use (the titular 20 is the dock’s power supply port).
The SuperDock is a hefty slab of matte black aluminum at 9.5″ x 4.5″ x 1.5″ and weighs in at a whopping 3.3lbs. Factor in that absolute beast of a power brick and you’ve got a Thunderbolt dock that isn’t going anywhere. Seriously; find a favorite spot on your desk for this one and set up camp, because chances are it’s not going anywhere. It does get quite warm in use but never to the point you’re looking for a fire extinguisher.
You want ports? The SuperDock has ports. On the front are 2 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type A ports and two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C ports, a single UHS-II full-size SD card reader (up to 312MBps), a 3.5mm combo audio jack and the power indicator light. Things get a lot more interesting on the back as you’ll find another four USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (both Type A and Type-C), 2 Thunderbolt 4 peripheral ports, a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port, a HDMI 2.1 port, left/right (white/red) RCA audio out jacks and a 3.5mm microphone input. Did you need a little extra security? A Kensington Lock on the side gives you just that!
You’ll also find the dock’s single Thunderbolt data/power connector port on the back, a nice change from the other docks’ awkward front-facing option. Even better, Sonnettech included a retainer clip you tightly screw in to keep your Thunderbolt 4 cable nice and sturdy. A single Thunderbolt 4 cable (included) will power your laptop (up to 100W) while providing all the data, display, and transfer speeds you’ll need – as long as it’s powered on.
The ports themselves are nicely equipped. The 8 available USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports (both Type A and C) each offer fast 10Gbps of data while allowing up to 7.5W of power. The Type-C ports have the Type-C Charging spec (meaning they’ll continue to charge even when your computer is asleep). 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. Speaking of audio, having white/red analog RCA jacks and a dedicated microphone input should be a boon for audiophiles.
M.2 SSD Expandable
But there’s more! The SuperDock is hiding one more port, and it’s a big one. Underneath the bottom panel, removable via two tiny screws, is a slot that allows you to install a super-speedy M.2 NVMe SSD drive up to 8TB. As with everything Thunderbolt related, you’ll want to check out Sonnettech’s compatibility list to see if your M2 drive will fit (spoiler: it likely will).
You’ll need to format the drive before using, however, though doing so was super easy; just use Disk Utility (Mac) or Disk Management (Windows) and you’ll have instant access. I wasn’t able to test it, but the manual claims the Superdock supports booting from the SSD if using a Mac, but not Windows.
One caveat is that, regardless how super-speedy your M2 drive is, Sonnettech claims transfer rates max out at 800MBps. Again, performance will depend on your drive and what you’re doing on the dock, but I was able to get blistering speeds with multiple monitors attached (Windows) and several peripherals sucking up power and data. A bloated 18 GB folder took less than 15 seconds to transfer to and from the drive (Mac and Windows). I was very happy with this performance.
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 lists both the iPad Pro and Chromebooks (with Thunderbolt 4 or USB 4 ports) as compatible but I wasn’t able to test either. Their 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 SuperDock 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: A Workstation Transformation
In every way that really matters, Sonnettech’s Echo 20 Thunderbolt 4 SuperDock is a fantastic way to expand your laptop’s usefulness with little hassle. It’s fairly big and heavy, but that’s a small price to pay for adding so much functionality. Speaking of price, it’s not cheap, but there are more expensive docks out there that do less, and you can always opt for the company’s superb Echo 11 dock as well. An ideal option for power users and audiophiles, the SuperDock may be the solution Mac/Windows professionals have been waiting for.