Hardware

Computer | Docking Station

Long-term Field Test: 31.01.2021 to date


Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock

What's the Point of a Docking Station these Days?

A few years ago, docking stations were common accessories for laptops and notebooks used for work. They usually consisted of a flat plate with a connector strip in the middle or at the back, where the electronics were located in a narrow housing – with all the connections that PCs usually have.

The notebook was placed on it and snapped into place. This ensured quick connection to the stationary peripherals.
At that time, mobile computers themselves had many connections and docking stations were used to connect stationary devices such as printers, monitors, external hard disks, optical storage media (CD, DVD) quickly and easily to the mobile computer when one returned to the office from a field trip.

Nowadays it is considered modern and chic to build notebooks as light, small and thin as possible, leaving hardly any space for proper connection sockets.
For this reason, most manufacturers have long since dispensed with the DVD drive that used to be the norm, and customers are now expected to transfer their data online only. This saves mechanical drives and memory card slots - everything is to be stored in “clouds”, i.e. data centres in mostly unknown locations, to make it easier for authorities to carry out mass surveillance without cause.

Modern Notebooks offer hardly any Connections

So if you have bought a modern, chic, flat notebook and want to work on your data locally without constantly copying and re-plugging, you need a docking station. Most chic flat notebooks only have two USB-C ports, one of them is also used for power supply. If there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports like on the MacBook Air, the data cable of an external Thunderbolt hard drive can charge the notebook's battery at the same time and the connection problem is not dramatic. But as soon as several external USB hard drives are to be used simultaneously, nothing works without a docking station or USB hub. And you miss memory card slots anyway …

The Anker PowerExpand Elite solves the Problem

This can almost completely replace my good old D-Link DUB-H7 USB-Hub (USB-A 2.0) with 7 ports and connects my external hard drives to the Apple MacBook Air (long-term practical test report in progress).

Compatibility

This versatile docking station is suitable for Thunderbolt 3, USB-C Generation 2, USB 3.1, 3.0 and 2.0 and is compatible with macOS and Windows 10.

Purchasing

28.01.2021: Ordered online from Amazon on Thursday night. Delivery with Prime by Saturday evening, otherwise at Monday. I choose the offer for free Prime month.
29.01.2021: On Friday morning I receive the shipping confirmation that my shipment is on its way and will arrive on Saturday.
30.01.2021: No further notification, neither from Amazon nor DHL! The information in the shipment tracking on Amazon is misleading, as you think everything has gone wrong and you should therefore contact the transport service provider. But if you look at the DHL tracking, you might think that the shipment was delivered somewhere in Rodgau, which can't be the case. But without mTAN I can't get access to my parcel at the Packstation, so I'm forced to install DHL's app ...
31.01.2021: In Apple's App Store I find the app named “Post & DHL”, install it and finally get access to my parcel.

Why buy a new USB Hub or Docking Station?

Because my new MacBook Air only has two ports for devices with USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3, I can't get far without a USB hub.
My older external storage media (6x HDD, 1x SSD) support the USB standard 3.0 and could not show their performance at all on the old USB hub, but my old Windows notebook only offers USB 2.0 anyway.
With the Anker PowerExpand Elite docking station, I can finally use the full transfer rate of my old external hard drives.

So why this expensive Docking Station?

Because most of the products on the market are rubbish and I couldn't find a USB hub with enough ports that was made to last, I'm now trying my luck with this docking station, as I've only had good experiences with Anker products so far.
This time I didn't read any customer reviews before ordering, which I usually do first. Before picking up the parcel, I read the reviews and then I don't really feel like picking up the parcel from the DHL Packstation, because there are some very negative reviews.
But I don't back out now, because the goods are already paid for by credit card anyway and there is no alternative …

Equipment

  • Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock
  • Chicony 180W Power Adapter (20 V/9 A)
  • Thunderbolt 3 Cable (2.3 ft)
  • Welcome Guide

Tech Specs

Model Name: Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3
Model Number: A8396

Anker PowerExpand Elite

Docking station for USB-C laptops, charging at 85 W for laptop, at 18 W for smartphone, 4K HDMI, 1 Gbps Ethernet, audio, USB-A Gen 1, USB-C Gen 2, SD 4.0.

Dimensions & Weight:
Height: 125.8 mm / 4.9 in
Width: 88.5 mm / 3.5 in
Depth: 41.9 mm / 1.6 in
Weight: 490 g / 17.3 oz

Housing Material: aluminium with black cooling fins

Connections:
SD Card Slot (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
microSD Card Slot (SD 4.0 UHS-II)
Audio In & Out
USB-C Port (4.5W, 10Gbps)
USB-A Port (7.5W, 5 Gbps)
USB-C Port (18W, 10Gbps)
Thunderbolt 3 Port (15W, 40 Gbps)
Thunderbolt 3 Port (85W, 40 Gbps)
3x USB-A Port (4.5W, 5 Gbps)
4K HDMI Port
Gigabit Ethernet Port

Power Adapter:
Manufacturer: Chicony
180 Watt DC input power, 20 V, 9 A

Recommended max. room temperature: 40 °C.

Compatible Operating Systems:
macOS 10.12 or newer
Windows 8/10
iPadOS

Practice

After some thoughtful planning, the best allocation of all slots was found and thanks to the continued use of the good old D-Link DUB-H7 USB hub (USB-A 2.0) for three older hard drives, the speed advantages of all devices and connections are optimally used. I don't use HDMI and Ethernet and therefore can't write anything about them. The audio connection is either defective or requires a special jack assignment. I have not yet been able to elicit any sound from my headphones.

Photos

(soon, still need to be edited for optimisation for the website)

Pros

  • addresses the lack of USB ports on modern notebooks
  • ideal for charging and synchronising smartphones and tablets
  • Charging current at USB sockets is sufficient for charging iPhones and iPads
  • Mains adapter with a lot of power
  • no software or installation necessary
  • USB ports for USB 3.1, 3.0 and 2.0
  • compatible with macOS and Windows 10
  • chic aluminium housing with black cooling fins

Cons

  • Headphone jack without function (defective?)
  • not suitable for MacBook Pro models w. Intel CPU and 16-inch display
    (unfortunately only 85 watts instead of needed 96 watts output power)

Conclusion

For my purposes, the purchase was worthwhile.
The unusable (defective?) audio jack connection doesn't bother me and the fact that the Ethernet connection may only be active as long as the connected notebook doesn't go into standby doesn't matter to me either. And the fact that only one external display with 60 Hz refresh rate can be controlled is not important to me either. If you really want to control several displays, it's better to do it directly with a powerful notebook or PC, then the Anker PowerExpand Elite can provide some support and doesn't have to do the main work.

Alternatives

During my research, I only noticed a few other USB hubs that were positive. Most of them also only offer two USB ports themselves. What's the point? That takes up one of the two MacBook ports again and you get a USB port and several useless/less important other ports like Ethernet or HDMI for about 50–100 EUR in addition.

Some seem to be built more solidly, but still break faster or don't deliver enough power, so external hard drives and USB sticks work unreliably or not at all.

I can't judge the reviewers' test circumstances, but every negative assessment has to be taken seriously for now.

In the meantime, I have checked the range of devices on Amazon again and read many reviews – thereafter you will lose all desire to buy. Lots of junk!

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