Perfectly Portable PC Problem
July 31, 2020 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to build the perfect portable workstation setup, so that I can more freely spend a day working from my partner's home or a week from my parents' kitchen. There one's component that I can't quite seem to find though... is there a USB-C dongle out there that will let connect both a USB-C PD power source and a USB-C monitor at the same time?

So here's the sitch... as part of my portable office setup I've got two big components:
1) A portable monitor. Can be powered off 45W USB-C PD charger, connects to the laptop via second USB-C port. (It can connect and power itself off just one connection to the laptop, if the laptop is plugged into a charger.)
2) A laptop. It only requires 45w to function, though the more the merrier. It only has a single Thunderbolt/USB-C port.

What I'm hoping to accomplish it to have one USB-C PD charger with enough juice to power both, as well as a way to connect both the charger and the monitor to the laptop's single port. I should be able to power off a single 100W charger, of which there are many options. (Though those 3 are my current top picks.) What I can't seem to find is a hub. Most of them are designed to provide USB-A and HDMI ports, which I don't really need in this particular scenario--though they are nice-to-haves. There are some that do have a PD port and a spare USB-C port, but don't offer video over USB-C. Has anyone seen anything that fits this niche? Is there a keyword I'm missing in my searches?
posted by OMGTehAwsome to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are a few...

They are very much not cheap. And the outward-facing USB-C ports only support serial, not monitors.

I think this Dell one may be the only one that supports DisplayPort over USB-C in a hub:

But... they all require separate power adapters.

I assume you have a Macbook with a single Thunderbolt port. I think you're kind of hosed unfortunately. I have not seen what you describe although it may be possible in theory. For USB-C there are adapters like this that allow you to plug in both headphones and a charger to a phone but I don't think they're likely to properly support a monitor.

(after some searching...)

The Belkin Thunderbolt 3 dock will nearly do what you want, but not with a USB-C power adapter. I think the issue is that docs with multiple USB-C ports have to promise the full USB-C PD 100W to all of them and therefore can't run off a USB-C power supply.
posted by GuyZero at 11:14 AM on July 31

The Wirecutter recommends this Thunderbolt dock (honestly why did I not go there first) but again, needs a magic 180W power supply.
posted by GuyZero at 11:17 AM on July 31

There's definitely a few issues with a full sized Thunderbolt dock:
1) They're really bulky, especially when you add in the 180W power brick. I'm hoping this setup could let me discretely work in a coffee shop if we have to make a road trip stop, without feeling like that one Improv Everywhere skit.
2) They don't support video over USB-C, so they wouldn't work well with my monitor (unless I carry even more cables around. I absolutely want to avoid this.)
posted by OMGTehAwsome at 11:51 AM on July 31

Yes they are huge and yes the power bricks are monsters.

But both the Dell and the CalDigits do support video over USB-C, Apple resells the CalDigit docks and specifically touts its ability to run a 5K TB3 display. EDIT: ah crap, on re-reading the CalDigits spec sheet, it does video over TB3 BUT NOT USB-C. You're right and these specs are a nightmare.

Even more now I legit don't think what you want exists because TB3 and USB-C are still a mess (and I get this opinion from colleagues who do USB-C design work).

The other equally terrible option is just to upgrade to a MacBook Air or a Pro to get 2 or 4 TB3 ports.
posted by GuyZero at 12:02 PM on July 31

Sadly it's a work laptop, so upgrading isn't really an option. If it wasn't then I wouldn't be stuck needing an external monitor just to avoid dealing with the dang 1366x768 screen it came with. (Who is still manufacturing these panels? Why? Stop it.)

It appears my monitor actually supports up to 100W USB PD, though the adapter it came with only provides its required 45W. In theory I should be able to power the monitor off the bigger power supply, then the laptop off the monitor. I'll keep my question open though, in case someone does find this extremely niche adapter in the miasma that is Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C standards.
posted by OMGTehAwsome at 2:16 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

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