Docks aren't usually fashion-statement accessories, and once you purchase one, it usually languishes under a laptop or monitor, never to be seen again. The $209 HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock's clean, two-toned design makes it handsome enough that you'll be proud to have it sitting on your desk. It's pricey and doesn't offer the widest variety of ports, but it supports two 4K monitors over Thunderbolt 3 without a hitch -- that is, as long as you have an HP laptop that works with it.
There's no question about it: The HP Elite is the most beautiful dock I've ever seen. It's a thin, 9.1 x 2.2 x 0.69-inch horizontal bar that has a beautiful two-toned color scheme. The leftmost side of the dock is black, while the rest is a very dark gray. HP's logo is stamped on the upper-right-hand corner of the top of the dock, and a power button is on the front. The contrast is eye-catching but subtle, inviting you to look but not gawk.
The bottom is made of textured rubber that keeps it from slipping and sliding. The dock is small enough to be shoved below your monitor or under your computer if you want to conserve desk space.
The Elite doesn't have as many ports as some of its competitors, but it supports USB Type-C Thunderbolt, which makes it future-proof. On the back of the dock, you'll find a lock slot, an Ethernet jack, a VGA port, two USB 3.0 ports, a USB Type-C port, a power jack and a spot for the combined proprietary Thunderbolt/AC power cable. There are another two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone/mic jack on the front.
However, having the latest ports doesn't make up for a lack of choice. The dock doesn't have any options for HDMI cables, which you do find on both the Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station and the Dell WD15. And there's no room for DVI, which the Plugable offers. There are no adapters in the box to use those cables, but they may be a worthwhile investment. (I found a DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter for $10 on Amazon.)
The HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a strong performer as long as you have an HP Notebook with Thunderbolt 3 support. The device didn't work with the Dell XPS 13 or the Lenovo ThinkPad P70. When I tried the dock with an HP EliteBook Folio G1, the power button lit up, and my external displays turned on. The company told me that while the Elite is designed for HP notebooks and that compatibility with other vendors' machines depends on how they implemented Thunderbolt.
HP promises that the Elite can support two 4K monitors over DisplayPort, and it follows through, performing well in my testing. The dock played 4K video smoothly while I browsed the web in Chrome and edited text in Wordpad. (It should be noted that the EliteBook Folio has its own 4K display, which also output at full resolution.)
Alternatively, you can hook up one 4K monitor over DisplayPort and one over VGA (the latter outputs at 1080p), or a single 4K or VGA monitor. Video playback and web browsing were equally smooth in each arrangement.
No matter how many (or which type) of displays I had attached to the dock, it didn't do much damage in terms of resources. Just 3.4 percent of the CPU was consumed with nothing else running. The WD15 used 3 percent, while the Plugable USB Type-C used 10 percent.
The HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 Dock is beautiful and powerful enough to be on any desk, but it's limited to certain HP computers. Its support for USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 make it future-proof, and its performance was consistent and smooth, even when outputting at 4K.
There's not much variety in video outputs, though, and those who use HDMI or DVI monitors will need to buy some adapters for the dock. People who use a wider variety of computers or have access to more types of ports should consider Plugable's $179 USB-C Triple Display Docking Station which offers a better assortment of ports than the Elite does. However, only one of that dock's three displays can output at 4K.
Plugable's offerings eschew any semblance of style, though. If you're looking for something attractive that also works well -- or if you need two 4K displays -- go for the Elite.