My name is Scott Ward, and I am providing this independent review of Kensington’s SD5200T Thunderbolt 3 Universal Dual 4K Docking Station for Mac and PC from my perspective as a Music and Technology Associate Pastor. I am not a professional reviewer—I’m an end user in a small private office environment—and am not employed by any company, magazine, internet blog, or other business marketing source. With this review, I’m intending to give an accurate, detailed, and unbiased view of my experiences using the SD5200T with my A/V setup to help others considering it as a solution to their own needs.
Matching My Needs to A Solution
As a career Music and Technology Associate Pastor, I have over 25 years full-time experience working as part of large church leadership teams. I’m also a professional live sound and recording engineer, and I have designed and installed pro audio systems for many clients. I’m familiar with both Windows and Mac systems, which I use to create and produce independent video projects for churches and other clients.
The equipment in my present system includes a Dell desktop PC running Windows 10 Professional, a 2018 MacBook Pro 15" laptop (with Touch Bar), 3 external LCD monitors (1080i HDMI), a wall mounted VIZIO 60" 1080i HDMI monitor (for previewing completed projects and/or presenting to clients), HDMI switching allowing for Mac/PC source routing to selected monitors, a networked HP LaserJet printer, and a few external hard drives for storage. I am looking to upgrade to 4K monitors in the next few months.
After I purchased the 2018 MacBook Pro, I was immediately presented with the challenge of how to integrate the new USB-C Thunderbolt based laptop with the connection options of my existing equipment. I wanted to be able to use 2 of my 3 external monitors with the Mac, as well as to connect to my network by wired internet, and access some USB 3.0 drives—all at the same time. Obviously, there are many dongle adaptors available for connecting USB-C ports to other data types (USB, HDMI, Ethernet, and others). However, needing to use multiple connection points simultaneously makes the process of connecting and disconnecting the laptop to the system via multiple dongles undesirable. For starters, it is very tedious and time consuming. Also, there are only 4 USB-C connections on the 2018 MacBook Pro 15" model, and one of them must power the computer. That leaves only 3 others to provide monitors, networking, external storage, and any other components commonly needed in a desktop environment. That is just not sufficient for my system needs, and is probably not viable for others with similar setups.
Other issues are also created with multiple dongle connections. As with any other electronic device, plugging something in and out of a connection point creates wear, and additional chance of eventual intermittent problems (sometimes leading to failure) requiring expensive laptop repairs. If you go mobile with the laptop computer with any frequency, which my situation requires on a daily basis, that "in and out" count on those connection points will add up fast. Other issues for me were the cost of the dongles needed to have 2 of each type in order leave one in the office and pack the other in my laptop bag, as well as the eventual potential failure of the dongles themselves. Apple branded, or at the least Apple Certified, dongle connectors are not cheap. All things considered, the cost of a Thunderbolt Dock quickly became justified in my mind.
Docking Design and Connection Options
After some investigative shopping and comparisons, I decided that the Kensington SD5200T might be the best option for my particular system. I needed integration to HDMI, Mac/Windows Cross-Platform compatibility, 85W power delivery (the minimum requirement of the MacBook Pro 15"), connection to 10/100/1000 Gigabit internet via RJ45 Cat6 interface, and the ability to use USB external storage drives. The SD5200T was one of the few docks available that advertised it could accomplish all of these simultaneously with a single connection between the computer and the dock. With one of this model's primary features being its ability to be used on either Mac or Windows systems, that versatility was a clear winner when being compared to many of the Thunderbolt dock offerings.
According to the documentation and description pages on Kensington's website, this unit is "Best For: Thunderbolt 3 Laptops & Ultrabooks and Monitors that support up to 4K". The SD5200T specifically supports Thunderbolt 3, and it is not backwards compatible with versions 1 or 2 of the Thunderbolt protocol. For Windows use, the laptop to be used must support Power Delivery. The dock will allow a single monitor resolution of 5K (5120 x 2880 @ 60Hz), or dual monitors usage at 4K (4096 x 2160 @ 60 Hz). Connection to external monitors is on the rear of the dock, via 1 x DisplayPort v1.2++ and 1 x Thunderbolt 3 Port. Kensington also offers adapters to change each of these ports to HDMI (VP4000 DisplayPort to HDMI, and CV4000H USB-C Thunderbolt 3 to HDMI), which are both designed to maintain the display capabilities of the dock. This allows for the hardware integration that I need for my system. Also on the rear of the dock are a RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet port, a USB Type A 3.0 High Speed port (5V/0.9A), the power input connection (DC 20V tip positive, used with included AC power supply), separate 3.5mm audio in (microphone) and audio out (headphone) jacks, the Thunderbolt 3 port that is used for the cable that goes to your laptop (included), and also a Kensington Security Slot (designed for K65020WW MicroSaver 2.0 Keyed Laptop Lock, sold separately). This unit also has a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port (5Gbps/15W) on the front of the dock and a USB Type A 3.0 High Speed port that is also a 2.1 Amp charging port for convenient connection to phones, tablets, USB drives, and other temporary connections.
Unboxing and Hooking Up the SD5200T
The SD5200T came with everything I needed to get up and running, with the exception of the additional monitor adapters to change the DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3 connections to HDMI. If you have displays that use DisplayPort v1.2++ and/or Thunderbolt 3 and have the cables, you are good to go without the adapters. Kensington includes not only the AC to DC power supply, but also a Thunderbolt 3 cable intended to connect the dock to the laptop computer (rated for up to 85W Power Delivery). Since not every USB-C cable is rated for charging, this was a huge plus to have it included in the box. I had everything else that I needed to merge the unit with the rest of my equipment without having to obtain extra items, and I would think that would be the case with most standard usages. Available as optional accessories for the dock are the Keyed Laptop Lock that I mentioned earlier, as well as a K33959WW Mounting Plate designed to allow the dock to be attached to the back side of any display monitor with VESA compatible mounting capabilities. The lock will allow for peace of mind to protect your dock from theft in a public use environment, and the well thought out design of the mounting plate allows for the option of vertical mounting of the dock, helping to hide the wiring connections from view and saving valuable desk space.
The installation of the dock and adapters into my existing system was quick and straightforward. The HDMI display monitors that I currently use do not have VESA mounting capabilities, so I plan to use the mounting plate and relocate the dock when I get the new 4K monitors. Until then, I’m able to position the dock directly underneath my laptop riser to allow reach with the supplied Thunderbolt 3 cable with no hassle.
For my specific system, I connected my HDMI monitor outputs to both the DisplayPort and rear Thunderbolt 3 (monitor) connections on the back side of the dock (using adapters to change to HDMI), a Cat6 RJ45 Network cable to the Gigabit port, the power supply connection, an external USB 3.0 hard drive to the rear USB port, and was able to connect my desktop audio recording equipment using the microphone and headphone jacks. I positioned the dock to allow for easy access to the front ports, which were then at desk level on the face of the unit. I was able to easily insert, access, and remove a USB drive with no difficulty. The ability to utilize all of these separate connections, including supply of charging power, through a single Thunderbolt 3 cable was exactly the connectivity that my system and workflow needed.
Docking Usage Test
After getting everything hooked up, I was excited test this dock's capabilities by taking the video editing software on my MacBook for a spin. The SD5200T performed as expected, with clear resolution and refresh rate on both of the external HDMI monitors that I had connected. The power supply kept the laptop at 100 percent charge, and had no signs of difficulty even during the increased processing demands of the final rendering phases. The monitor color depth was impressive, and I felt like I was seeing the complete capabilities of my system being made available without the dock or connections adding any degradation of quality. I am looking forward to when I am able to see that performance on 4K resolution as I add new display hardware in the future.
I was also able to test the dock's integration while using an audio editor. I wanted to compare the difference in the sound quality, if any, between audio coming out of the MacBook Pro's headphone jack directly with the headphone/audio out jack of the SD5200T. As a producer and editor, I am a discerning listener and put a high importance on audio quality, and the dock's connection did not disappoint. There was absolutely no loss or compromise in the audio source by utilizing it. The ability to leave these audio connections in place as part of the rest of the cabling that stays plugged in to the stationary mounted dock is a huge advantage when removing the laptop for portable use and returning it afterwards. One single Thunderbolt 3 cable replaces the need for all of the previous separate connection steps.
Another thing that I am very happy with as I continue to use this dock is how it has cleaned up the cables and adapters needed to connect to the laptop itself. I had been using 4 or 5 separate connections with my previous MacBook Pro model. Now because of the Kensington Dock combined with the Thunderbolt 3 connection’s ability to carry simultaneous video, data, and power, my new 2018 MacBook Pro is streamlined with only a single Thunderbolt 3 cable plugged into it. This is much less cluttered, and makes removing and replacing the laptop a breeze.
I have tested the dock in everyday use as the hub of connectivity between my MacBook Pro and the rest of my system for a couple of weeks before writing my review. I have used many local and web-based applications, audio and video, and word processing, and have seen the results of both processor intensive tasks as well as low pressure normal use. I am a believer in taking time to adequately put something through its paces before passing judgement, positive or negative. It allows for a more informed conclusion based on the results of a period of continually monitored use. As of the time of this writing, the dock is continuing to perform at the same high level of performance and shows no sign to me of any negative issues or reasons for concern. The unit carries a 3-year warranty from Kensington, and they are a company that stands by their products with years of satisfied customers and loyal return business. “You get what you pay for” applies here, and with this unit you get a lot.
One of my goals in creating this review was to give an honest descriptive report of my experience with interfacing this unit with my equipment, and what it is like to use it to its advertised potential. To me, the value of a component (and why I would spend money on purchasing it) is based on many things—the strength of the manufacturer's name and reputation, customer service, price, build quality, user reviews, and more. But the determining value for me in this case was the design aspects of the SD5200T. How well does it fit with my need? Not how well it does in another application that has nothing to do with me. Something that I may look at might have a great design, but it doesn't get consideration as a solution if it won’t work with the stuff that I need it to work with. In this case, this is where this unit's design stands out to me above the rest. This is a dock that will fill many, if not all, of the connectivity needs for a system connecting a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C laptop to a desktop workstation that uses dual monitor displays. Everything I needed it to do was built into its design, and it was able to do it flawlessly. And it can do much more. Kensington has designed this piece to serve as a stand-alone unit, and it even offers the potential to daisy chain multiple Thunderbolt 3 devices together (liked HDDs, etc.).
Some people may never desire to use a laptop as the basis for a desktop system, may never use or need a dock, and may have other totally separate computer systems that are in primary use. They may leave their laptop in a bag until they need to go out the door with it. But for those users needing to use their laptops as I do—providing multi monitor display to a docked use, but also allowing the removal and return of the computer to be as simple as possible when it is used as a portable device—then the SD5200T might be the solution you have been looking for. It has lived up to all of my expectations, and it has assumed the role of the heart of the system I depend on. The construction is top quality, the features and design are a perfect fit with my needs, and it carries a brand name that I can trust. I am extremely happy with this dock, and I have already been able to see the improvements in workflow efficiency that it has brought me. I would highly recommend it for any user, especially for a hardware set that is similar to mine.
~ Scott Ward