I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release demo unit of OWC’s upcoming Thunderbolt 3 Dock and I wanted to write a review of my experience with it. I’ve had one of the new 15” Apple MacBook Pro laptops with Thunderbolt 3 since they were release. Since that day I’ve been waiting for someone to release a Thunderbolt 3 dock. Why?
My primary work location is my home office, with two Samsung 4k monitors, and a Rain Design stand for my laptop. However I often move throughout the day, working outside, at a coffee shop, heading to a meeting, etc… So I’m plugging and unplugging my laptop at the desk a couple times a day minimum. Without a Thunderbolt 3 dock, this involved at least three cables: The USB-C power supply, a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, plugged into a Thunderbolt 2 cable, plugged into a Belkin Thunderbolt 2 dock, which feeds one of my 4k displays, and a USB hub, etc…, and a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, plugged into a Thunderbolt 2 to DisplayPort adapter, plugged into the second 4k display. Got all that? It’s a mess.
Theoretically Thunderbolt 3 solves that mess as it can carry two 4k video signals, plus USB, plus deliver power to the laptop, and more. However without a Thunderbolt 3 dock, that’s all it has been for several months: a theory.
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock makes that promise a reality.
The pre-release dock I received came in retail packaging, and was Space Grey, which matched my laptop perfectly. The dock is a very well made feeling piece of hardware, with smooth surfaces, rounded corners, and goes well with high end Apple hardware.
It has a separate power brick, and offers a multitude of ports. On the rear of the dock are four USB 3.1 ports, including a high amperage quick charge port (which retains high-throughput data transfer capabilities). A S/PDIF port for digital audio output is next. Followed by a FireWire 800 port for legacy hardware. I appreciate the inclusion of this port, as many people have an investment in high-end FW800 peripherals. There’s a gigabit ethernet jack, which I still strongly prefer while I’m at my desk for backups, media streaming, and more. Next along the slim case are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one of which will be used to connect to your laptop, the other will be left open to attach or chain additional Thunderbolt 3 devices. Then there’s a miniDP graphics port, and finally the power supply input jack.
On the front of the dock is another high amperage/fast charging USB 3.1 port, next to an analog audio input and output port for headphones and headsets. And finally there is a built-in SD card reader. All of the ports feel well made, and plugs slot in smoothly and solidly.
I have one of my 32” 4k displays plugged into the miniDP port, and the other plugged into a USB-C to DisplayPort adapter, which is plugged into one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports. The other Thunderbolt 3 port runs to my laptop on it’s stand. I am using ethernet when at my desk, and am using several of the rear USB ports, including the high power output one for my iPhone dock.
Now, when I return to my home office desk, I place my laptop on the stand, and plug in a single Thunderbolt 3 cable (instead of the 3+ cables before). My two 4k external displays wake up, and I get my three display setup automatically. All the USB hardware on my desk works, and the laptop is powered. It’s amazingly smooth, and makes frequent roaming to and from my home office much easier. It’s also dramatically reduced the cable and power supply clutter as I’ve replaced myriad adapters, docks, power supplies, etc… with a much more streamlined solution.
I do have two minor complaints however.
First I wish there were two miniDP ports instead of just the one. For folks with dual monitor setups like myself, there aren’t any free Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports left. I’d much rather have had two miniDP ports, leaving the second Thunderbolt port open for other devices. Now if I get any Thunderbolt or USB-C peripherals, I will need a second cord running to my laptop.
Secondly, the power output of the dock is only 60W. This is perfect if you have a 13” MacBook Pro as it matches that machine’s charger. However, if like me, you have a 15” MacBook Pro that comes with an 85W charger, you can run into scenarios where the dock cannot deliver enough power to keep up with the laptop’s demand. It’s rare, but I’ve had a few times where my video conferencing software, coupled with using Eclipse and some typical software slowly drained my battery from 80% to 70% over about 90 minutes. When the video call ended, the battery slowly charged back up.
If you routinely run power intensive tasks you may need to use the 85W power supply that came with your laptop. More often is the scenario where you’ve run the battery down while away from your dock, you return, plug in your laptop, and see “20 hours to full charge”. I would love to see this dock offered with an 85W power output.
- Great build quality
- Attractive design that works well with your Apple hardware
- Strong selection of ports (especially if you are only using one external display)
- Works perfectly right out of the box. This shouldn’t be such a surprise, but given some of the hardware docks and peripherals I’ve tested lately…
- Two Year Warranty
- 60W Power Output can fall behind the demands of a busy 15” MacBook Pro
- One miniDP port means if you have two external displays you have no Thunderbolt 3 port available on the dock.
In summary, I really like this dock. I would recommend it to anyone with a Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro.