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OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock Review

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.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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.

Why I Am Buying an Apple iPad

iPad

iPad

The Apple iPad has been the center of a storm of controversy this week after it was announced on Wednesday. Given the long anticipation and wild rumors preceding the actual announcement it’s no surprise that some people are disappointed. Others, like myself, and eager for iPads to start shipping.

I’m not going to try to refute the criticisms out there or try to argue with folks about their unrealistic expectations. Instead I want to share why I personally am excited about the iPad and how I see myself using it.

The iPad is closer to a 10″ iPhone than a small MacBook. It runs the iPhone OS, and will run iPhone applications from the App Store, which means there will be a ton of things you can do with it, and new applications written just for the iPad emerging soon. However, just looking at the core functionality, you can:

  • Read and Send E-mail
  • Surf the Web
  • Check and Change your Calendar
  • Listen to Music
  • Watch TV and Movies
  • Read Books and Magazines
  • Write Pages, Numbers, and Keynote Documents

Work: As much I know you’re supposed to start off your day working on some specific task to help get momentum going, the reality is I usually spend the first hour or two of my work day reading, replying to, and sending e-mail, checking my calendar for the day, checking a few websites for news, checking Jira for what I’m going to today, checking my OmniFocus to-do list, and listening to some music. I also spend a decent chunk of time writing documents in Pages. I can do all of that on an iPad, anywhere. That means I’m free to start out my day drinking tea in the kitchen or flop down on the couch in the library, or pop out to the local coffee shop. I just have to carry a 1.5 lb iPad and I can work. That’s VERY appealing to me.

Around the House: I use my iPhone all the time to look things up online, check maps, my calendar, obsessively check my e-mail, control my music in the house, and show people neat things. The iPad does all that, but has a much bigger screen which will be VERY nice. Long term I’d love to see it integrate with more things and become a house remote control, hooked into all my entertainment options, the lights, locks, thermostat, smoke detectors, alarm system, CO sensors, etc… and to work just as well anywhere in the world as it does within the house.

Travel: I’m a big guy, and my laptop is a 17″ MBP, which while perfect for the heavy lifting of most of my job, is awful for travel. With the exception of the extra legroom area on JetBlue flights, I cannot use my laptop safely/comfortably/effectively in coach on any domestic US airline. The iPhone’s small screen makes watching movies doable but not great, and worse you have to either hold it up in front of you for hours on end, or tilt your neck 90 degrees and stare down at it on your tray table. Plus you run the risk of running out of batteries on your phone once you get to where you’re going. The iPad will let you watch video on a 10″ screen, read books or newspapers, catch up on e-mail, etc… with a 10 hour battery, and no impact to your phone. Big fan.

Meetings/Day Trips: The iPad is perfect for meetings or day trips. You can do work, take notes, run a projector, send e-mail, etc… In fact on my last day trip/meeting I could have brought an iPad instead of my whole laptop bag. That would have been very nice.

Do I NEED one? No, my laptop and iPhone work pretty well in most cases. Are the uses I laid out above worth a few hundred bucks to me, yes they are. I think, like the iPod and iPhone before it, while no one NEEDED one, it won’t take long before the iPad becomes an ingrained part of our daily lives.

Another thing to consider is that many people who have computers but aren’t super technical really only do the following things: surf the web, email, write documents, look at photos, watch videos, and listen to music. An iPad would be a reasonable replacement for many folks (I’m looking at you Mom!).

So, if you don’t want one, or it doesn’t meet your needs, or you wanted a $14.95 14″ 1.5 oz 3 GHz machine with ESP, that’s all fine. But for me, it looks like a very promising product that while I don’t NEED it, will probably make things easier and more pleasant for me in many cases.

Installing an SSD in a MacBookPro

I just replaced my 17″ Unibody MacBookPro’s hard drive with a new Corsair 256GB SSD. The SSD uses Samsung chips and controller. It’s VERY FAST!

  1. First I made an image of my BootCamp partition using WinClone.
  2. Next I ran one final Time Machine backup to my Time Capsule.
  3. After that was complete, I shut the machine down.
  4. I swapped the new hard drive for the old one. Apple has a great guide on how to replace the hard drive in the laptop. The SSD is MUCH lighter than the OEM hard drive.
  5. I booted up with the Leopard OS X Install DVD.
  6. I selected the disk utility from the menu, and formatted the new hard drive with an HFS+ partition.
  7. I then had to reboot in order for the new partition to show up under the Restore option.
  8. After rebooting to the Install DVD again, select the Restore option from the menu, and select your most recent Time Machine backup. The step where it’s calculating the size of the backup can take a VERY long time. Be patient. The restore itself can take a while. My 220 GB took about 8 hours to restore.
  9. Now you should be able to boot into your system from the new hard drive.
  10. If you don’t use BootCamp you can skip these steps:
    1. Run the Boot Camp Assistant and recreate the Boot Camp partition. Make sure it’s the same size or larger than your previous one.
    2. Start the Windows installation process using your WIndows install CD/DVD. Make sure you format the Boot Camp partition. Once it starts actually installing Windows, you can force a shut down.
    3. Boot back into OS X, and use WinClone to restore your Boot Camp image to the partition on the SSD.

It’s like having a new machine. Booting used to take 60-90 seconds from off to 100% up and ready, including Quicksilver loading up, etc… Now it takes about 5 seconds. Applications load pretty much instantly, without bouncing in the dock. Shutdowns and sleep happen instantly. The whole machine feels amazingly faster.

It’s not the cheapest thing, but it’s a very worthwhile upgrade.

Why I Love Having 8 Gigs of RAM

I recently upgraded my primary computer from a 15″ MacBookPro with 4 GB of RAM to a 17″ MacBookPro with 8 GB of RAM. That probably sounds gratuitous. Here’s why it’s not:

picture-3

I’m currently running:

  • Mac OS 10.5.6
  • Adium (IM chat client)
  • Mail.app (e-mail client)
  • iCal (calendar application)
  • iTunes (music)
  • OmniFocus (GTD todo list)
  • TextMate (text editor)
  • Preview (image viewer – for looking at screenshots, scanned requirements docs)
  • PostgreSQL (CouponEngine database)
  • pgAdmin (postgreSQL client and admin app)
  • Terminal
  • Safari 4 (primary browser)
  • Firefox 3 (for testing look and feel)
  • Eclipse (development environment)
  • Windows XP (running in Parallels-for testing and Oracle)
  • Oracle 10G (ATG database)
  • JBoss 4.0 + ATG 2006.3 with full Commerce stack
  • JBoss 4.2 + Seam application
  • ANT JVMs for running builds

This is what I need to run to do my job, and it takes more than 4 GB of RAM.

Now that I have 8 GB, I’m not longer running into swapping and paging delays, and I’m much more productive.

Having close to twice the screen real estate (~70% more I think), a faster CPU, and 8 hours of battery life don’t hurt either. This is the perfect machine for me.

Apple Repair Is Awesome

I love Apple’s support, and can go on at length about how great AppleCare is, and Apple support in general.

I recently had a MacBook Pro in for service after the screen went dark. First they overnighted me a box to ship the laptop to them in. Then for each step of the process, I received an e-mail. Laptop received, diagnosing the problem, waiting for part shipment, repaired, shipped back. I could also track the whole progress on the website, which made it clear what was going on.

Compared to most places where your item vanishes into a black box for some unknown period of time, this was great.

Also, that’s REALLY quick turn around, especially considering they had to wait for a part to arrive.

Kudos to Apple.