OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock Review: 13 ports and a lot of versatility makes this dock a great laptop companion
posted Friday, July 21, 2017 at 8:50 AM EDT
For MacBook Pro users in particular, the recent iterations' reliance on USB-C ports has proven to be something of an annoyance when trying to use a variety of devices. With their new Thunderbolt 3 Dock, OWC has delivered an elegant, powerful solution which packs in a whopping 13 ports, including the ability to drive a pair of 4K displays and connect and charge up to six USB devices.
Key Features and Specs
- Has 13 ports
- Can drive two 4K displays
- Capable of charging up to 6 USB devices
- SD card slot
- Legacy FireWire 800 storage support
- Optical audio output
- Dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, supporting up to 40Gb/s speeds
- Gigabit Ethernet port
- Five USB 3.1 ports
- Mini DisplayPort
- Analog Audio In/Out
- Available in Space Gray and Silver
- Comes with 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable
- Just under US$300
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is easy to set up. It comes with the necessary power cord and power brick and a 1.6-foot (0.5-meter) Thunderbolt 3 cable to connect it to your computer, in my case a late-2016 15-inch MacBook Pro. To get started, you simply plug the power brick into the wall, the power cord to the Thunderbolt 3 Dock and then connect it to your computer via the included Thunderbolt 3 cable - it's as easy as that. It should be noted that OWC states users will need to be running macOS 10.12 or later, but that's the only requirement.
Despite its simplicity in setup, it may not be as easy to find a good place to keep the dock. While the dock itself is not very large, measuring 9.1 inches (23 centimeters) wide, 3.5 inches (8.9 centimeters) long and an inch (2.5 centimeters) high, you have to also consider the power brick, which is 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) long, 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) wide and a little over an inch (2.8 centimeters) tall. As you'll read throughout this review, I don't have many complaints about the Thunderbolt 3 Dock, but its ugly power brick is one of them. I may be alone in this, but I'd have much preferred a built-in power supply, even if that meant a larger dock, rather than deal with two power cords and a brick. Or at least make the brick look like the dock.
Styling and Ports
Power brick aside, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock itself looks good. It's available in silver and space gray finishes. The top of the dock has a glossy black finish, which looks great when it's clean but soon gets dusty and covered in fingerprints, though the material is not particularly durable as mine got scratched almost immediately. A full metal case would be an improvement, but as is, it's still a nice-looking device.
Along the front and back are a wide array of ports, thirteen of them to be exact. The amount and variety of ports is what makes the Thunderbolt 3 Dock so great. Let's take a look at them all: On the front, there is an SD card reader, an expanded analog audio In/Out port for connecting external speakers and mics and one USB 3.1 Gen 1 port, delivering 5Gb/s data speed.
The back of the dock is jam-packed with ports, including four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, an S/PDIF digital audio output, FireWire 800 for legacy support, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports (one of which you'll be using to connect your computer to the dock), a mini DisplayPort and finally the DC In for power supply.
That's a lot of ports and ultimately the biggest strength of the Thunderbolt 3 Dock. While I don't have a need for all the ports, there's really something for everyone here.
Thunderbolt 3 has bandwidth up to 40Gb/s, which is a large amount, to be sure. It can be utilized for displays in addition to connecting storage and other accessories. Through the dock, you can drive a 5K display or two 4K Ultra HD displays. I could have two 4K displays connected to my MacBook Pro while also charging up to six devices, use an SD card, connect external speakers and even use a FireWire 800 device…all at the same time. That's impressive.
Speaking of charging, the Thunderbolt 3 Dock supports up to 60 watts, which is plenty for a 13-inch MacBook Pro, but my 15-inch MacBook Pro can draw up to 85 watts of power. Depending on how I'm using my computer, that means it could potentially drain faster than the Dock can charge it. Considering I could just plug my computer directly into an outlet since the Dock only needs a single USB-C port, that's not a big deal, but it means that it’s not the all-encompassing device it potentially could be. Further, the USB ports are 1.5A ports, which aren't quite as powerful as the 2.1A or 2.4A charging power of iPad power adapters. The Dock is great for charging my iPhone, but is a bit slow at charging my iPad Pro. Not a big deal, again, but still worth pointing out.
Considering the performance of reading an XQD card, I plugged my Lexar XQD USB 3.0 Card Reader with a Lexar 2933x XQD card into my MacBook Pro directly via an Apple USB adapter and tested its performance. The card is rated for a maximum write speed of 440 MB/s and a maximum read speed of 400 MB/s. I then plugged the same card and reader into the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock and tested the performance via the dock. You can see the results below.
Using my Lexar 2000x 64GB SDXC card, which is rated for a maximum write speed of 260 MB/s and maximum read speed of 300 MB/s, the dock did well when using a USB 3 card reader but the built-in SD card slot came up short. As you can see below, the dock's SD card slot is not the best choice when using a fast SD card. Many SD cards are under the speed threshold of the built-in card reader, so for those cards, it isn't an issue. For me and my fast cards, I'd much rather plug a USB 3.0 card reader into the dock and use that. Importantly, the dock performed about the same as if I had plugged directly into my computer.
I plugged an older USB 3.0 external hard drive, a WD My Passport for Mac, which I use a lot when travelling for backing up images. It is not a particularly fast drive anyways, so I figured its performance would be similar whether I was plugging it into my computer or using the Dock. That's exactly what happened as you can see in the results below.
During my testing, the dock never got hot, but it did get warm to the touch when I was using it to charge multiple devices and had a lot plugged in. It was never concerning, but what was concerning is that my particular dock makes a high-pitched whining sound that is annoying. The good news is that OWC has said this issue has been fixed for the final production units, but I didn't have one to verify this fix.
Overall, performance is good and I imagine more than sufficient for most users. For me, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a versatile, powerful device with very few issues. The SD card slot could stand to be a bit quicker, but the rest of the device is up to the task.
What I liked:
- 13 ports offer a lot of versatility and connection options
- Dock itself looks good
- A great companion to a MacBook Pro
- Supports two 4K displays or one 5K display
- Included cable is short, but many devices don't come with a cable at all
What I disliked:
- The power brick does not fit the aesthetic and is ugly
- Design is nice, but the glossy finish on the top scratches very easily and is uneven
- Not a lot of charging power
- Built-in SD card slot is slower than plugging in an SD card reader
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a versatile and capable device and a nice companion to a laptop computer in particular. Through its 13 ports, you can use and power a lot of different devices and its performance is good.
It is unclear when the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock will start shipping as OWC is awaiting certification and at $300, it's certainly an attractive option for photographers with a lot of devices to use simultaneously. You can preorder yours here.
OWC provided us a Thunderbolt 3 Dock for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received.