With new MacBooks and more now sporting Thunderbolt 3 ports it is time to invest in a Thunderbolt 3 dock from OWC.
GadgetGuy has recently reviewed several Thunderbolt 3 docks. OWC wins hands down as the “Best for Mac” award for its extensive expansion ports and ease of use.
The review was conducted with a MacBook Pro 13.3 (2017) and a Windows 10 HP EliteBook x360 1030 G2 (2017). While the Mac worked flawlessly – the Windows 10 had a complete fail despite some dock brands claiming the latter compatibility.
What it Thunderbolt 3?
Thunderbolt 3 is merely the next advance and with the ability to daisy chain up to six devices using the one cable. Unless you need external dual 4K monitors and say a NAS and other devices USB-C 3.1 is fine.
USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 supports 40Gb/s data transfer (that is 5,000MB/s) if the cable is less than .5m. It quickly drops to 20Gb/s on longer cables unless you use very expensive active cables. In theory, it can support up to 100W power upstream and 20W downstream.
Many new devices have one or perhaps two Thunderbolt 3 ports and expect you to invest in ‘dongles’ or docks to add HDMI, DisplayPort, USB-C, USB-A, Ethernet and more. OWC ups the ante by adding legacy support for Firewire (1394b), S/PDIF audio, 5 USB-A ports, and an SD card reader – 13 ports all housed in a very Mac-like gloss piano black and space grey chassis.
Plug in the power adaptor – it provides 20V/6.75A but in real terms can handle computing devices with up to a 65W power draw.
The MacBook 13.3” draws 61W. Take care the 15.6” MacBook Pro draws 87W, and we understand it does charge, albeit slower (three hours on the 13.3” and 5 hours on the 15”) but we were unable to test that.
Next plug in the USB-C Thunderbolt 3 cable from the dock to either of the two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the MacBook. The Mac will load the appropriate drivers. That is it – simple.
To attach external monitors
USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 assumes the host device (MacBook/Intel GPU) will drive any external monitors connected. That is why there is a practical limit to one 5K or two 4K.
We tested with an LG 34UC98 and an HP Z34c – both 21:9, 3440 x 1440 panels with DisplayPort (1.2), HDMI (2.0).
To attach a single external monitor
The mini DisplayPort output requires you to purchase either a miniDP to HDMI or miniDP to full sized DisplayPort cable. That port supports up to a single 5K monitor.
To attach a dual 4K monitor
Drive the first monitor off the mini DisplayPort and the second off a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 3 cable to a suitable second Thunderbolt 3 equipped monitor.
The USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 is capable of 5Gb/s (635MB/s), and an external Samsung SSD achieved a rock solid 300MB/s.
I had no way to test the 40Gb/s of the Thunderbolt 3 ports.
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 is designed for MacBook Pro. It has the widest useful range of ports and just ‘works’ unlike some of the other brands tested. I particularly like the 5 x USB-A ports – easy to fill.
It is available from MacFixit that provided the unit for testing. They have everything Mac.
All the ports you need – 5 USB-A
Mac-like design cues
Thunderbolt 2 port for legacy devices like NAS
One Thunderbolt 3 in (power and charge to computer) and one out (daisy-chained peripherals)
Largish power brick
Short .5m Thunderbolt dock to Mac cable provided. Cables over .5m require the much more expensive Active type to maintain 40Gb/s.
Would have liked HDMI port, g. two video out ports
Rated as a MacBook port extender with power.
Overall: 4.8 out of 5
Features: 5 out of 5 – the most fully featured Thunderbolt 3 dock – it has all you need plus more
Value for money: 5 out of 5 – about the same cost as other docks
Performance: 5 out of 5 – in all tests it met specifications
Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 – if it has an HDMI port as well it would be perfect
Design: 5 out of 5 – Piano black and space grey – very Applesque