Back in the day, no senior exec would consider a laptop that didn’t come with a docking station so they could pop their computer on the desk and instantly be connected to a massive 15-ich CRT display and their PS/2 mouse and keyboard. But over the last few years computers have become thinner, rendering those proprietary dock connectors obsolete. At the same time, new connection technologies have evolved so the docking station can be replaced by a generic device that can work with almost any computer. Enter the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock. This svelte device packs in a slew of ports for connecting just about anything to want to your macOS or Windows system.
OWC is well known to Mac owners. I’ve purchased a bunch of accessories from them including external hard drives, memory and other gear from them over the years. And, while they’ve provided me with this review unit, I have been a happy customer as well.
The Thunderbolt 3 Dock boasts the following ports on the front of the unit
- SD Card slot
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- USB 3.1 with a USB-A port that delivers enough juice to charge most portable devices
But the real magic happens on the rear of the unit, with another ten connection options (plus the power input).
- Four USB 3.1 ports with USB-A connectors (the first port is high powered for charging larger devices)
- SPDIF output for digital sound
- Firewire 800 (it’s not dead – yet!)
- Gigabit ethernet
- A pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports with USB-C connectors
- A mini-DisplayPort output
All of that is housed in a 230 x 89 x 25mm chassis that comes in either silver or space grey. Both colour options have a glossy black top.
One of the USB-C ports on the back is needed for connecting the Thunderbolt 3 Dock to your computer. It works with both Macs and Windows systems although OWC warns Windows users to ensure their PC’s are running up-to-date Thunderbolt drivers and the latest BIOS updates. They suggest visiting the Thunderbolt Technology website for more information.
The best use-case for the Thunderbolt 3 Dock is, in my view, the owner of a laptop who needs to optimise their desktop experience when they’re back in the office. Most likely, that means connecting external storage, a large display and connecting over a fast wired network.
The Thunderbolt 3 Dock can handle a pair of 4K displays, or a single 5K display as well as almost any other device you can think of. The high-powered USB-3.1 ports deliver 60W of juice – enough for many of the smaller laptops on the market but if you’re running something with a 15-inch display or larger then it won’t be enough to charge that.
Connecting the Thunderbolt 3 Dock is via the supplied USB-C cable (it’s about 50cm long) so you will sacrifice one of those ports although it might be possible to daisy-chain another device as Thunderbolt supports connecting multiple devices to a single port. The power supply is quite large but given the fully loaded Dock could be powering over a dozen devices this isn’t surprising.
I hooked the Thunderbolt 3 Dock to a current MacBook and tried it with a couple of different displays (I needed a USB-C to HDMI adaptor for one. – welcome to #donglelife), external hard drives and my network using a cable (it’s been a while since I’ve hooked a computer up with a cable in the home office).
I was kind of hoping to experience some sort of major issue with a bunch of different interfaces all being used at the same time. But the Thunderbolt 3 Dock handled whatever I could throw at it. I connected a speaker bar using the digital audio input and played a high resolution video from a USB 3 external hard drive without any hassles.
The sting in the tail is the price. OWC retails the Thunderbolt 3 Dock for US$299. Local distributor, ClickSpot offers it up for AU$419. That’s actually not a bad price when you take into account the exchange rate and factor in GST (I used the current rate from xe.com with AU$1=US$0.77).