If you've followed all of my Thunderbolt 3 dock reviews over the past year, you know that in general these docks carry a lot of the same features in slightly different combinations. But usually, there's at least one fairly important feature that's missing in each model, whether it be enough USB ports, an SD card reader, or enough power output to fully support a 15-inch MacBook Pro. Price tags pushing to $300 and beyond are also an issue for many potential customers.
So if any of those concerns resonate with you, you're going to want to read on to learn more about CalDigit's upcoming model, the Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus.
The TS3 Plus takes the original TS3 dock that I reviewed last May and addresses nearly every concern I had with it and even lowers the price during the promotional pre-order period to $250 with a 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable included. Packages with a 1.0-meter or 2.0-meter cable are also available for $270 and $280 respectively.
The general design here is nearly identical to that of the earlier TS3 and even the Thunderbolt 2-based TS2 dock that preceded it. While most Thunderbolt docks have horizontal designs, CalDigit has generally opted for a boxier design that can sit either horizontally or vertically on a desk. Oriented vertically, the TS3 Plus stands just over 5 inches tall, a little under 4 inches deep, and just over an inch and a half wide, and weighs a hint over a pound. That makes it almost exactly the same size as and quite a bit lighter than the TS3.
If that's too tall for your desktop, just slide on the included pair of rubber strips for cushioning and tip the dock over on its side, and it'll fit just about anywhere. The aluminum casing has a ribbed design that gives it a bit of an industrial look while also offering some extra surface area for heat dissipation.
CalDigit touts a total of 15 ports on the TS3 Plus, with the front of the dock housing one USB-A port, one USB-C port, separate analog audio in and out ports, and even an SD card slot. A small blue LED lights up to let you know the dock is powered up and has a connection to the host computer.
Turn the TS3 Plus around and you'll find a host of other ports, including four more USB-A ports, another USB-C port, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a DisplayPort 1.2 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an S/PDIF digital optical audio port, and the DC-in connection from the power supply.
If you did the math in the previous section, you've realized that the TS3 Plus has a total of seven USB ports. The previous TS3 had just three, while about the most I've seen in other competing docks is five. The inclusion of five USB-A and two USB-C ports and their distribution between front and back of the dock give you some great flexibility in what you can connect to this dock. The USB-C port on the rear is even a 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 standard, the first time I've seen that in a dock I've reviewed. The remainder of the USB ports are 5 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 1, which is the speed typically seen on these docks.
In my testing with a 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 CalDigit Tuff external SSD and Blackmagic's speed testing software, I saw read and write speeds come in around 350 MB/s and 315 MB/s respectively through all of the 5 Mbps USB ports, both Type-A and the front Type-C style. Those are very typical speeds for these types of docks.
Where the TS3 Plus has a leg up on the competition in the speed department is the extra Type-C 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 port on the rear of the dock. Connecting the CalDigit Tuff to that port yielded a 45–50 percent increase in transfer speeds, coming in at around 500 MB/s read and 475 MB/s write.
Other docks can match that performance if you use the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port, but then you have to sacrifice connecting a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C display to that port. With the TS3 Plus, you can have both, and transfer speeds over the 10 Gbps USB-C port aren't impacted by also having a 5K display connected to the Thunderbolt 3 port, as there is enough bandwidth over Thunderbolt 3 to support both without compromise.
SD Card Reader
An SD card slot is another one of those features that a lot of people like to see on these docks, eliminating the need for a separate reader to plug into one of the dock's USB ports. For a long time, OWC was about the only major company to offer an SD card reader on a Thunderbolt 3 dock, but Promise Technology joined the club a few months ago with its TD-300 that I just reviewed last week.
CalDigit is now joining the club by offering an SD card reader in the TS3 Plus, and it even supports the SD 4.0 spec over a UHS-II bus interface for the faster speeds with compatible SD cards. Theoretical transfer speeds of 312 MB/s are three times that of the UHS-I bus with SD 3.0 used on other docks. The reader supports standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards.
As with other docks of this type, the TS3 Plus includes a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, one for connecting to the host computer and one for connecting other peripherals such as a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C display. The dock can support a single 5K external display at 60 Hz over Thunderbolt 3, or a pair of 4K displays using the Thunderbolt 3 port and the DisplayPort 1.2 port. Various adapters sold separately allow the Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort connectors to be used with various types of displays including HDMI and DVI.
The TS3 Plus and other CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 docks support a variety of combinations of displays up to 4K from the two ports, and I experienced no issues testing with several LG 4K displays. A single LG UltraFine 5K display connected via Thunderbolt 3 also worked fine, maintaining a 60 Hz refresh rate.
It's worth noting that the two USB-C ports on the TS3 Plus, including the 10 Gbps one on the rear, are data-only, so they can not be used for connecting additional USB-C displays.
While many other Thunderbolt 3 docks offer up to 60 watts of upstream charging for a host computer, the TS3 Plus offers a full 85 watts of charging power to support even the 15-inch MacBook Pro. If you're running your 15-inch MacBook Pro under very heavy loads or you want to ensure the fastest recharge of a depleted battery, 85-watt support is a feature you definitely want to look for in a dock. Unlike some other docks, the TS3 Plus can also support charging of PCs over Thunderbolt 3.
The higher 85-watt charging power of the TS3 Plus drives up the size of the external brick, which is quite large, but many users will have the ability to hide it away behind other items on their desks or even off their desks entirely.
Nearly all of the USB ports also support pass-through charging, allowing connected devices like iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches to charge even when the dock doesn't have an active connection to a host computer.
The TS3 Plus will also support CalDigit's downloadable drivers and software utility to boost USB power output to 1 A for slightly faster iOS device charging and to support Apple's external USB SuperDrive. The software utility is a menu bar item that makes it easy to eject all peripherals connected to the dock with a single click.
Of all the Thunderbolt 3 docks I've tested so far, CalDigit's TS3 Plus is my new favorite. It has all of the features I'm looking for in a dock, including a plethora of USB ports with both Type-A and Type-C options and even a 10 Gbps Type-C port. It also has an SD card reader, 85-watt charging, and a compact footprint in either vertical or horizontal orientation. And to top it all off, it’s currently priced at just $250 during pre-orders, below the $300–$350 pricing seen on most other feature-rich docks. Pricing for the TS3 Plus will rise to $350 once the pre-order promotion ends.
The TS3 Plus does away with the pair of eSATA ports found on the original TS3, but with eSATA usage dwindling, I find it a very worthwhile tradeoff to instead make room for many more USB ports, optical audio, and an SD card reader.
The TS3 Plus begins shipping on February 20, but CalDigit will be offering pre-orders through its own site with a temporary $100 discount off the regular price. For pre-orders, the TS3 Plus with 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable is priced at $249.99, while versions with 1-meter ($269.99) and 2-meter ($279.99) cables will also be available.
B&H Photo will be CalDigit's exclusive retail launch partner for the TS3 Plus, and is offering the same pre-order discounted pricing of $249.99 with 0.5-meter cable, $269.99 with 1-meter cable, and $279.99 with 2-meter cable.
In addition to the new TS3 Plus temporarily starting at $249.99, CalDigit is also dropping the price of its TS3 to $199.99, down from $299.99. CalDigit claims this makes the TS3 the first Thunderbolt 3 dock with 85-watt charging priced under $200, so be sure to check out our earlier review of the regular TS3.
Update: This review has been revised to remove a section addressing active vs. passive cabling. As a Thunderbolt 3 accessory, the TS3 Plus will offer maximum performance regardless of whether a passive 0.5-meter cable or an active 1-meter or 2-meter cable is used.
Note: CalDigit provided the TS3 Plus to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received. MacRumors is an affiliate partner with B&H Photo and may earn commissions on purchases made through links in this article.
Top Rated Comments
- First thing I noticed is how incredibly small the Caldigit TS3 Plus is. The videos don't do it justice, even with the included large power brick, this thing is impressively small.
- Gigabit Ethernet performance is leaps and bounds better. Lower latency in all the speed tests & on my gigabit internet connection, the OWC couldn't sustain over 750 mbit ever since I had it from September. I've done about 10 speed tests with this one and I've been hovering sustained speeds between 875 - 920. (I mean we're splitting hairs when you hit those types of speeds anyway, but it's nice to know the processor in the Caldigit is working hard).
Upload wise, my connection is rated at 30 mbit. (1000/30 is such a swing btw). On the OWC, I always sat around 25.5 maybe 26 mbit. In all my speed tests, they've held at 30-32 mbit. Unless they changed network provisioning in my neighbourhood this week, There's a definite gain.
- You HAVE to use the included cable to get 85W. When I purchased my OWC dock, I bought a spare 2 metre cable (which was made for that dock which charges at 60W). Initially I tried that cable and only got 60W charging (according to System Report in Sierra), so I swapped it out.
- I use a Scarlet 2in2 out bus-powered USB interface for my audio- plugged into the Caldigit, and [S]noticed some noise (not terrible, but noticeable).[/S] I'm wondering if that's to do with the wall outlet I've plugged the dock into, but I never experienced that before). I will experiment and maybe update this post.
UPDATE: Changed outlets, problem is gone.
UPDATE 2: [s]The noise issue returned. Not as bad as it was before- but I have to investigate the power situation before I make a final ruling. It's definitely emitting more interference than the OWC dock was.[/s]
UPDATE 3 (March 5th 2018) : The customer service from Caldigit is stellar. WOW, see below.
- The front USB-C port doesn't connect to a very first-gen USB-C enclosure with a Samsung 500 GB EVO installed (to be fair, that enclosure always gave me connectivity issues). Plugging it into the back makes the enclosure come alive immediately, every time. BUT- I have an Elgato HD 60S HDMI capture device which works flawlessly via USB-C using the front & rear ports (even with the same USB-C cable, so the enclosure itself is the culprit). If you have flaky USB-C devices, know that the front 5gbit USB 3.1 Gen 1 doesn't seem very forgiving with those devices.
- Displayport on this dock works MUCH better than the Mini-Displayport on the OWC. Putting the display into safe mode (via a hot corner) and leaving the computer running (to encode video jobs) seems to work no problem at all. I will try full sleep, although I know this monitor is known for sleep issues in OSX so I'm not expecting much to be honest.
- Using a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 cable to network my 2017 to my older 2012 Macbook Pro to offload some video encoding work while I work seems to work fine through the Caldigit (via the daisy-chain Thunderbolt 3 port on the back).
- UPDATE: I have a Logitech C922 Webcam connected to it and when I power down the MacBook Pro, the ring indicator (that alerts you the camera is on) blinks non stop. Super annoying (the OWC didn't behave this way). Also, my Scarlet 2 in 2 out interface doesn't turn off either. I remember in a review I saw, this dock can supply power when the computers are powered off (which my old OWC did too)- but they never behaved like this. Strange for sure.
- UPDATE (March 5th 2018): I am floored by how responsive and helpful the technical support side of things are with Caldigit. Definitely worth its weight in gold if not more. As I explained above, I was having a noise floor issue. I changed outlets, the problem went away then it reared it's ugly head again. On Friday, Leslie from their team e-mailed me & had expressed that they had acquired not only the webcam for my strange webcam flashing issue from my last update, but they even acquired the same audio interface I was using, then offered to ship me a brand new power supply and active 2m Thunderbolt 3 cable to test on my end (The 2m cable is the same length cable I ordered with my dock originally). Keep in mind I live in Canada. I received it this afternoon (they express-shipped it to me quickly without even telling me they were going to ship it, which was a wonderful surprise). After a few tests, the noise is GONE! I even plugged it back into my original outlet and the noise is STILL gone. This type of service pays for the dock. Those who complain about the price need to understand that you're not just paying for the dock, you're paying for service like this. If I wasn't impressed by this dock already, this sealed it.
I didn't hate the OWC, I just didn't need Firewire and wanted the 2 extra USB-C's and wanted to gamble on full-sized DisplayPort (which I actually seemed to have won that battle). And the small form factor is actually very impressive.
I do video encoding and editing, & having only 60W (contrary to what the internet said) didn't affect me AT ALL with the 60W charging on the OWC. Battery was always held at 100% and even charged from 5% while working with no issues with the OWC.
All in all, I'm impressed so far!
99% sure that was a red herring in the original review (unless the TS3+ is some weird Thunderbolt/USB hybrid, which is unlikely).
Passive TB3 cables are universal cables that can work as USB 3.1 or USB-C DisplayPort etc. as well as TB3, but if they're over 0.5m they can't carry full-speed 40Gbps (2x20) Thunderbolt.
Active TB3 cables can carry 40Gbps TB3 over longer distances, but are (essentially) only Thunderbolt cables. You can't use them to connect USB3 or DisplayPort devices directly to the host.
...but a Thunderbolt dock isn't a USB or DisplayPort device - its a Thunderbolt device and contains USB/Ethernet/etc. controllers that connect to the host via Thunderbolt. That's the advantage over a regular USB-C dock which can only share out the single 5Gbps USB3 connection (or slow old USB2 if you want 4k Displayport as well) between its ports.
The cable distinction is something you'll curse down the line when you've got a drawer full of superficially identical USB-C cables with half-a-dozen different permutations of features - or if you're on the hel(p)desk trying to explain it to users who are shaky on the difference between Windows and Word - but while your shiny new devices are still paired up with the shiny new cables you bought with them it will be OK.
[doublepost=1519640903][/doublepost] SheridanMac. The maximum number of displays any Thunderbolt 3 device can connect to is 2x 4K 60Hz displays or one single 5K display. You would not be able to connect one 5K and one 4K to the TS3 Plus. The previous generation of Thunderbolt 2 was only capable of one 4K display. Thunderbolt 3's 40Gb/s throughput has increased that to dual displays or a single 5K, in addition to laptop charging. Hope that helps.
I am floored by how responsive and helpful the technical support side of things are with Caldigit. Definitely worth its weight in gold if not more. As I explained above, I was having a noise floor issue. I changed outlets, the problem went away then it reared it's ugly head again. On Friday, Leslie from their team e-mailed me & had expressed that they had acquired not only the webcam for my strange webcam flashing issue from my last update, but they even acquired the same audio interface I was using, then offered to ship me a brand new power supply and active 2m Thunderbolt 3 cable to test on my end (The 2m cable is the same length cable I ordered with my dock originally). Keep in mind I live in Canada. I received it this afternoon (they express-shipped it to me quickly without even telling me they were going to ship it, which was a wonderful surprise). After a few tests, the noise is GONE! I even plugged it back into my original outlet and the noise is STILL gone. This type of service pays for the dock. Those who complain about the price need to understand that you're not just paying for the dock, you're paying for service like this. If I wasn't impressed by this dock already, this sealed it.
[doublepost=1517485033][/doublepost] The USB-C ports on the TS3 Plus are for data only. To connect dual 4K monitors you would need to connect one to the DisplayPort connector and then use a USB-C Video Adapter on the spare Thunderbolt 3 port.
[doublepost=1517485162][/doublepost] We do have our previous Thunderbolt 3 dock, the TS3, which features two eSATA ports still available. It is currently on sale. http://www.caldigit.com/thunderbolt-3-dock/thunderbolt-station-3/
[doublepost=1517485828][/doublepost] Hello. We have gone with DisplayPort because of its versatility. If someone would like to use a HDMI monitor they can just use a DisplayPort to HDMI cable. A lot of modern 4K monitor feature full size DisplayPort connectors.