Review: CalDigit's TS3 and TS3 Lite Thunderbolt 3 Docks Offer Solid MacBook Pro Expansion Options

by

While Apple's latest MacBook Pro with support for Thunderbolt 3 has been out for over six months, the first full-featured Thunderbolt 3 docks are only just now starting to hit the market. Last month we took a look at OWC's Thunderbolt 3 Dock that should begin shipping out very shortly, and today we're taking a look at a pair of similar docks from CalDigit that help expand the capabilities of the MacBook Pro.

caldigit ts3 ts3 lite
CalDigit actually has a pair of Thunderbolt 3 docks, the $200 TS3 Lite that has been available for a few months now and the upcoming $300 TS3 that is just about ready to begin shipping.

TS3

As the more expensive of the two, the TS3 is the flagship dock in CalDigit's lineup, carrying a nearly identical block-like design to the previous TS2 based around Thunderbolt 2, although in a lighter silver color compared to the TS2's gray finish. The TS3 can be oriented either vertically sitting on the soft rubber pad on the end of the dock or horizontally using a pair of rubber runners that snap onto the ribbed enclosure.

caldigit ts3 rubber silicone

View of rubber pad for vertical orientation and runners (one partially removed) for horizontal orientation

At 5.2 inches high (or wide) by 3.88 inches deep by 1.71 inches thick and 1.34 pounds, it's not especially heavy, but its block-like shape and ribbed all-aluminum enclosure do give a premium feel with a little bit of heft in the hand. The vertical and horizontal orientation options are nice to help the dock fit into a variety of desk setups, although I prefer the flatter horizontal design of the TS3 Lite and some other brands.

A single blue LED on the front of the TS3 makes it easy to tell at a glance that the dock is powered on and connected to a computer.

caldigit ts3 front
One major plus for the TS3 is its ability to deliver up to 85 watts over its Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connection, enough to power even the 15-inch MacBook Pro. In addition to Macs, CalDigit has also ensured that the TS3 can charge Windows computers over Thunderbolt 3.

As for its other ports, the TS3 features a front USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port that remains powered even when the dock is not connected to a computer, as well as separate audio in and out ports.

caldigit ts3 rear
On the rear of the TS3 are two additional USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port with wake-on-LAN support, a DisplayPort port, and the dual Thunderbolt 3 ports to allow for daisychaining a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C display or other peripherals directly from the dock. Finally, a pair of eSATA 6G ports offer great expandability options for pro-level users. An external power brick and 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable are also included, but CalDigit is currently offering a promo upgrading the cable to two meters.

The TS3 supports either a single 5K display or dual displays at up to 4K resolution. For those looking to connect dual displays through the TS3, CalDigit has a dedicated page outlining various configuration options using both the DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports and any necessary adapters.

CalDigit offers a downloadable driver for all of its Thunderbolt docks to increase USB charging speeds and support Apple's external SuperDrive and wired keyboard. A separate menu bar utility also makes it easy to eject drives connected to the docks. Both the driver and menu bar utility are optional downloads.

Overall Impressions

On the USB side, three USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports is a decent number to have available for connecting an iPhone or iPad, an Apple Watch charger, and another peripheral such as an external hard drive. I prefer the five ports offered on OWC's dock for maximum flexibility, but I can get by with the three on the TS3. The eSATA ports are a great inclusion for pro-level users and something that's unique to the TS3 among the major Thunderbolt 3 docks coming out in the first wave. If, like many users, you don't have any eSATA peripherals, these ports won't have any value for you.

caldigit ts3 desk
I do miss the SD card slot found on OWC's dock, a feature that should appeal to a large number of users, so it's disappointing CalDigit opted not to include one. On the plus side, the separate audio in/out ports of the TS3 are a nice upgrade over OWC's single combined port.

Overall, this is a great, compact Thunderbolt 3 dock that offers a good balance of features, especially if you've got some eSATA peripherals that need connecting.

TS3 Lite

For those who don't need the full capabilities of the TS3, CalDigit's TS3 Lite saves you $100 at the expense of a few features. The TS3 has a flatter, horizontal design very similar to that of OWC's dock, coming in at 8.78 inches wide, 3.15 inches deep, and 1.06 inches high.

caldigit ts3 lite front
The TS3 Lite's sleek form factor sits unobtrusively at the foot of an external display, with a single blue LED indicating when the dock is powered on and connected to a computer. The brushed aluminum casing is attractive, with the matte black plastic front and rear panels contrasting nicely with the aluminum.

A decently large white CalDigit word mark is printed on the top of the dock, which is a bit unfortunate but unsurprising. It can be fairly easily concealed by placing another item on top of the dock if desired. At just under a pound, the TS3 Lite is by no means hefty, but its small rubber feet help it sit fairly firmly on a desk and resist sliding.

On the performance side, one of the most significant considerations is that it can only deliver 15 watts of power over Thunderbolt 3, so it won't be enough to charge your MacBook Pro over the single-cable connection. If you're okay with also using your MacBook Pro's power brick or if like me you run a dual UltraFine 5K or similar setup that can already charge the notebook through the directly connected display, then the lower wattage on this dock may work for you. The TS3 Lite also omits the two eSATA ports seen on its more expensive sibling, but essentially the entire remainder of the TS3's ports are present here.

The front has not only a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port but also a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port that supports both data and charging functions, offering good flexibility for connecting accessories and devices needing frequent access.

caldigit ts3 lite rear
The audio in and out ports move to the rear on the TS3 Lite, and they are accompanied by a Gigabit Ethernet port with wake-on-LAN support, a DisplayPort port, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a single USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port. Both Type-A ports allow for stand alone charging of connected devices even if the dock is not connected to a computer. As with the TS3, the TS3 Lite comes standard with both a 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable and an external power brick, but a current promotion upgrades the cable to two meters.

The TS3 Lite supports the same display connectivity options as the TS3 at a single 5K display or dual displays at up to 4K.

Overall Impressions

At $200, the TS3 Lite offers some nice savings compared to more full-featured Thunderbolt 3 docks, and for many users it may still be good enough for their needs. The 15-watt charging capacity is likely the major limiting factor here for most users. It's not an issue for me since I already have up to 85 watts coming into my MacBook Pro from my second UltraFine 5K display.

caldigit ts3 lite desk
Only having 2 Type-A USB ports is a bit limiting, but with an extra Type-C port available and cables and peripherals starting to move in that direction, the TS3 Lite's combination of USB ports may actually be more useful than the TS3's trio of Type-A ports. As with the TS3, separate in and out audio ports are a nice inclusion compared to OWC's single combined audio port.

The TS3 Lite is a solid basic hub for a MacBook Pro setup, making it easy to have accessories, Ethernet, and even a display or two all ready to be connected to your computer with a single cable. It lacks some of the more advanced connectivity options seen on other docks like eSATA, FireWire, or an SD card slot, but for what it does offer at its price point it performs well.

Wrap-up

Among CalDigit, OWC, Belkin, and Elgato, there are a variety of Thunderbolt 3 dock options coming to market all right around the same time. So far they all seem pretty similar in function, but each offers a slightly different set of features, so in that respect it largely comes down to personal preference in finding the right dock for your needs.

CalDigit's docks will certainly fit the bill for many people, with the TS3 and TS3 Lite providing a pair of options at different price points and feature sets. Power users may like the eSATA ports on the TS3, while the extra USB-C port and lower price tag of the TS3 Lite might be appealing options for more mainstream users.

How to Buy

Both the TS3 ($300) and TS3 Lite ($200) are available to order through CalDigit's website. The TS3 Lite is shipping now, while new pre-orders for the TS3 should ship at the end of June or early July. Those who previously pre-ordered the TS3 should expect their orders very shortly, with CalDigit telling us the entire first wave of pre-orders will ship out a week from now. Amazon is currently offering a $20 discount on the TS3 Lite, so that's another good purchasing option.

The TS3 Lite comes with a one-year warranty, and while the TS3 box also specifies a one-year warranty, CalDigit tells us it has decided to expand the warranty on the more expensive dock to two years.

Note: CalDigit provided the TS3 and TS3 Lite docks to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received.

Top Rated Comments

robotfist Avatar
46 months ago
Dongles and adapter boxes suck. They always have. There are ALWAYS issues. None of them ever work perfectly, 100% of the time.

Apple just doesn't get it. They have always exercised control over their hardware and software because they believe that reliability, quality control and stability can be achieved this way. They're right and it was this thinking that helped convert millions of PC users who were tired of buggy Windows systems loaded with bloatware. Unfortunately, the weak link in Apple's philosophy is if you restrict a device's hardware so much that users must consistently resort to 3rd party solutions to even use the product in the real world, you are in essence creating the same environment that drove people from Windows to begin with. Your system is only as good as its weakest link. And dongles and adapters are most certainly weak links.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Exile714 Avatar
46 months ago
Call me strange, but I prefer a handful of dongles and the few USB-C hard drives I've collected.

I've found I never need more than my 2 USB-A dongles, a USB-C SD reader and a USB-C to DisplayPort cable, though I could see getting an Ethernet adapter for those who need it. All that comes out to maybe $100, and doesn't take any more workspace than the cables alone.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Aldaris Avatar
46 months ago

I wonder why Apple doesn't make their own iHub? 4x USB-3, 2x Gb Ethernet, 2x Thunderbolt III, 2x Thunderbolt II, 2x 4k Display Port, 2x HDMI 2, 1x 10Gb Ethernet. 1x SDHC slot, 1x CF-type slot. You could even jam an updated AEBS inside the box with all the right options.

I think it's Apples pride and ego. It would be admitting people/customers want/need those ports. It took them how long to admit they f***** up the Mac Pro and sat with the elephant in the room on the shut off back burner practically since the late 2013 release.

At one point Apple's solution was the Thunderbolt Display to a degree, maybe they'll put it together and see there is a great modular portable solution that can "dock" and use desktop like accessories and peripherals without adding those Milimeters to their products... just add them to the iHub/display.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
carestudio Avatar
45 months ago

Does the cheaper model TS3 work well on the regular single port MacBook?

The single port Macbook is not TB3, it's USB-C. You must not use any Thunderbolt 3 dock, instead you should use Caldigit's USB-C dock. That's the only usb-c dock that works perfectly with MacBook, charging, video, usb 3.0 and superdrive support. read this over
http://crazydiamondstar.blogspot.com/2016/08/usb-c-dock-best-baymax-for-macbook.html
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DogHouseDub Avatar
46 months ago
Just bought a new MBP. Grabbed the "legacy" model with unique ports for USB, HDMI, and power. Caveman tech, right? Shockingly, some of us use our computers for work - function over form.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MH01 Avatar
46 months ago

But it's not Apple's fault if a third-party makes a ****** adapter/hub.

In some ways it is, apples chocie of controller and bandwidth of the TB in the 13" play a part in how these 3rd party accessessories work.
[doublepost=1496291873][/doublepost]Thier TS2 offering was very good, I'm happy with mine
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

0 Deals Hero

Black Friday 2020: Best Apple Deals to Plan For

Saturday November 21, 2020 10:00 am PST by
In the lead-up to Black Friday next week, we've been putting a spotlight on the best deals coming from various retailers like Best Buy and Walmart. In an effort to further prepare our readers for the best Black Friday deals, we're breaking down what we think should be on your radar for Black Friday in 2020. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a...
m1 mac mini vignette

Apple Lists M1-Based Mac Mini Logic Boards With 10 Gigabit Ethernet in Internal Parts Ordering System

Friday November 20, 2020 9:32 am PST by
While the new Mac mini with the M1 chip is only available with Gigabit Ethernet, Apple has listed multiple M1-based Mac mini logic boards with 10 Gigabit Ethernet in an internal parts list for Apple Authorized Service Providers. For every Mac mini logic board with Gigabit Ethernet in the parts list, obtained by MacRumors, there is a corresponding logic board with 10 Gigabit Ethernet:...
new m1 chip

Craig Federighi: Native Windows on M1 Macs is 'Really up to Microsoft'

Friday November 20, 2020 11:57 am PST by
Following the release of the M1 Macs Apple executives have been doing interviews with a range of publications, and today, Ars Technica published another interview with software engineering chief Craig Federighi, hardware technologies lead Johny Srouji, and marketing VP Greg Joswiak. Much of the interview focuses on topics that the three have already covered in prior discussions, but there is ...
14

Apple Releases iOS 14.2.1 With Fix for Text Message Bug and iPhone 12 Mini Lock Screen Issues

Thursday November 19, 2020 10:16 am PST by
Apple today released iOS 14.2.1, a bug fix update that comes two weeks after the launch of iOS 14.2 and is available for Apple's new iPhone 12 models. The iOS 14.2.1 update can be downloaded for free and it is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the new software, go to Settings > General > Software Update. According to Apple's release notes, iOS...
Walmart November Deals Hero

Black Friday Spotlight: Walmart Will Have AirPods Pro Down to Lowest Price of $169, and More Apple Deals

Thursday November 19, 2020 8:05 am PST by
We've been tracking early Black Friday deals in our dedicated Black Friday Roundup, and in an effort to prepare our readers for the big shopping event we're highlighting sales store-by-store in the lead-up to November 27. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Walmart. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running. Next ...
apple leather sleeve

Leather Sleeve for iPhone 12 Models Now Available From Apple

Friday November 20, 2020 12:16 pm PST by
Apple today began selling the Leather Sleeve for the new iPhone 12 models, with the accessory having first been announced alongside the updated iPhones in October. Priced at $129, the Leather Sleeve is not a case and is designed to be removed when the iPhone is in use. It features a cutout at the front that displays the time, and it comes with a matching leather strap. According to Apple, it ...
iOS14AntitrackFacebookSadfeature

Apple Confirms Commitment to App Tracking Transparency in Letter Condemning Facebook's Data Collection [Updated]

Thursday November 19, 2020 11:58 am PST by
Apple in iOS 14 is planning to introduce a new App Tracking Transparency feature that will let users know when companies want to track them across apps and website. Following outcry from developers like Facebook and ad networks unprepared for the change, Apple delayed the implementation of the anti-tracking functionality until early 2021. Eight civil society organizations recently sent a...
maxresdefault

CrossOver Allows x86 Windows Apps to Run on Apple M1 Macs

Wednesday November 18, 2020 6:07 pm PST by
Codeweavers posted a blog post and video tonight showing off CrossOver running on an Apple M1 MacBook Air. This video shows Team Fortress 2 running on a new M1 MacBook Air: CrossOver is software (based on Wine Project) that runs Microsoft Windows apps on the Mac by translating Windows APIs into their Mac equivalents. The Codeweavers team was able to run the current version of CrossOver on...
macbookpro13large

Apple Offers Instructions on What to Do if macOS Big Sur Causes Installation Errors on 2013 and 2014 MacBook Pro

Thursday November 19, 2020 6:12 pm PST by
Following the release of macOS Big Sur last week, a number of 2013 and 2014 MacBook Pro owners found that the update bricked their machines. Affected users saw their Macs get stuck displaying a black screen after attempting to install the new software. Apple has now addressed this issue in a new support document that provides instructions on what to do if macOS Big Sur can't be installed on...
128gb m1 macbook air education cropped

$799 M1 MacBook Air With 128GB Storage for Education Institutions Spotted Online

Friday November 20, 2020 5:15 am PST by
A new configuration of the M1 MacBook Air with 128GB of storage and a lower $799 price has today been spotted on Apple's U.S. Education Institution Hardware and Software Price List. The M1 MacBook Air is only available with 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB of storage. There is currently no 128GB configuration on the Apple Store. However, Reddit user "u/dduci97" noticed that Apple has listed...