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

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 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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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18 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.
Rating: 5 Votes
Avatar
18 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
Rating: 2 Votes
Avatar
18 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.
Rating: 2 Votes
Avatar
18 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.
Rating: 2 Votes
Avatar
18 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.
Rating: 2 Votes
Avatar
18 months ago

Since you mention "work", the advantage of a dock is so you can come into work everyday, and just plug one cable into your Macbook, instead of a myriad of cables that you may have to connect multiple monitors, power, USB devices, audio, etc. That will soon wear out your beloved legacy ports.

Docks of this type are not meant for portable users...something like this ('https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XRVX3XM/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_3?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A35D5ON3677H9N') is, though...


Hmm. Take a closer look at the Amazon reviews on that unit. BTW, The condition of the ports are great on my used SSD-equipped 2006 17" MBP: MagSafe, 2x USB, FW800, FW400, Ethernet, Audio i/o, Cardbus, DVI. But then, I take care of my equipment.

What I also find amusing is that people are overly concerned with looks instead of engineering and build quality. Maybe that "thin" brainwashing is starting to pay off.

Example: There are probably people on here that would not accept the piece of gear shown below (see images) because it may be considered "old-looking" or "ugly" when in fact it is an excellent piece of professional equipment, still being made, and will never need a software update nor a dongle. Take a look. Talk about Legacy Connectors:



Rating: 1 Votes
Avatar
18 months ago

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


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.
Rating: 1 Votes
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18 months ago
IT EXISTS! :eek:
Rating: 1 Votes
Avatar
18 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
Rating: 1 Votes
Avatar
18 months ago

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.


Hang on:

USB-A Dongle #1
USB-A Dongle #2
USB-C SD Reader
USB-C to DisplayPort
USB-C Charger
USB-C to Ethernet (yes, some of us want that)

That's 6 USB-C ports. I've counted. Twice. The 2016 MBP touchbar only has 4. I think I see a problem...

Oh, and good luck getting that lot for $100 without rolling the dice ('https://www.theverge.com/2016/2/4/10916264/usb-c-russian-roulette-power-cords')by getting cheap no-name adapters off eBay.

The thing is, some of us use our MacBook Pros primarily as desktop replacements: they may go "on the road" once or twice a year, but mostly they commute between "office desk" and "home desk" a few times a week. When they're on a desk we want all our stuff connected. Single-cable connection is nice, plugging in 3-4 cables that are all waiting in place when you arrive is no great hardship. What we don't want is to continually juggle cables because we have to unplug the backup drive to plug into the card reader. This is where the 2016 MBPs fail - and where TB3 docks like this come into play. The TB3 options are only just appearing now. There are some cheaper USB-C options around - but they're not much good if you want to use a 4k@60Hz display - which only leaves bandwidth for USB 2 on a USB-C cable.

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


No, but it's Apple's fault that they released a range of USB-C/TB3-only machines without also paying attention to the "ecosystem" that goes with them. Six months later, you can still count the number of available docks that will properly charge a 15" rMBP on the fingers of a boxing glove. Apple should have had an own-brand hub/dock that replicated the ports available on the old rMBP available from day one (and not having a USB-A hub in the LG Ultrafine displays is a joke!).
[doublepost=1496313448][/doublepost]

Since Apple does not appear to support MST across multiple displays I am unable to daisy chain my displays.


AFAIK, even when MST is supported, DisplayPort 1.2a will only support dual 4k displays at 30Hz (which means flickery mouse time).

The delay in DisplayPort 1.3/1.4 uptake is a major pain and can't be blamed on Apple (there aren't many DP1.3/1.4 capable displays out there to start with), although Intel probably deserve some of the flak for limiting both the Thunderbolt 3 spec and their DisplayPort-on-USB-C controllers to DP 1.2a. (DisplayPort-on-USB-C supports DP1.3 in theory but I don't think its been implemented). Without that, the idea of a single-plug dock for your peripherals and multiple 4k/5k displays is hampered by the bandwidth of DP1.2.
Rating: 1 Votes
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