Review: OWC's Thunderbolt 3 Dock Gives Your MacBook Pro 13 More Ports to Work With

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Last November, longtime Mac vendor OWC was among the first wave of companies to announce Thunderbolt 3 docks designed to expand the capabilities of the new MacBook Pro. It's taken a while to finalize the product design, testing, and manufacturing, but OWC's Thunderbolt 3 Dock is now just about ready to ship and we've had a chance to spend some time with a production-ready unit.


Priced at $299, OWC's Thunderbolt 3 Dock includes an array of 13 ports to allow you to connect a host of devices to your MacBook Pro. It all comes in a package measuring about 9 inches by 3.5 inches and an inch thick, with brushed aluminum around the sides and glossy black plastic on top and bottom.

The design is relatively unobtrusive, although the OWC logo and "Thunderbolt 3 Dock" text on the front are fairly prominent. The dock is powered through a decently large external power brick, which cuts down on the size of the dock itself but means there's one more piece of equipment to tuck away with all of your other cords.

As for the functional aspects of the dock, OWC has elected to put three frequently used ports on the front: an SD card reader, a combo audio in/out port for headphones and microphones, and a USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 port that delivers up to 1.5 amps of current. It's a handy set of ports that are most likely to need regular access for connecting and disconnecting peripherals or swapping out memory cards.


The rear of the dock includes ten more ports plus the DC power input from the external brick. There are four more USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports, one of which is another 1.5A high-power port while the other three offer the standard 0.9A of current. Also included are an S/PDIF digital audio output port, a FireWire 800 port, and a Gigabit Ethernet port.


Next is a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, one of which is used to connect to your MacBook Pro while the other can be used to connect a Thunderbolt 3/USB-C display and/or additional Thunderbolt devices. Adapters can also be used to connect devices with other connectors. Finally, there's a Mini DisplayPort to support additional displays.

Powering On

There is no power switch on the Thunderbolt 3 Dock, so as soon as you plug in the power brick and connect it to the dock, the unit becomes powered and a blue light comes on on the dock. Similarly, once you connect the dock to a computer, a green light comes on to signify the dock has an active data connection.

The blue and green LEDs are actually located on the bottom of the dock and so they can really only be seen as reflections off of the desk or other surface under the dock, as the dock is elevated slightly on small feet. The design makes it somewhat difficult to see whether the lights, particularly the green one, are on unless you're in a dim environment. In day-to-day usage, however, things should just work and you shouldn't need the lights, so having them on the bottom keeps them unobtrusive.

Data Transfer

I connected a USB 3.0 external hard drive to the dock and saw read and write speeds right around 100 MB/s, which isn't the fastest connection but will likely be fine for many users. If you need faster speeds, you'll want to use a drive with the latest USB 3.1 Gen 2 standard and connect it directly to your MacBook Pro.


I do not typically use wired networking in my home, but connecting my MacBook Pro to my AirPort Time Capsule via the Ethernet port on the dock I was able to max out my 200/20 internet connection just fine. The Ethernet connection was seamlessly recognized by my Mac from the dock.

Display Support

In line with Thunderbolt 3's capabilities, OWC says its dock can support a single 5K display or two 4K displays. I connected an LG UltraFine 5K display via the dock and experienced no problems running the display and the dock's hub capabilities simultaneously over a single cable.


OWC is still testing out various configurations, but you should be able to connect two 4K displays via the dock, one through a Thunderbolt 3 port (potentially with an adapter) and one through the Mini DisplayPort.

Charging Capabilities

With the dock using the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C standard, it can deliver power to your MacBook Pro through the same cable used for data, although the dock only supports up to 60 watts. That's enough for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but the 15-inch model can draw up to 85 watts, so it would charge more slowly through the dock than from its power adapter or even continue to drain depending on load.

On the USB-A side, the high-powered 1.5A ports are helpful for charging devices more quickly than a standard USB port or iPhone adapter, but don't quite match the 2.1A or 2.4A you can get from an iPad power adapter.

Tidbits

I'm not sure if it's something unique about my unit or my setup or if it's a general issue, but the dock I received makes a quiet high-pitched hissing sound when powered on and connected to my MacBook Pro depending on what else I have connected to the dock. It's not terribly bothersome and I'm sure it's something I could get used to, but I did notice it and so it's something to be aware of if you're sensitive to that sort of thing.

Interestingly, the noise stops if an SD card is inserted into the dock, so one potential solution for those experiencing the issue might be to just keep a card in the slot at all times. Similarly, connecting a display to the second Thunderbolt 3 port also stopped the noise.

OWC does include a Thunderbolt 3 cable along with the dock, but it's only a 0.5-meter cable. On the potential downside, that limits how far from your computer you can put the dock, particularly if you want to put the dock to the left of your computer and much of the cable's length is then taken up simply reaching across the back of the dock. On the positive side, if you want to keep the dock close to your MacBook Pro, you won't have a lot of excess cable to deal with on your desk.

Wrap-up

At $299, OWC's Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a significant investment, but it's not out of line with other full-featured Thunderbolt 3 docks that should also be hitting the market soon. It offers a wide variety of ports for maximum compatibility, a major plus for those encumbered by Apple's decision to include only Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports on the MacBook Pro. It also makes it easy to connect everything on your desk through just one cable so you can quickly pick up your computer and go.

Support for the latest USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds would have been welcome, but when you're potentially saturating the Thunderbolt 3 connection with displays and other accessories, it's perhaps understandable that not everything can run at the highest speeds.

OWC is still awaiting official Thunderbolt 3 certification from Intel and Apple, and so these pre-certified review units may require a firmware update to bring them up to the final shipping version, but OWC is confident that it will receive the necessary certification and that the current advance units will reflect the performance of the final retail units.

Due to the pending certification, OWC isn't yet able to commit to a specific launch date. The units are otherwise ready to go, so once Intel gives the approval and any final firmware changes are made, OWC will be able to begin shipping and we'll keep you updated on that progress.

Update: OWC tells us they've identified the source of the hissing sound and are working on a solution.

Update May 18: OWC tells us a resolution for the hissing sound has been implemented and will be included on all shipping units.

We have had some reports / observations of the Dock emitting a very faint noise in certain circumstances. The component responsible for this has been identified and a solution that mitigates this issue has been implemented. All retail, production units shipped will include this implementation and not be subject to this emittance.

Of further note, if you have a unit which this noise has been observed - it is not cause for any concern, it is not a defect or defective component. Even the noise itself is exceptionally low decibel should it occur and observation of the noise is outside of typical Dock use cases. While we have taken the steps to eliminate it, this was done more to eliminate misunderstanding.

Note: OWC provided the Thunderbolt 3 Dock to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
43 months ago
The vast majority of the delay has truly been beyond our control. You may or may not notice the plethora of EFI updates rolled in with each of the 10.12.x OS updates over the last 5 months. The good news is it is about making sure all is good and right. It's frustrating for all - and we get close and then we are back waiting... but now that's in the rearview.

While I would agree - we're already later than it should have been, we truly are in the home stretch. I personally flew to oversee final details on the production line and been interfacing with the powers that be to keep hiccups off. I share what I can, when I can...

I sincerely appreciate the patience - the Dock rocks (and we'll reach out on any noise as that's not to be expected, these are quiet) - and the wait is nearly over. I hate that it's taken this long and, again, can't say enough thank you's for the patience.

Thank you.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
43 months ago
Shouldn't this thing cost $800? That's what Apple would charge. $299 is still ridiculous when you can buy an entire PC for that, but you have to expect to pay through the nose with the Mac. PC Hub? $25. Mac hub. $299. Yeah, it's Thunderbolt 3. But those ports all used to come with a Mac years ago. PCs still do come with them. So pay $2400 for a 15" Macbook Pro with a lousy 250GB of storage ($3000 for 1TB) and then another $299 to get all those ports the $2000 model used to come with. And the Mac fanatics will EAT IT UP because they enjoy paying through the nose.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
43 months ago
Because releasing a laptop with ports is just too mainstream
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
43 months ago

Shouldn't this thing cost $800? That's what Apple would charge. $299 is still ridiculous when you can buy an entire PC for that, but you have to expect to pay through the nose with the Mac. PC Hub? $25. Mac hub. $299. Yeah, ti's Thunderbolt 3. But those ports all used to come with a Mac years ago. PCs still do come with them. So pay $2400 for a 15" Macbook Pro with a lousy 250GB of storage ($3000 for 1TB) and then another $299 to get all those ports the $2000 model used to come with. And the Mac fanatics will EAT IT UP because they enjoy paying through the nose.

Bro the sheeple will come after you soon
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
43 months ago
Some people here don't seem to understand the point of a dock. It's more than a really expensive way to get your ports back. It's a..dock. You can connect everything you need with a single cable, including power. I've been wanting something like this for years, before Apple took its ports away.

MacRumors needs to check their sources better and not just go with what OWC tells them to say. I ordered a TB3 dock from OWC in mid-Dec. 2016 with OWC saying they will ship by the end of Feb. 2017. As late as Feb. 23, the OWC customer service representative were saying they would ship before the end of the month. Nothing shipped. At the beginning of March the customer service representatives were saying they would ship by the end of March then on March 8, OWC Larry sent out an email that they will ship in mid-April (with a chance it could slip into May). In early to mid-April, Customer service representatives were stating that all issues have been resolved and they will ship by the end of April. Still no shipments. Today, I got an email from an OWC customer service rep. stating they will not ship in April and not saying anything more. There has never been a clear and honest explanation of why the shipping dates have continually slipped only vague references to "certification" and "licensing" issues. Over a 4 month period while waiting for delivery of a $300 product that has seen delay after delay OWC has sent out 1 email to its customers. All of my other communication has been through chats and emails that I had to initiate. OWC has lost its focus on customer service and lost a long time customer.

Not too different from the Caldigit one...was supposed to come out Q1 (end of March), then it was moved to Mid-May, now it's Late May according to their Twitter account. Considering there are no Mac-certified TB3 docks out yet with full power delivery and they are all supposedly coming out at the same time, I blame Apple's certification.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
43 months ago
The 60W thing is kind of a bummer.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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