OWC has launched its new docking solution aimed primarily at Apple’s latest Thunderbolt 3-equipped MacBook Pros. Designed to be the “one dock to rule them all", OWC's Thunderbolt 3 Dock aims to be the most capable TB3 dock on the market, offering a rather sizable selection of both contemporary ports as well as legacy ports that are still be used by various professional applications.

When Apple launched its latest MacBook Pro laptops late last year it received a decent amount of criticism about the notebooks only offering only four Thunderbolt 3 ports for wired connectivity, leaving behind USB Type-A, SD card reader, mDP, and some other things that many people are so used to. At the time, Apple said that docking solutions set to emerge in the future would add ports to the new MBPs and throughout 2017 we have seen a variety of TB3 adapters and docking stations launched. While these products solved mainstream, or, by contrast, specific needs, there were no docking station for the latest-gen MacBook Pro to feature (almost) every popular port that is in use and legacy connectors for those who still need them. The latter are important as Apple has a lot of loyal customers from audio/video industries, some of whom still use have to use FireWire and S/PDIF connectors. OWC’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock, in turn, is adding both contemporary and legacy connectors to the latest MBPs and other laptops with Thunderbolt 3.

In terms of common ports, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock has five USB 3.0 Type-A ports — one on the front and four on the back. Five fully-fledged USB-A connectors is a rare feature for any docking solution, but in a bid to serve certain specific needs, OWC decided to install this number of headers. The OWC TB3 Dock also has an SD card reader, something that would please professional photographers who uses such cards, and for professionals from the audio/video industry an S/PDIF output, a FireWire 800 port, and an additional 3.5-mm audio in/out to connect speakers, mics, and other equipment. While S/PDIF is (still) found on many desktops nowadays, FireWire is becoming increasingly rare. Both are virtually non-existent on contemporary mobile computers, so OWC is addressing a market that is not addressed by PC makers as well as by numerous makers of TB3 adapters/docks.

Moving on to higher bandwidth ports, the dock has both a Gigabit Ethernet and a mDP 1.2 port, both of which are quite popular in both consumer and business environments. Finally, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock has two more full-feature TB3 ports to enable users to connect other TB3 devices. For example, these connectors could be used to plug two 4K displays or a 5K monitor to a non-TouchBar MacBook Pro that has only two TB3 headers one of which will be occupied once the OWC TB3 Dock is plugged in. Obviously, it is simply convenient to keep the display plugged to a dock with all computers and then connect everything from a USB keyboard to speakers to a monitor using just one TB3 cable.

OWC does not disclose how the 13-in-1 dock works, but the complexity of the solution is evidently very high. USB, SD, GbE, FireWire as well as S/PDIF and 3.5-mm in/out audio port require separate controllers. These controllers have to connect to a hub via PCIe bus, underscoring both the flexibility of TB3 and why TB3 devices can also cost so much.

OWC has already started to ship its Thunderbolt 3 Dock, and the product is available directly as well as from retailers like Adorama, B&H Photo and others. The dock is priced at $299, which although still better than some other TB3 docks on the market, is still at the other end of the spectrum comparable to a price of a complete cheap notebook. Though given the number of PCIe-to-X controllers inside, I'm not all that surprised at the price.

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Source: OWC

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  • Daniel Egger - Friday, September 22, 2017 - link

    Not sure that, but it's also much more complex to negotiate and manage 2 USB-PD connections. The way they do it with the custom power brick they at least know how much juice they can expect to have available. Reply
  • Daniel Egger - Friday, September 22, 2017 - link

    s/Not sure that/Not only that/g . Please also note that the dock itself might need considerable power for itself and e.g. USB charging which has to be taken from the input, too so there might not be too much left for the Laptop... Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, September 22, 2017 - link

    My first two thoughts are - 1. Apple laptops need a docking connector. As inelegant as they are, docking stations and port replicators are important where people use laptops for work tasks. MBPs have reduced professional appeal because the design doesn't include a better docking solution.

    2. These connectors and external devices should be on some sort of short range, high speed wireless connection as opposed to a relatively frail physical connector (or at least something more easily detached like the MagSafe power connections) because daily connection and disconnections are bound to wear out TB port. I know wireless isn't there yet for all the bandwidth the OWC dock potentially needs, but I would really love to see the industry heading in that direction someday.
    Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, September 22, 2017 - link

    1. Thanks to TB3, even staunch docking port companies like Dell are beginning to ditch their docking connectors. TB3 is just as good but doesn't require the asinine electrical and mechanical design work on the laptops (route >100Gbit/s and up to 330W over 150+pins, and fit it a specific place of the machine, and reinforce the mobo and chassis right there). Well, in theory, anyways.. anyone and their dogs know about the Dell TB15 and it's litany of issues, and how it got replaced reeeeal fast (not) with the TB16.

    2.1. You don't give USB-C enough credit. USB-C is a lot tougher than it looks based on my experiences with it. Besides, since it's not a captive cable, it's not exactly a big deal to swap a failed cable. On top of that, the USB-C port/cable combination has also been designed very explicitly to fail at the cable end of things rather than the device/receptable end, so you should only be out a $20 TB3 cable, not a $300 dock. Sure, it's not nearly as nice as magsafe, but such is the nature of high-bandwidth connections. The saddest part, really, is that USB-C can only do 100W, so if you have a >100W gaming laptop or mobile workstation , you still need to plug the barrel-plug charger in anyways.

    2.2 Have you ever used a classic/traditional docking station? Those things are fragile as hell if you really look at it in detail (so much mechanical crap needed to undock the laptop, and the massive 150+ contact points is super easy to destroy if you're not careful). And besides, anywhere you are likely to use a dock, you're very unlikely to ever have cables getting tripped over, crushed, bent, kinked or otherwise abused.

    2.3 Wireless isn't good enough, sadly. 802.11ad hit ~6.7Gbit/s max, compared to TB3's 40Gbit/s. In theory 802.11ay should have enough (~100Gbit/s planned), but I reckon TB will blow well past the 400Gbit/s mark by the time that that shows up. Plus, the reliability of a wired connection really cannot be beat.

    All in all, docking ports are a hell of a shitty hack that's worked very well for the past 20 years. Now that we can reliably (ish..) replace it with basically no compromise, we all should. I'm looking forward to my next laptop having TB because of it.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, September 22, 2017 - link

    Hmm...USB-C isn't bad froma durability perspective and yes, the cable is designed to fail first, but how many times will the cable be the first point of failure before the motherboard's connector fails? Maybe it isn't a widespread problem, but I've already seen USB-C connectors die and I question their durability.

    As for docking stations, Dell's were pretty good. Both the E-series and D-series docks held up very well over the years in my offices. They were durable even when subjected to apathetic or angry/frustrated end users that didn't exercise the least bit of care for their equipment. HP's Probook docks were equally reliable. I've personally fielded hundreds of each and worked in offices that had many thousands deployed. Those that I've dealt with were not fragile.

    I agree that wireless technologies aren't up to the task yet. It seems like 802.11-derived standards aren't suited to the sorts of local, wired-like connections a docking station is meant to handle. Something much shorter range that might require the laptop simply rest in a cradle that lacks a physical connection would be suitable since transmission range isn't the end objective, just eliminating the need for users to angrily jam cables into the sides of their laptops.

    In the end, I'm not against Thunderbolt as a present day solution to the problem. It can work for now. My preference is merely to move away from the need for physical connectors or to at least make those connectors far more durable. MagSafe is a good example, but any surface mount ball-and-pad array would be better than something that must be physically inserted several mm into the system.
    Reply
  • jabber - Friday, September 22, 2017 - link

    Hmmm I've managed to pass on TB1, 2 and 3 so far. Maybe I'll bite at TB5 or 6? Reply
  • bull2760 - Friday, September 22, 2017 - link

    As an owner of one of their other thunderbolt docks I'd stay away, far away. I returned mine 3 times for defects. They blamed my MacBook pro as the problem. Took me MacBook to the apple store and had the Tbolt port tested, no issues. OWC uses cheap chips in creating their crap. I now have a very expensive thunderbolt paperweight. Because I was past the return period with all the different exchanges OWN would not give me my money back. I will never buy an OWC product again. Reply
  • bull2760 - Friday, April 20, 2018 - link

    to buy from OWC is like playing Russian Roulette. I had a Thunderbolt 2 doc that was replaced 3 times. OWC claims there was nothing wrong with the units I sent back. Told me it was my MacBook Pro's thunderbolt port causing the problem. Took my MacBook Pro to Apple to have it checked out and Apple said there was nothing wrong with the port. My TB ports worked fine when connecting a TB to HDMI adapter and a TB to network adapter. Never had an issue using the TB ports that way. To boot because I was past my return period in getting a refund, I'm now stuck with a $200 paperweight. Will never buy an OWC product again they do not stand behind their products and put the blame on other companies. Reply

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