Hardware MacBook Reviews

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock review: the perfect desktop buddy for a MacBook Pro?

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock
In the dock: OWC's model has plenty of ports

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Professional-grade laptops used to boast about the number of different ports they had – now it’s the exact opposite. Today’s MacBook Pros come with Thunderbolt ports and nothing else. That’s rarely good enough if you’re using your laptop at a desk for most of the day and have peripherals to plug in, which is why there’s a thriving market for Thunderbolt docks. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is one of the more expensive models on the market at £264. Does it do enough to justify that stiff price tag?

What ports does it have?

A dock lives and dies by the ports on offer, so what’s the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock packing? In short, everything: I can’t see any major omissions.

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

On the front, there’s a microSD slot and a full-sized SD card slot, which should keep photographers and videographers happy – although for reliability reasons, I always prefer to directly connect the camera to a computer than use card readers.

Next to the card slots is a headphone/mic combo slot. Even though that port looks massive, as if it will accommodate a quarter-inch jack, it’s a regular 3.5mm socket.

Moving along, there’s a USB 3.1 Gen 1 high-powered port and a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 to keep it company.

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

The back hosts the bulk of the ports. There are four more USB 3.1 Gen 1 high-powered ports, but note these arranged vertically and packed tight. You won’t be able to plug in two thick USB thumb drives next to one another.

There are two more Thunderbolt ports back there, too, which can be used to daisy-chain up to six devices each, including a pair of 5K displays. OWC has an infographic explaining how these should be arranged here (PDF). Otherwise, there’s a Mini DisplayPort 1.2 that can support a 4K signal at up to 60 frames per second.

Finally, there’s a Gigabit Ethernet socket if you need to hardwire the internet connection to your Mac and, unusually, a S/PDIF digital audio out for speakers.

Short of a mug warmer for your coffee, it’s hard to think what more OWC could have added.

Design

OWC has clearly designed this device to sit alongside a MacBook. It’s wrapped in the same brushed aluminium you’ll find on Apple’s laptops (either silver or space grey), although the top and bottom are reduced to glossy black plastic that will soon be slathered in either dust or fingerprints.

While the unit is slender and relatively unobtrusive on a desk, it’s worth noting that it’s somehwat larger than the similarly specced Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro – and less elegant.

The heft of the accompanying power brick may catch you by surprise too. It’s about three quarters of the size of the dock itself, which means this definitely isn’t the dock for taking on business trips.

Performance

I used the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock for about a week and performance was exemplary – save one critical factor for owners of the new 16in MacBook Pro.

The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock only outputs up to 85W of power from its powered Thunderbolt port, which isn’t enough for the 16in MacBook Pro (it needs 99W). The vast majority of other laptops (including all of Apple’s at the time of writing) fall within the 85W envelope, which means you won’t need to plug your charger into the laptop as well as the dock. 16in owners will still need their charger.

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock review: verdict

The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock might well be overkill for many laptop owners, but if you’re a professional with demanding storage and multiple displays to juggle, the OWC will leave you wanting for nothing.

It’s punchily priced, but not out of kilter with similarly specced rivals. It is – rightly or wrongly – the cost of doing serious business with today’s port-lite laptops.

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock
  • Port selection
  • Performance
  • Design
  • Value for money

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock verdict

A great dock for professionals who need more than the Thunderbolt 3 ports on their laptop, but at a punchy price

Overall
4.1

Pros

  • All the ports you could reasonably ask for
  • Solid performance

Cons

  • Design could be more elegant
  • Not enough power to charge 16in MacBook Pro

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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