OWC has made a name for itself with high quality accessories and upgrades for your Mac. Their vision of the Thunderbolt 3 docking station is well thought out, making it one of the few to offer an SD card reader, Firewire 800, and a headset jack.
As a pro user, docks are vital pieces of my desk setup. They need to handle many forms of I/O from basics, up to the advanced. OWC does an admirable job of this goal, but still has a few of the pitfalls similar to other Thunderbolt 3 docks on the market.
What is it
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock is a docking station that works over the updated Thunderbolt 3 spec to offer everything you need through a single cable. The idea is you can sit down at your desk, plug in the dock, and have access to a card reader, a monitor, any additional hard drives, and ethernet. It is a much better workflow than plugging in several different things and purchasing a variety of different adapters.
Like others, it is also able to provide power to your machine. If you have one of the new MacBook Pros, it can provide up to 60 watts of power through the same cable. That means you can tuck your Apple charger in your bag, and save it for on the go. Unfortunately that means it will do full speed for the smaller machines, but can’t do the full 87 watts of the 15″ MacBook Pro.
Included in the box is the actual dock itself, a (bulky) power adapter, and a Thunderbolt 3 cable. I always appreciate when the cable is included because you don’t have anything additional to purchase, and you can get started right away.
As far as the ports that are included, here is a full breakdown.
- (5) USB 3.1 Gen 1
- Optical audio out
- Firewire 800
- (2) Thunderbolt 3
- Mini DisplayPort
- SD card reader
There are a lot of smart options here. A few we rarely see include the SD card reader, optical audio, and Firewire 800. As a photographer, I do appreciate the SD card reader, though many pros prefer other formats like XQD. Optical audio is also nice, especially if you have a pro sound setup for audio mixing. Firewire 800 is a bit of a legacy port, but it can still be very useful for those with lots of storage and those older drives/enclosures lying around. You can count myself in that particular category.
There are a few other decisions that I think are also well thought out. Mini DisplayPort is much preferred over DisplayPort. Especially as a long time Mac user, I have many Mini DisplayPort adapters already lying around. It is also just quite a bit smaller than the full size we see on other manufacturers. If you do connect a monitor, you can drive a single 5K monitor or a pair of 4K monitors.
The Thunderbolt 3 ports in this case also work both ways. When you connect your Mac, you don’t have to choose a specific port to make it work. In other models like the impressive CalDigit, one port was specifically for plugging in your Mac, while the other was for expansion and other peripherals. Speaking of other peripherals, you can daisy chain up to six Thunderbolt 3 devices to the OWC dock.
Pros and cons
- One of the few accessories with SD and Firewire ports
- Slim profile
- Supplies full power to the MacBook Pro
- Headphone and mic are in the same “headset” port
- Quick access USB 3 port on front
- Space Grey and silver options
- Mini DisplayPort over DisplayPort
- No HDMI
- No “Pro” media formats like XQD
- Not enough USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports
- No vertical orientation for tight spaces
- Only 60 watts of power output
- Power adapter is large
With more and more options for a great Thunderbolt 3 dock, it is harder for companies to differentiate themselves. Somehow, OWC managed several unique features that we don’t see a lot in other models. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock has just started shipping, and you are able to pick up your own in space grey or silver right now from Amazon for $299.