So far, we’ve taken a look at Thunderbolt 3 docks from CalDigit and OWC. Now we have a solution from Elgato as well. The Elgato offering takes a horizontal orientation, similar to OWC. It offers several ports, in a streamlined and well-designed body.
I really love the idea of a Thunderbolt dock. The ability to plug in a single cable is incredibly enticing. That single cable can power your monitors, your hard drives, and even supply you with power.
The question then becomes, which does it best? Does the Elgato Thunderbolt 3 dock provide all the necessary ports for an elegant solution, or are you going to be relegated to adding on more dongles and adapters for your MacBook Pro? Let’s find out in this Elgato Thunderbolt 3 docking station review.
To get the best idea of the Elgato, take a look at our hands-on video review.
Like many of the others, the Elgato dock has a brushed Aluminum finish, with matte black plastic on the front and back. I find it to be a nice design, very minimalistic. The Elgato wordmark is subtly printed along the top and doesn’t drastically detract from the design.
Unlike many of the others, there is no status LED on the dock. I actually love this. Why do you need a light to see if it is on? Any device plugged in will tell you the same thing. Personally, I don’t need another little flashing LED staring at me on my desk. This is an extremely small thing, but a welcome design decision.
Elsewise, there are a few ports along the front, with the lion’s share of them housed in the back. The aluminum body is curved on the sides, and slightly elevates the dock from your desk. This is most likely to assist with heat dissipation, but it also looks quite nice.
Arguably the most important part of any Thunderbolt docking station would be the myriad of ports it supplies you.
On the front of the dock, there is a solo USB 3.0 port, an audio input, as well as a headphone jack. A nice feature to the headphone jack is that it isn’t just standard audio out, it is actually a powered headphone amp as well. Most budget headphones won’t particularly benefit from a amplifier, but any mid to high end headphones certainly will.
The rear of the unit is filled with a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a DisplayPort, and the home for the power adapter.
DisplayPort isn’t my favorite video-out solution, but it is fairly standard among Thunderbolt 3 docks on the market.
The two Thunderbolt 3 ports are also interchangeable. You don’t need to utilize a certain one for your Mac like the CalDigit device. Either one can be used to connect the dock to your machine, and the other for any USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 devices.
Some may say that three USB ports is on the low end, but I disagree. Most owners are looking to have this dock for a few years, alongside their Mac. As time goes on, more and more accessories are going to be USB-C. For me, I’ve already swapped over many of my cords to be exclusively USB Type-C. So why would I want to invest heavily into an accessory filled with legacy ports? I’d honestly rather have more USB-C ports.
Luckily, Thunderbolt 3 can daisy chain. So I can plug in multiple hard drives and daisy chain them together, like the OWC Mercury Pro drives. That lets me connect several more devices, without requiring more ports. Personally, I’m pretty happy with the available ports on the Elgato dock.
Many people utilize their Macs with an external display. The Elgato Thunderbolt 3 drive allows you to easily connect your display using the DisplayPort. Luckily, DisplayPort is fairly common so monitors that support it natively will be plentiful, as well as adapters for those that don’t.
You can connect up to two 4K displays at 60Hz, or a single 5K display at 60Hz.
One of the most unique advantages is the constant power supply. On many of the other TB3 docks we’ve spent time with, when they disconnect from your Mac, they stop all power to the USB ports. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch plugged in, you don’t want that to happen. Elgato will keep on working and charging your devices, regardless if you have your Mac connected.
If you do have your Mac connected, it is capable of providing your Mac with up to 85W of power over Thunderbolt 3. For a 15″ MacBook Pro, that is just shy of the 87W maximum it will support. Several others on the market only are capable of providing 60W of power, so if you have a 15″, this is something to take into consideration. When I’m working on processor intensive tasks like graphics or video editing, 60W of power won’t cut it.
The biggest drawback to me is no media slots, though I can understand the omission. Not many Thunderbolt docks include SD or CF readers on them.
The problem I would assume is that many professionals shoot onto different media. Which format are they supposed to support? Should they go with SD and Micro SD which are common for most consumers? Or should they take aim at the professional market who is maybe more likely to buy a Thunderbolt dock? Pros use a wide variety of formats including SSD/HDDs, SD cards, Compact Flash cards, or XQD cards. SD may be the most common, but it isn’t the only one out there. To choose one format would just shun the others.
Wrapping it up
I’ve always been a fan of Elgato’s hardware. They make some of the best HomeKit accessories on the market. Their previous generation Thunderbolt 2 dock was well received, and this newer Thunderbolt 3 version just builds on it.
Elgato has priced their dock in a similar fashion to both CalDigit and OWC. Any of the three can be had for just a dollar under $300. If you’d like to try out the Elgato dock, you can currently find it over on Amazon.
As always, I’m interested in your take. Let me know which dock is your favorite down in the comments. Are there any ports that are missing in your opinion?