The CalDigit TS3 Lite Thunderbolt 3 dock offers good value for money

MacBook Pro 2016 users need a dock to hook up their legacy Thunderbolt gear. The most efficient and probably cheapest way to get there is to buy a dock like the CalDigit TS3 Lite or TS3.

The TS3 Lite is available now, with the TS3 coming soon. The main differences with the TS3 are design, the lack of full 85W charging and a few ports missing on the TS3 Lite.

CalDigit’s Thunderbolt Station 3 Lite has a design that reminded me of the Elgato Thunderbolt docks. It’s a bit squarer around the edges and made of a much thicker and heavier sheet of aluminium. In contrast to the Elgato Thunderbolt 2 dock, it has a useful blue status LED on its front bezel. It has two 40Gb Thunderbolt 3 ports. One of those is reserved for upstream connections. The other supports full daisy chaining. It also comes with two USB-A 3.1 and one USB-C 3.1 (all gen.1) ports, Gigabit Ethernet, a full-size DisplayPort, and audio in/out ports. After installing a free downloadable driver, the dock fully supports an Apple Superdrive. Just as with the Elgato, the TS3 Lite needs the driver to unlock its full power capabilities.

In the box, you’ll find the dock, a large power adapter and a 50cm Thunderbolt 3 cable that supports 20V 5A. The inclusion of a 50cm cable is quite exceptional as most other vendors will either put a flimsy, under-performing cable in the box to keep costs low or none at all.

The TS3 Lite has power capabilities but they’re limited to 15W, which is not enough to charge a MacBook Pro. However, when you connect one 5K monitor to the Thunderbolt 3 port or two 4K monitors via DisplayPort and USB-C, the 15W power succeeds at slowing down the power drain experienced by your MacBook. The TS3 Lite also supports stand-alone charging of iPads, iPhones and other low-wattage devices.

I didn’t have a 5K monitor to try it with, but I did have two 4K monitors at my disposal. One connected to the DisplayPort while the other was connected to the USB-C port on the TS3 Lite. Neither of my monitors supports DisplayPort or USB-C. For both, I needed an HDMI adapter. The two displays worked without a flaw.

All of the USB ports on the dock are limited to 5Gbps throughput. That’s great for external single-disk storage, but not so great if you want to hook up SSD-based storage that is USB-C compatible such as the G-DRIVE slim SSD USB-C. It worked great with my CalDigit Tuff drive, though. Still, I would have liked one 10Gbps port to be present.

I was also interested in knowing if the dock performed better than the Elgato Thunderbolt 2 dock for offloading video from an SSD, so I tested with a Crucial SSD that I only use to record video with my Shogun Flame. As the Elgato is connected to my iMac, I connected the TS3 Lite to my iMac as well and compared its USB 3 performance with that of the Elgato Thunderbolt 2 dock.

The TS3 Lite mounted the Atomos dock faster than the Elgato and took 20 seconds less to offload the 9.5GB of movie data that was recorded to the SSD.

The CalDigit TS3 Lite is not too expensive either, at €240.