The best port expansion solution for a Mac: OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

OWC’s Thunderbolt 3 dock has the looks and the ports to appeal even to those who don’t need one. The company’s selection of ports to include has so far been the best I’ve encountered. There are 13 of them and they represent OWC’s experience with users’ needs in terms of support for legacy technology.

I always imagined OWC to be a bit of a boring company — you know, the kind of business that packs its products in dull-brown cardboard boxes with an ordinary sticker on the side to show what’s inside. But it’s not. The packaging actually surprised me as it was everything you’d expect from a company selling to professional Mac users: carefully designed to appeal to our artistic instincts. Better yet, the dock itself is the most beautiful one I’ve come along. It has a shining glossy surface, a beautiful space grey bezel running around it and modest white text. It also offers the clearest idea of what its 13 ports offer. For example, there are two high-powered USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports that are clearly labelled as such.

The OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock comes with a universal auto-switching power supply and a 0.5 m Thunderbolt 3 40Gb/s USB Type-C cable. Its 13 ports have been chosen to best support your legacy equipment. Besides the two Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C ports on the rear side, you’ll find one mini DisplayPort, four USB 3.1 Gen 1 Standard-A ports (with one supporting high-power output), a Gigabit Ethernet port, an S/PDIF digital audio port for output and a FireWire 800 port. The front side is home to one USB 3.1 Gen 1 type-A port, which also supports iPad charging, a very useful and fast SD 3.0 media card reader and a hybrid 3.5 mm headphone/mic jack.

That’s in line with being slightly more focused on legacy support the OWC dock is about. It doesn’t mean it won’t support current technologies typical Mac users crave for. The Thunderbolt 3 ports support video pass-through, supporting up to 4K/60Hz monitors. The mini DisplayPort 1.2 port supports 2K or 4K screens at 60Hz, so in total — and as with most Thunderbolt 3 docks worthy of that name — you can hook up two 60fps 4K displays. And of course you can also connect one 5K Thunderbolt 3 display.

The dock performed as advertised and I didn’t miss any of the more exotic ports like HDMI or a full-size DisplayPort. Far from it, I was very happy with the mini DisplayPort as that meant I could connect (via adapter) a HP display I purchased a couple of years ago. The SD-card port is a boon as well. It’s faster to just plug in an microSD card into an adapter into the OWC card slot, than plugging in the — furthermore excellent — Lexar card reader when I only have one card to read.

The Thunderbolt 3 port made my CalDigit Tuff SSD test unit reach its highest speed as it is Thunderbolt 3 compatible. I also found the generous number of USB type-A ports to be better suited to the work I do than other ports I’ve tested. Heck, even a Thunderbolt 1 RAID system worked perfectly, using Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt adapter.

The only thing I couldn’t do, was using the Thunderbolt 3 Tuff SSD as a startup disk, although the disk was listed as a startup disk in the System Preferences panel.

In short, The OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock so far has been the best port extension device I’ve come across — regardless of it being a Thunderbolt 1, 2 or 3 dock. Even if you don’t yet have a Thunderbolt 3 Mac, you can’t go wrong with this one. It costs $299.

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