Thunderbolt 3 docks are being released at a fast pace. The CalDigit TS3 Thunderbolt Station has been around for a month now and it has an edge. Not only does it provide 85W charging power on one of its ports to Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 MacBook, but it’s also tiny compared to others. And it can be positioned upright, saving space on your desk.
The CalDigit TS3 Thunderbolt Station has two 40Gb/sec Thunderbolt 3 ports, three USB 3.1 Gen.1 ports of which one is high-powered, an Ethernet interface, one DisplayPort, separate headphones and mic ports and two eSATA ports. Especially these make a lot of sense if you want to hook up legacy devices to one of the newest Macs.
As I have a nice collection of bare drives and the CRU/Wiebetech Ultradocks to connect them, I started with the eSATA ports. And yes, you can have a drive run at its fastest speed through eSATA on the CalDigit TS3, which makes it simple to deduct you probably can also run an eSATA connected RAID at its highest possible speed. It may not cover 4K video workflows, but it’s a considerable protection of investment that you can.
With that out of the way, I tried the TS3’s other capabilities. Just as with the TS3 Lite, the TS3 Thunderbolt Station has an aluminium housing. The TS3 Lite has a full sheet of aluminium wrapped around it, but the TS3 is better in my opinion. It has a ribbed surface, which allows for even better heat dissipation and that is noticeable when you touch its surface. It never gets hot, especially when it’s placed upright.
The box contains silicon rubber feet that cleverly fit on the outer ribs to put it on its side, but I personally favour the unit standing up. It takes less place that way, it has a solid silicon rubber base that firmly holds it in place and you can position it any way you like. Mine is positioned with the side towards me, so I can reach both the front audio and USB 3.1 ports and all of the ports at the back without having to fiddle around with cables that are too stubborn to easily insert them when the unit is facing towards me. The one thing I miss out on is the small, bright blue LED on the front bezel that tells me the unit is functioning.
Of course, the TS3 has dual Thunderbolt 3 ports that allow you to daisy-chain devices — up to six of them per computer port. And if you need to hook up two 4K monitors simultaneously, you can connect the first to the DisplayPort and the second one via a USB-C to HDMI video cable to the second Thunderbolt 3 port. In that case, you lose out on the ability to hook up other Thunderbolt 3 devices, like hard disks or RAID configurations. The Thunderbolt 3 port supports a 4K@60Hz as well as a 5K@60Hz monitor, but if you connect a 5K display, you can’t hook up a second 4K monitor anymore — as with any currently available Thunderbolt / USB-C dock.
Finally, the TS3 features three USB 3.1 at 5Gb/s ports, which support the Battery Charging v.1.2 spec.
When you buy the TS3 — or TS Lite, for that matter — there’s an extra you can download from the CalDigit site. Except for the Battery Charging v.1.2 and SuperDrive supporting system extension, you can download a nifty menu applet that allows you to quickly unmount a device connected to one of the dock’s ports. Very useful, as it is much quicker than unmounting from the Finder.
The TS3 comes with a 50cm Thunderbolt 3 cable (USB-C type), which is USB-C compatible as it is a passive cable. I asked CalDigit to include a 1m Thunderbolt 3 cable to test it with. As with all its cables, these are premium quality cables, with the 1m cable being an active cable and therefore not USB-compatible. I also asked for a 1m USB-C cable. Both cables are very flexible with good protection against breaking at the plugs. Despite their flexibility that makes it easy to route them, both cables are shielded like tanks. The difference with other cable brands is that CalDigit apparently uses a different type of shielding that doesn’t require the cable to feel like it’s a tube. They’re also not like Apple’s Thunderbolt cables, which are not solid at all — I had one failing after three months of use.
The CalDigit USB-C cable is certified and E-Marker IC-Chip mounted to support safe and fast charging at 60W max (20V, 3A) laptop charging. It will also support up to 4K video output and full 10Gb/s USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds. The Thunderbolt 3 cable supports full 40Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 speed and up to 100W power delivery/laptop charging. It’s compatible with the LG 5K UltraFine Display.
The cables are also colour-coded with the USB-C cables a deep purple and the Thunderbolt 3 plain black. That makes it all the easier to discern between the two when you hook up a dock that can take the two, for example.
Finally, I asked CalDigit to send me a DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, so I could test an external HDMI monitor hooked up to the TS3. Needless to say, it worked like a charm. It would work with a 4K display, but I had none to test with after the 4K test unit I had was no longer with me.
The TS3 Thunderbolt Station and the extra cables all perform to the high standards that I’ve grown accustomed to from CalDigit products. They’re well built, as fast as you can get them, with an eye for the needs of the professionals who are going to use the equipment — mainly video creators and photographers who need high capacity and fast performance for a good price and the support to match. The TS3 is available now from CalDigit’s online store for €299.99. Its 1m USB-C cables sell for €23.99, while its 1m Thunderbolt 3 cable costs €45.99.