Review: OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock is the only game in town for FireWire 800

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2017
Vendor OWC has been supplying Mac users with upgrades for more than two decades, and the company continues that commitment with its own Thunderbolt 3 dock -- AppleInsider examines the offering.

OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock


Editor's note: This review was originally published in May of 2017, but is being republished in September, as the dock is now shipping to consumers.

The Thunderbolt 3 Dock connects to a host Mac through a too-short but included 0.5-meter Thunderbolt cable. A major selling point of the dock, like most, is that it can support two 4K displays at 60Hz with one connected to the Mini DisplayPort and one through the pass-through Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, and up to six USB devices.

Differentiating it from most, is it also has a FireWire 800, optical TOSlink, and a SD card reader. It also appears to be the first Thunderbolt 3 dock to ship with 60W of charging power, rather than just 15W.



Initial connection




As with most Thunderbolt docks, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock is driver-free in macOS, but the FireWire 800 port doesn't work in Boot Camp at all.

Mass storage devices, input devices, and output devices all work perfectly, just like they were natively plugged into the host computer.

The power supply is once again, massive, and hot. This is probably related to charging power demands, and in all likelihood will pertain to all Thunderbolt 3 docks, especially those that supply full power to a connected MacBook Pro.

What about that SD card slot?

A possible selling point for the dock is the SD card reader. There are a variety of speed ratings for SD cards these days, and we've got a few on hand.

SDHC cards transfer at full 25MB/second speeds. SDXC cards will reach about 80MB/second -- a bit less than the peak 105MB/sec allowable by the 3.01 specification supported in the dock.

USB and UASP

As we've mentioned before, some cases and docks don't support UASP. Assuming both your enclosure and dock support it, the protocol provides for faster file transfers than gear that doesn't support it.

The OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock does in fact support it, so check that one off the desired features list.

Video testing

As with the CalDigit TS3 Lite dock we tested, dual 4K displays operate without issue. Additionally, the LG Ultrafine 5K Thunderbolt 3 display can be daisy-chained off the dock with no issue and no connectivity limitations for the on-board ports induced by the connection, even when we fully loaded a USB port with a SSD RAID and performed a massive data transfer across the Gigabit Ethernet port.

However, as with other docks, don't connect anything to the monitor while using the dock more arduous than a keyboard. The demands on the Thunderbolt 3 port when you add the USB-C on the monitor plus the dock's ports are just too great.

A note on drive enclosures

We've got an assortment of FireWire 800 drive enclosures we've had for years, and they all worked fine. However, buying a $300 dock to use them may be throwing good money after bad.

If the enclosure is truly old, then it uses PATA drives -- the old ribbon cable, last seen in the optical bay of the Mac Pro and not used for a hard drive since the days of the G4.

If the enclosure is newer than a decade old, it probably uses SATA drives. If this is all you need the dock for, you'd be better off getting a new enclosure, and moving the drives over, for more universal compatibility.

Testing 1,2,3, testing!

With the rare exception of some surviving FireWire drive enclosures, the most probable class of equipment demanding FireWire 800 connectivity on a 2016 MacBook Pro are audio interfaces.

The first hurdle is Sierra compatibility. Some devices just don't have Sierra drivers. The second is physical connectivity - without Firewire, the devices won't connect either.

In limited trials, the Universal Audio Apollo FireWire, and Apollo 16 FireWire worked properly in Sierra through the OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock with the latest drivers. An offically unsupported Alesis Multimix 16 worked with a hack, much to the relief of our audio hardware supplier. Only one unit can be connected through the chain, but that's a limitation of the driver, and not the dock.

If you want FireWire 800, there is one choice




Here's the problem with reviewing docks. They work without hacks or they don't, they supply sufficient charging power, or they don't -- easy enough.

Unless a review says that the dock just doesn't function, buyers select a Thunderbolt 3 dock not on reviews, but based on the ports they have. Some Thunderbolt 3 docks have DisplayPort, HDMI, or Mini DisplayPort. Those don't really sway the purchaser, because modern monitors seem to have both DisplayPort or HDMI -- or a cable will get you there.

But, if you want FireWire 800 and you've got a 2016 MacBook Pro, options are limited. Users can either drop about $100 to get Apple's Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter and then a Thunderbolt 2 to FireWire 800 adapter -- and even that is iffy and not universally compatible.

For $200 more, the vaunted "single cable solution" can be had with FireWire 800 devices in the mix, with either dual-4K or 5K plus all the other connectivity that the dock brings. That's what will sell the $299 OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock, more than any words hammered out from a test bench.

Score: 4 out of 5

AppleInsider rates the OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock a four out of five. While the $299 price is steeper than other options, the added connectivity of the SD card slot and FireWire 800 will sell the dock to a good portion of legacy Mac hardware users who want new gear.

If only we could convince manufacturers to include cables that are suitable for more than just initial testing.

Where to buy

Those looking for the best deal on the OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock can find the accessory on sale for $297.50 at both B&H Photo and Adorama with free expedited shipping and no tax outside NY and NJ.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    appexappex Posts: 687member
    Nice, but a shame it does not have eSATA ports. On the other hand... "SDXC cards will reach about 80MB/second —a bit less than the peak 105MB/sec allowable by the specification." Nope. Get the facts: UHS-III SDXC with 624MB/s Full Duplex read/write speeds. Check out https://www.sdcard.org/developers/overview/bus_speed/index.html
    tallest skilneo-tech
  • Reply 2 of 46
    bill1357bill1357 Posts: 31member
    you mention the massive power supply, and it is not bad, but one of their competitors is offering 175W, which would both charge the MacPro at full rate and power peripherals.  I wish OWC would offer that.  

    Of course, I haven't seen the 175W and maybe it wouldn't even fit in my pickup :) so I may be ignoring practicality for numbers.  Still it would be nice to have the power.

    What would be really nice would be the option of either---maybe one could buy a high power supply or choose a lower power supply.
    Solielectrosoft
  • Reply 3 of 46
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 464member
    "too-short but included 0.5-meter Thunderbolt cable" ... "include cables that are suitable for more than testing"

    Thunderbolt 3 connections that run at PCIe 3.0 x4 speeds are still limited to about 18" (I learned about this by helping a friend with an external gpu rebuild his desk around this limitation). It seems likely that OWC is shipping with a short cable to ensure that 5k displays and very-high-performance peripherals run without a hitch. 
    baconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 46
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,689administrator
    Eric_WVGG said:
    "too-short but included 0.5-meter Thunderbolt cable" ... "include cables that are suitable for more than testing"

    Thunderbolt 3 connections that run at PCIe 3.0 x4 speeds are still limited to about 18" (I learned about this by helping a friend with an external gpu rebuild his desk around this limitation). It seems likely that OWC is shipping with a short cable to ensure that 5k displays and very-high-performance peripherals run without a hitch. 
    They are not. Buy full-speed rated cables.
    watto_cobraneo-tech
  • Reply 5 of 46
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,689administrator

    appex said:
    Nice, but a shame it does not have eSATA ports. On the other hand... "SDXC cards will reach about 80MB/second —a bit less than the peak 105MB/sec allowable by the specification." Nope. Get the facts: UHS-III SDXC with 624MB/s Full Duplex read/write speeds. Check out https://www.sdcard.org/developers/overview/bus_speed/index.html
    While that's the spec for v6.0 of the spec, that's not the version of the spec supported by the dock, though. The dock supports 3.01, which is limited to 105MB/sec. Even so, It only pushes 80MB/sec.

    That said, I've cleaned up the language in the review to specify the 3.01 support for the dock.
    edited May 2017 tallest skilSoliwatto_cobraneo-tech
  • Reply 6 of 46
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,689administrator

    bill1357 said:
    you mention the massive power supply, and it is not bad, but one of their competitors is offering 175W, which would both charge the MacPro at full rate and power peripherals.  I wish OWC would offer that.  

    Of course, I haven't seen the 175W and maybe it wouldn't even fit in my pickup :) so I may be ignoring practicality for numbers.  Still it would be nice to have the power.

    What would be really nice would be the option of either---maybe one could buy a high power supply or choose a lower power supply.
    This is more a feature of the USB-C controller chip. OWC chose a 60W max. Ones are coming say that they support the full power, but we'll see when they ship, and how well they work in future reviews.

    So far, the only USB-C peripheral that's given me full 87W charging power is a Bizon eGPU case.
    edited May 2017 watto_cobraneo-techSolielectrosoft
  • Reply 7 of 46
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,208member
    appex said:
    Nice, but a shame it does not have eSATA ports. On the other hand... "SDXC cards will reach about 80MB/second —a bit less than the peak 105MB/sec allowable by the specification." Nope. Get the facts: UHS-III SDXC with 624MB/s Full Duplex read/write speeds. Check out https://www.sdcard.org/developers/overview/bus_speed/index.html
    Ah, I was going to post that. It's not mentioned that SD cards are moving to SSD speeds. Frankly, I would not be happy with slipping to just 80MBps these days. Considering that actual transfer speeds are less than what's on the card, because of packet checking, 80MBps is usually closer to 50MBps. That's no longer acceptable. With my 64 and 128GB cards for my camera, that's downright pokey. 
  • Reply 8 of 46
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,208member
    Bigger power supplies also cost more. I suppose that $299 was a price decided upon in advance.

    mike, is this power supply linear or digital? It bothers me that it gets so hot.
  • Reply 9 of 46
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,689administrator
    melgross said:
    Bigger power supplies also cost more. I suppose that $299 was a price decided upon in advance.

    mike, is this power supply linear or digital? It bothers me that it gets so hot.
    Our videographer has the dock right now, I'll check when it returns.
  • Reply 10 of 46
    HeliBumHeliBum Posts: 43member
    This dock may be the "only game in town" as far as docks are concerned, but I've had success daisy chaining a TB3-TB2 adapter with a TB2-FW800 adapter. In fact, I used that combination to migrate my user account from my old 2010 15" MBP top my 2016 15" MBP with the old MBP booted in target disk mode.
    rezwits
  • Reply 11 of 46
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,295member
    Why no USBc ports on the front?
  • Reply 12 of 46
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,689administrator
    HeliBum said:
    This dock may be the "only game in town" as far as docks are concerned, but I've had success daisy chaining a TB3-TB2 adapter with a TB2-FW800 adapter. In fact, I used that combination to migrate my user account from my old 2010 15" MBP top my 2016 15" MBP with the old MBP booted in target disk mode.
    I'm not saying, and didn't say, that it doesn't work.

    However, daisy-chaining FireWire peripherals is iffy with the two adapters chained together, as is compatibility with some audio accessories.
    edited May 2017
  • Reply 13 of 46
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,689administrator

    sflocal said:
    Why no USBc ports on the front?
    Given the length of cabling that we get with these, I'm not sure why one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports isn't on the front, and the second on the back.

    The CalDigit TS3 Lite that we reviewed had a USB 3.0 type C port on the front, but the TB3 ports were on the back.
  • Reply 14 of 46
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,295member

    sflocal said:
    Why no USBc ports on the front?
    Given the length of cabling that we get with these, I'm not sure why one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports isn't on the front, and the second on the back.

    The CalDigit TS3 Lite that we reviewed had a USB 3.0 type C port on the front, but the TB3 ports were on the back.
    Given the daisy-chain nature of Thunderbolt, I can understand the ports being place behind the unit, and side-to-side.  However, not including USBc port on the front puzzles me.  This entire dock contains in theory, one USBc port which plays double-duty as the TB3 port.

    This would be the deal breaker for me.  I don't want to have to fidget-around the back of any iMac or dock in order to access a standard USBc port. 
  • Reply 15 of 46
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 687member
    melgross said:
    Bigger power supplies also cost more. I suppose that $299 was a price decided upon in advance.

    mike, is this power supply linear or digital? It bothers me that it gets so hot.
    It won't be linear, linear power supplies in some cases dissipate more power as heat than supplied to the load. The official Apple PSUs get hot, but they're switchers. Generally for anything over a few watts the PSU will be a switching type, or - rarely nowadays - transformer based. Both transformer and switchers are very efficient, 80%+. Switchers use less power when on standby than transformer types however. Even a few watts of dissipated heat can feel really hot when passively cooled.
    baconstang
  • Reply 16 of 46
    frank777frank777 Posts: 5,770member
    melgross said:
    appex said:
    Nice, but a shame it does not have eSATA ports. On the other hand... "SDXC cards will reach about 80MB/second —a bit less than the peak 105MB/sec allowable by the specification." Nope. Get the facts: UHS-III SDXC with 624MB/s Full Duplex read/write speeds. Check out https://www.sdcard.org/developers/overview/bus_speed/index.html
    Ah, I was going to post that. It's not mentioned that SD cards are moving to SSD speeds. Frankly, I would not be happy with slipping to just 80MBps these days. Considering that actual transfer speeds are less than what's on the card, because of packet checking, 80MBps is usually closer to 50MBps. That's no longer acceptable. With my 64 and 128GB cards for my camera, that's downright pokey. 

    A bit off-topic:

    I didn't realize SD cards were getting so fast.
    I still wonder why physical media sales (at retail) have stuck with CDs/BRs instead of moving to cards in the age of cell phones and tablets.

    My guess is the cost of replicating a CD is still far, far cheaper than a flash card. But since no one who uses a phone or tablet to consume media (which is practically everybody) can do anything with a plastic CD or BR, retail is happily killing themselves off here. And SD cards are reusable, so there's no need for a bargain bin. If it doesn't sell, reuse it for something that is selling. Also getting side swiped here are indie artists selling their albums at concerts.

    While online is obviously the bigger marketplace for media overall - and will remain so, SD cards should be the de-facto medium for physical media sales in the post-PC era. And yet today discs are still being pressed and sold on retail store shelves. It's baffling.
  • Reply 17 of 46
    tpf1952tpf1952 Posts: 55member
    So when is this "only game in town" device coming to town? I preordered in late 2016. OWC emailed an apology for the delays. I take it as a good sign that AppleInsider received one. Anyone else?
  • Reply 18 of 46
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,689administrator
    tpf1952 said:
    So when is this "only game in town" device coming to town? I preordered in late 2016. OWC emailed an apology for the delays. I take it as a good sign that AppleInsider received one. Anyone else?
    The next few days, we understand.
  • Reply 19 of 46
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,737member

    If you want FireWire 800, there is one choice

    Not exactly. Apple makes a Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter for $29

    Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter
  • Reply 20 of 46
    sphericspheric Posts: 1,670member
    volcan said:

    If you want FireWire 800, there is one choice

    Not exactly. Apple makes a Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter for $29

    Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter
    For one, that needs an extra Thunderbolt 3 —> Thunderbolt 2 adapter, and for another, it's not a dock. 

    And for a third, FTFA:

    "
    Users can either drop about $100 to get Apple's Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter and then a Thunderbolt 2 to FireWire 800 adapter -- and even that is iffy and not universally compatible."
    fastasleep
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