Hands on: $249 CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus is a great port expander for new MacBoo...

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2018
CalDigit's third Thunderbolt 3 dock is on AppleInsider's test rig, and has some connectivity improvements including a discrete 10Gbit/sec USB-C port boosting it above the company's previous offerings.




CalDigit's Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus is taller, but not as wide horizontally as most of the shipping Thunderbolt 3 docks. A major complaint about the others is the fixed orientation, minus a specialty mount or some adhesive velcro -- but like its predecessor, the new Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus can be positioned vertically, possibly saving some desk real estate. or making it easier to stash behind a monitor.

Like all of the Thunderbolt 3 docks, the power supply is pretty giant. Also, like most of the docks, there's an enclosed, short, passive Thunderbolt 3 cable included that is mostly useless for more than just testing the device out when you get it. So, like with nearly every other Thunderbolt 3 examination we've done, plan on $50 or more for a longer cable in most situations in a separate purchase, or get one for a bit more bundled with the dock straight from CalDigit.

Once more, CalDigit has changed up the available ports. On the front, the new dock has a SD card slot, audio in and out, a 5Gbit/sec USB 3.1 type C generation 1 port, and a USB 3.0 type A 5Gbit/sec port.




On the back is where the company has really changed things up. Standard ports include the two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports capable of providing 85W of charging power, four USB 3.0 type A ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and a 4K DisplayPort capable of 60 Hz refresh. Less common ports are s TOSlink optical audio connector, and a USB 3.1 type C port capable of 10Gbit/sec data transfer.




These are all improvements over the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 from 2017. The evolution of that form factor to the new Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus ditches the mostly useless 3Gbit/sec eSATA ports in favor of more USB in two different flavors, and the TOSlink connector -- more than a fair trade.

Initial examination of connectivity still shows good dual-4K support, with the DisplayPort and the Thunderbolt 3 pass-through port utilized for displays.

This is the first dock we've tested with a discrete 10Gbit/sec USB 3.1 type C port in addition to a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports. Utilizing that 10Gbit/sec port, when the dock is connected to a USB 3.1 type C SSD capable of 750MB/sec read speeds, the dock delivers in excess of 480MB/sec on both the USB 3.1 type C port, or the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port.

CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus, with iPhone 7 Plus for scale
CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus, with iPhone 7 Plus for scale


We've only performed rudimentary examinations of the TOSlink port, and have yet to evaluate the speed of the SD card slot, check the USB-A ports for UASP, test connecting two SSDs in conjunction with a 4K monitor, or how a connected SSD performs with two 4K monitors connected to the dock.

At present between the full charging power and the port array, we feel that CalDigit's new offering is a superb choice a Thunderbolt 3 Mac user assuming you don't need FireWire 800 or are clinging on to eSATA drives for reasons known only to yourself. It's far too early to conclusively call it a favorite, though, as we've only had it for a few days, and it needs more examination.

The TS3 Plus is expected to ship on February 20, and is currently available to pre-order ahead of release through CalDigit's online store at introductory prices of $249.99, $269.99, and $279.99 with 0.5, 1, and 2 meter Thunderbolt 3 cables respectively. It is also available to purchase through B&H Photo.

The reduced-cost Thunderbolt Station 3 is currently available to buy directly from CalDigit under the new pricing. They can also be purchased from AppleInsider partners B&H and Amazon, though as of Tuesday morning, listings at such resellers were not yet reflecting the new price.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 7
    Is that 2m cable option viable? Will TB3 work well with a cable that long?
  • Reply 2 of 7
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,635administrator
    Is that 2m cable option viable? Will TB3 work well with a cable that long?
    Well, given that my eGPU is on one at full speed, I'd say yes.

    To be clear, it needs to be a 2M ACTIVE cable, capable of 100W. Those are about $50-$60 depending on market factors I'm not clear on. We've spoken about this in the past. You may be thinking of the inability of active Thunderbolt 3 cables to carry a native USB 3.1 signal, where the passive ones can act as a USB 3.1 cable, but aren't full Thunderbolt 3 protocol speed.

    This is a 60W version, but there are 100W ones as well: https://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/CBLT3A2.0BP/


    edited January 2018
  • Reply 3 of 7
    Is this the first USB-C/Thunderbolt dock that actually provides more USB-C ports other than just the passthrough?
  • Reply 4 of 7
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,635administrator
    Is this the first USB-C/Thunderbolt dock that actually provides more USB-C ports other than just the passthrough?
    Nope - a few of them have a 5Gbit/sec one, but this is the first with a 10Gbit/sec USB 3.1 type C, though.
  • Reply 5 of 7
    Mike Wuerthele said:
    [...] We've spoken about this in the past.
    Pfft. You think I actually RETAIN anything I read here? There's no room in my limited-capacity noggin (I cheaped out and got the 32GB brain instead of springing for the 128GB upgrade). Every time I learn something new, it pushes out something old. Remember that time I took a home wine-making course and forgot how to drive?

    Mike Wuerthele said:
    [...] You may be thinking
    I assure you, that's not the case.
  • Reply 6 of 7
    So I just got in a reply from the wonderful folks at Caldigit regarding my in query about how the USB ports do or don't share busses: "The short answer is that there are a total of 3 USB buses for a total of 7 USB ports. The USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 + 1 USB-A is on one bus. 3 Rear USB-As are on the 2nd bus. Front USB-A and USB-C are on the 3rd bus. "
    lorin schultzfastasleep
  • Reply 7 of 7
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,975member
    This is more like it. Initially I was looking at docks with a FW800 port for when I upgrade, then was realizing how stupid that'd be. I'm looking forward to recycling all my old FW800/eSATA stuff as soon as I upgrade and replacing it with USB 3.1 gen1/2 docks/enclosures.
    cmka~+
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