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Many people have been complaining about the Macbook lineup switching entirely to USB-C or specifically Thunderbolt 3. While it’s true, that it provides some issues while on the go, it’s benefits are nothing short of amazing. It allows the new Macbooks to charge, connect to an external display and transfer data at the same time. With that, laptops such as the Macbook Pro can be used both as a laptop and as a desktop pc if the right peripherals are provided. One of the peripherals of choice is the TS3 or the TS3 Plus laptop docking station by CalDigit. It allows all of the things mentioned above with just a single cable.
Despite the “Plus” in the name, at the moment it’s the only version that’s actually available for sale. A while ago I bought the previous model, the normal TS3. It’s not available on Amazon and it’s not part of the CalDigit product page anymore. There are only some slight changes between the two versions though.
The review is based on the normal TS3. However, everything said is equally true for both docking station versions.
Why do I call Thunderbolt 3 docks laptop docking stations?
For a device to be able to take use of one of such docking stations, it has to be Thunderbolt 3 enabled. While most current laptops support the technology, hardly any other devices adapt it. While the USB-C format rises in popularity, especially on the mobile phone market, they usually don’t include Thunderbolt’s functionalities. Even the iPad Pro and most gaming pc’s out there aren’t compatible with Thunderbolt 3.
Due to most other devices using that technology being accessories, such as monitors or eGPU’s, a driving force with Thunderbolt 3, such as a laptop is needed. While there are exceptions, I feel like the expression laptop docking station is justified at this point in time.
TS3 vs TS3 Plus. What’s the difference between the two laptop docking stations?
The colors of CalDigit’s docking stations are similar to the iMac’s. While the original TS3 had a grey that resembles the iMac, the TS3 Plus’ got more of a space grey look to it. With that it seems to rather match the iMac Pro, or of course the space grey variant of the Macbook Pro or Air. At this point of time, the TS3 Plus is available in both colors.
While the original color stayed as an option, the eSata ports didn’t. They were being replaced by a larger variety of ports in general.
The TS3 Plus’ price is also increased by ~50$. It costs around 300$ now.
What can you connect to the dock?
On the back it has four USB 3.1 Type-A connectors and one USB 3.1 Type-C connector. Additionally, there’s one Thunderbolt port for downstream and one to connect your laptop to. The latter one features a 85W power delivery, which makes it the go to for devices such as the Macbook Pro. If the device doesn’t need or doesn’t have Thunderbolt charging (such as the MSI GS65 or an iMac), then the downstream Thunderbolt port can be used as a connection as well. In that case the 85W port is still available to charge your favorite USB-C devices. You can connect your external monitor to either one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports or alternatively to the Displayport (1.2).
For Hifi audio, there’s also an optical audio input. That’s especially great if you own an external headphone amplifier, such as Marantz’ HD-Dac1. There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet port available.
On the front you have an additional USB 3.1 Type-A, and one Type-C connector. There’s also an SD-Card reader, as well as an audio input and output.
On the back it has the same Thunderbolt port for downstream and the same port for connecting to your laptop. It doesn’t have any additional USB Type-C connectors though. There is the same Displayport (1.2), the same Gigabit Ethernet port and two additional eSATA ports. For peripherals there are only two USB Type-A connectors.
On the front there’s the typical audio in- and output and a single USB Type-A port.
How does it compare to other laptop docking stations?
CalDigit’s laptop docking station is very sturdy and yet compact. It has rubber feet on the side, since it’s meant to be lain down. Thanks to it’s format though, it can easily stand upright, depending on your personal preference. It’s format is vastly superior to most other docking station’s out there, since it can easily be put underneath a monitor, in a box such as the HiRise by TwelveSouth or on a shelf. Usually they are either very lengthy or tall, and therefore not fitting in many places. Another advantage it has over most competitors is the 85W power delivery. USB type-C monitors and most docking stations only output up to 60W. For devices that use more than 60W, such as the Macbook Pro under full load that’s a good thing to have.
The TS3 lineup feels right at home in an Apple environment
For a few years now, Apple has been trying it’s best to push the Thunderbolt 3 connector forward. Pretty much every MacOS based device they’ve produced since 2016 has been using it. Apple’s Macbook lineup entirely relies on Thunderbolt 3. The Mac Mini and the iMac have a slightly wider variety of ports; however, they are still focused on the Thunderbolt technology. Thanks to that, the TS3 lineup works well with every single Apple product working on MacOS. Depending on the device, new setup possibilities present themselves, when combined with the TS3.
If the TS3 (Plus) is connected to an iMac or MacMini instead of a Macbook Pro, then you can also use the 30W Thunderbolt-3 cable. This frees up the one with fast power delivery, to be used for other external devices. Products such as Wacom’s 4k graphic tablet*, can now both be powered and connected via a single cable. Traditionally you needed a power cable and additionally the connection between the the computer and the tablet.
That same cable could also be used to power other devices, such as the newest iPad Pro or a Macbook.
While the docking station itself is impressively compact though, the power cord is not so much. It ultimately takes up even more space than the docking station itself. While having the dock fixed on a desk it can be hidden on cable trays or similar underneath it. It is to be noted however, that it’s not suited for on the go docking.
For everybody owning something like Wacom’s above mentioned 4k tablet and everybody using a Macbook Pro powered setup, the TS3 (Plus) is an absolute necessity. It makes the setup so much cleaner and easier to use. It’s well worth the immense price tag of 300$, especially considering that most lacking competitor’s products are within the same price range. Its form factor and general look fits in with most setups and thanks to most laptops nowadays opting for at least one thunderbolt cable, its versatility goes far beyond Apple’s lineup.
To view CalDigit’s TS3 Plus laptop docking station on Amazon, simply click here*.