Thunderbolt 3 and USB Converge With New 40 Gbps USB4 Specification

The USB Promoter Group standards body today announced the pending release of a new USB4 specification.


USB4 converges the Thunderbolt and USB protocols as part of Intel's goal to make Thunderbolt available on a royalty-free basis, which should result in wider and cheaper availability of Thunderbolt accessories like docks and eGPUs.

As USB4 is based on Thunderbolt 3, it offers data transfer speeds up to 40 Gbps, which is twice as fast as the bandwidth of the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 specification. USB4's underlying Thunderbolt 3 protocol also means the specification supports up to two 4K displays or one 5K display over a single cable.

The simplest way to view USB4 is as Thunderbolt 3, but royalty free for manufacturers. Intel will continue to offer Thunderbolt 3 on a standalone basis with a few advantages over USB4, including more support with reference designs and technical issues for manufacturers, according to The Verge.

USB4 will use the USB-C connector design and will be backwards compatible with USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 specifications.

The USB4 specification is on track to be published around the middle of 2019. Over 50 companies are actively participating in the final stages of review of the draft specification, which should include Apple, Intel, and Microsoft, but it might take a few years until the first USB4 devices are released.


This article, "Thunderbolt 3 and USB Converge With New 40 Gbps USB4 Specification" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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CES 2019: Elgato Unveils Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock With Dual USB-C, Dual USB-A, Gigabit Ethernet, DisplayPort, and More

Elgato parent company Corsair at CES 2019 this week unveiled its new Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock. The dock connects to the latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable and provides a wide variety of additional I/O connectivity options, eliminating the need for multiple adapters.


The dock is equipped with two USB-C ports with transfer speeds up to 10Gb/s, two USB-A ports with transfer speeds up to 5 Gb/s, two Thunderbolt 3 ports with transfer speeds up to 40 Gb/s, one DisplayPort 1.2, one Gigabit Ethernet port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and audio output, and SD and microSD card readers.

The dock can drive a 5K external display at 60Hz over Thunderbolt, or two 4K external displays simultaneously, with one connected via DisplayPort and the other via Thunderbolt. 4K at 60Hz is also supported via HDMI 2.0 with an adapter.

The new Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock is available now for $349.99 from Amazon, Corsair, and select other retailers and distributors around the world.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission, which helps us keep the site running.


This article, "CES 2019: Elgato Unveils Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock With Dual USB-C, Dual USB-A, Gigabit Ethernet, DisplayPort, and More" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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Review: OWC’s Updated Thunderbolt 3 Dock Adds 85W Charging, 10 Gbps USB-C Port, and microSD Slot

Nearly a year and half ago, OWC was one of the first companies to launch a Thunderbolt 3 dock, offering over a dozen ports of various types to support a variety of accessories. While I loved the sheer number of the ports offered on the original version of the dock, there were some shortcomings, including a lack of any 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports and only 60 watts of charging power, which may not be enough for 15-inch MacBook Pro users.

Users for whom those two concerns are dealbreakers will be glad to hear that OWC is launching an updated version of its Thunderbolt 3 dock in just a few weeks, addressing these issues.


The new OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is exactly the same size and shape as the original, with a horizontal design constructed of an aluminum band (in silver or space gray) wrapping all the way around the sides and glossy black plastic on the top and bottom.

All ports are clearly labeled in white, and there is an OWC logo and "Thunderbolt 3 Dock" branding printed on the front of the dock. The dock measures in at a hair over 9 inches wide by 3.5 inches deep and an inch tall. It weighs about 1.2 pounds, although as a desktop dock you're not likely to be moving it around very often so weight shouldn't be much of a factor.

Because OWC's new dock is so similar to the original version, I'm not going to walk through all of the features, and I'll instead focus on the differences. But rest assured, the new version continues to have five USB-A ports running at 5 Gbps, a pair of Thunderbolt ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a Mini DisplayPort port, and S/PDIF output and combo 3.5 mm audio ports. Two of the USB-A ports (one front and one rear) offer 1.5A of power for faster charging of connected devices.

New version on top, original model on bottom

As for new additions, OWC has added two additional ports on the front of the dock: a microSD card slot that complements the SD card slot from the original version, and a new 10 Gbps Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 port. Both of these are great additions that many users will find handy.

New version on top, original model on bottom

I tested out the new 10 Gbps USB-C port on the front of the dock using a fast CalDigit Tuff external SSD, and I saw solid speeds coming in at over 500 MB/s read and 480 MB/s write. Speeds when connected to one of the 5 Gbps USB-A ports came in at around 350 MB/s read and 325 MB/s write, which typical for this drive over that type of connection.

Speed test using 10 Gbps USB-C port and external SSD

One connectivity option you'll find missing compared to the original version of the dock is a FireWire 800 port, which was formerly located near the center of the dock on the rear. It's not a particularly surprising omission given the continuing decline in use for the standard and the fact that OWC had previously dropped the port from its main Thunderbolt 3 dock lineup. The loss of the port won't be an issue for the vast majority of users, but if you happen to still need FireWire connectivity you'll need to look at other dock options.

If you're a 15-inch MacBook Pro user, you'll be glad to hear that OWC has bumped up the charging capabilities in the new dock to 85 watts from the original 60 watts. That'll be enough to charge up your MacBook Pro at the same speed as from Apple's power adapter, and it'll keep your machine powered up even under heavy loads.

135-watt power brick from original version (left) vs. 180-watt power brick for updated model (right)

It's a very welcome improvement, but it does come at the cost of a larger external brick needed to support the increased power. The power brick included with the new dock is 180 watts, up from 135 watts in the original version. That increases the brick's size fairly significantly, but in most cases you'll be able to tuck it away somewhere and not have to worry about it.

Overall, the new Thunderbolt 3 Dock from OWC is one of my top picks among all of the docks I've tested. CalDigit's TS3 Plus has been my go-to dock since its release, but OWC's dock now gives it a run for its money with the array of ports and full 85-watt charging power that put it just about on par. OWC's dock will be priced at $299, which is competitive with other high-end Thunderbolt 3 docks, some of which can run up to $350 or more. OWC says the new dock will be available from its online store at macsales.com and at other retailers starting in early November.

Note: OWC provided the Thunderbolt 3 Dock to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received. MacRumors is an affiliate partner with macsales.com and may earn commissions on purchases made through links in this article.


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Review: CalDigit’s Thunderbolt 3 Mini Docks Let You Connect to Dual 4K Displays Wherever You Go

Last month, CalDigit debuted a pair of Thunderbolt 3 mini Docks, offering the ability to connect dual 4K 60Hz displays, Ethernet, and USB all from one travel-sized accessory that doesn't require its own external power source. Available in dual DisplayPort and dual HDMI versions, CalDigit's Thunderbolt 3 mini Docks are a convenient way to make sure you can easily connect to multiple high-resolution displays wherever you go.


I've had an opportunity to test out both versions of the dock, and I came away impressed with their performance, compactness, and usefulness in making sure you have the connectivity you need available away from your usual workplace.

Design


Both versions of the Thunderbolt 3 mini Dock have the same primarily aluminum design with plastic on the two long edges where the ports line one side and the short built-in Thunderbolt 3 cable exits the other side. The aluminum is an attractive gray that's significantly darker than Apple's Space Gray shades, and there is a CalDigit logo on the top of the dock. The bottom includes a pair of non-skid strips to help keep the dock stable.


Both docks measure just under 5 inches long by about 2.5 inches deep and 0.75 inches thick. That makes them just a bit smaller but considerably thicker than an iPhone 8, and at a little over 5 ounces they're just about the same weight as an iPhone 8 as well. Overall that makes them much smaller and lighter than a desktop Thunderbolt 3 dock, and they don't require a massive power brick (or any external power beyond the Thunderbolt cable), so they're very transportable.

The two versions each include a Gigabit Ethernet port, a 5 Gbps Type-A USB 3.0 port, and a pair of either DisplayPort 1.2 or HDMI 2.0 ports. The HDMI model also includes a second Type-A USB port, although it is limited to 480 Mb/s USB 2.0.

Performance


I tested the performance of both docks using an array of accessories and found solid performance. Both the DisplayPort and HDMI versions offered smooth video performance while connected to dual 4K displays running at 60 Hz with no lag or visual artifacts. You'll want to choose the version that best fits your display needs, but keep in mind that the DisplayPort model can also drive non-DisplayPort monitors such as DVI, Mini DisplayPort, or VGA, as long as you don't mind dongles for your dongle.


USB 3.0 speeds were fast, with a CaDigit Tuff external SSD registering speeds of 360 MB/s read and 340 MB/s write when connected to a MacBook Pro through the docks. That's a little slower than a direct connection to a 5 Gbps USB port on a Mac, but in line with performance seen when connecting through other docks and hubs. You'll be lucky to get much more than one-tenth of those speeds when connecting over the USB 2.0 port on the HDMI version of the mini dock, so you'll want to limit that port to mice, keyboards, and other peripherals where you're not trying to move a lot of data quickly.


While there are a number of bus-powered USB-C hubs and docks on the market that offer an array of ports and other options, CalDigit has opted to use Thunderbolt 3's capabilities to focus on the external display connectivity and include only a bare minimum of additional ports.

CalDigit says this is in part an effort to remain within the Thunderbolt 3 power specifications, which limit bus-powered devices to a total of 15 watts of draw. USB-C adapters can in some cases be limited to 7.5 watts total, but with so many available ports on many of these docks, it's easy to hit that figure and cause potential power issues. The USB 3.0 port on CalDigit's mini docks can provide up to 4.5 watts, while the USB 2.0 port on the HDMI model can deliver up to 2.5 watts.

Wrap-up


These Thunderbolt 3 mini Docks meet a specialized need, catering to those who need to connect to multiple high-resolution external displays on the go, but they do their job well. If you're primarily looking to expand the available ports on your MacBook Pro, you'll likely want to look at other options that offer a greater number and variety of ports and can perhaps run over USB-C. These port-focused USB-C hubs also tend to come in at cheaper price points, with $60 being a common figure.

But CalDigit's solution is great for users who need solid display connectivity that cheaper USB-C hubs can't match, while also offering a couple of handy extras in the form of Ethernet and USB ports. Compared to traditional desktop Thunderbolt 3 docks, CalDigit's mini docks are cheaper, easily portable, and don't require external power, so they're handy for on-the-go use.

CalDigit is currently offering the DisplayPort version of the Thunderbolt 3 mini Dock for $99.99, while the HDMI model is priced at $109.99, both a $30 discount over their eventual regular prices although CalDigit tells me it plans to offer the promotional pricing for an extended period of time. Both models are also available through Amazon, although they're priced $10 higher than buying directly from CalDigit, coming in at $109.99 for DisplayPort and $119.99 for HDMI.

Note: CalDigit provided the Thunderbolt 3 mini Docks to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received. MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon and may earn commissions on purchases made through links in this article.


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Samsung’s Thunderbolt 3-Enabled Curved Monitor Launching in September for $900

Following an unveiling at CES in January, Samsung has announced the launch of the Thunderbolt 3-enabled CJ79 curved monitor, coming in September for $899.99. The 34-inch monitor is compatible with both Mac and PC computers, marking the first time that Thunderbolt 3 connectivity is available on a curved monitor.


On the unit there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports that transmit display, data, and power at a processing speed of up to 40 Gbps to compatible docks, other displays, computers, external GPUs, and more. Thunderbolt 3 connectivity also allows Samsung's monitor to supply up to 85 watts of charging power to compatible MacBooks.

Thanks to the 3440x1440 ultra-wide curved display and a 21:9 aspect ratio, the CJ79 can also provide a dual monitor experience on one screen. Using a Picture-by-Picture feature, users can multitask by displaying two sources on screen at the same time, and even resize the second source to up to 25 percent of the screen, and position it anywhere.


The CJ79 includes a height-adjustable stand and tilt functionality, ensuring a comfortable position while working for extended periods of time. Samsung lists a few other details on its website:
- Supporting up to 125% sRGB color space, Quantum Dot technology delivers not only more hues than conventional monitors but also colors that are brighter, crisper, and more natural — especially reds and greens. And every monitor is factory calibrated to ensure the most accurate and life-like images

- Samsung’s VA panel technology provides a 3000:1 contrast ratio that delivers deeper blacks, brilliant whites, and richer colors for clearer, more vibrant images.

- AMD FreeSync synchronizes the refresh rates of your graphics card and the CJ79 to minimize image tearing and stutter. The smoother transition between image frames provides seamless gameplay and video playback for uninterrupted viewing.

- The fast 100Hz screen refresh rate provides smoother, silkier mouse sensitivity for enhanced productivity in any application. It also reduces screen stutter in fast-moving action scenes for a flawless gaming experience.
Samsung also briefly mentions the CJ89 43-inch curved monitor, but it does not support Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and is USB-C only. Otherwise, that monitor has a 3840x1200 resolution and a 32:10 aspect ratio.

The company says that both the CJ79 and CJ89 are available in Europe right now, and the monitors will launch worldwide "soon." On B&H Photo, the CJ79 Thunderbolt 3 monitor is listed as being available to purchase around the "beginning of September 2018" for $899.99.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with B&H Photo. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.


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2018 MacBook Pros Have New ‘Titan Ridge’ Thunderbolt 3 Controller, But DisplayPort 1.4 Isn’t Truly Supported

Earlier this week, the repair experts at iFixit opened up the 2018 MacBook Pro, uncovering Intel's new JHL7540 Thunderbolt 3 controller, introduced earlier this year as part of its "Titan Ridge" family.


While the specifications for the JHL7540 lists compatibility with DisplayPort 1.4 on Intel's product database, it's not as clear-cut as it sounds, as support also relies on graphics, which vary by MacBook Pro model.

MacRumors reached out to Apple for clarification. Here's what we learned:
  • The new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar models support DisplayPort at High-Bit Rate 3 (HBR3), a signal standard of both DisplayPort 1.3 and DisplayPort 1.4. Apple says the dedicated Radeon Pro graphics can drive up to two 5K displays at 60Hz, each over a single stream.
  • The new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar models support DisplayPort at High-Bit Rate 2 (HBR2), a signal standard of DisplayPort 1.2. This is a limitation of the Iris Plus Graphics 655 in these models, as Intel's integrated GPUs do not support DisplayPort 1.4.
What that means:
  • The new 15-inch MacBook Pro theoretically supports DisplayPort 1.4, which Apple confirmed, but at least for now, it still can't drive an 8K display. It could be possible with VESA's lossless Display Stream Compression standard, perhaps, but it's unclear if this can be enabled down the road.
  • For now, then, the new 13-inch and 15-inch models have the same compatibility with external displays as the previous-generation MacBook Pro: up to two 5K displays or up to four 4K displays on the 15-inch model, and up to one 5K display or up to two 4K displays on the 13-inch model.
For comparison, 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro models are equipped with Intel's JHL6540 Thunderbolt 3 controller, which supports DisplayPort 1.2.

In related news, Apple has also confirmed that all four Thunderbolt 3 ports on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar are now full speed, compared to only the two left-facing ports on the equivalent 2016 and 2017 models.

Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Buyer's Guide: MacBook Pro (Buy Now)

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2018 13-Inch MacBook Pro With Touch Bar Has Four Full-Speed Thunderbolt 3 Ports

Apple has confirmed that the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is equipped with four full-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports.


2018 models ship with Intel's eighth-generation Core i5 or Core i7 processors, which both support up to 16 PCI Express lanes, providing enough bandwidth for maximum data transfer speeds up to 40Gb/s on all four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

2016 and 2017 models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar could be configured with sixth- and seventh-generation Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors, which supported up to 12 PCI Express lanes, limiting full speeds to the two left-side Thunderbolt 3 ports, with reduced bandwidth on the right-side ports.

Now, users have the freedom to plug higher-performance peripherals into any Thunderbolt 3 port they desire without compromise.

All three generations of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar have always had four full-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro with function keys has only two Thunderbolt 3 ports, both full speed.

Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Buyer's Guide: MacBook Pro (Buy Now)

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Review: CalDigit’s T4 RAID Offers Lots of Fast Storage, Thunderbolt 3, and 85W Charging

Popular storage and dock company CalDigit recently launched a Thunderbolt 3 version of its T4 RAID storage hub, offering demanding Mac users a four-bay setup with capacities up to 32 TB of traditional hard drive or 8 TB of SSD storage.


Compatible with Thunderbolt 3 Macs including the MacBook Pro, iMac, and iMac Pro, the T4 connects over a single cable and not only offers a storage array but can also deliver up to 85 watts of power to the host computer and supports downstream displays via Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, and DisplayPort, as well as other standards using adapters.

Installation and Setup


Setting up the T4 is straightforward, but requires that you first download CalDigit's Thunderbolt RAID Utility Installer from the company's site and get the utility installed on your system. As of macOS High Sierra, this requires an extra authorization step in the Security & Privacy section of System Preferences, but the installer walks you through the process.

With the utility installed and your computer restarted, it's just a matter of using the included 2-meter active Thunderbolt 3 cable to connect the T4 to your computer, plugging in the power cord, optionally connecting a downstream display, and starting up the T4.

Once the T4 is up and running and the drive showing on your desktop, you're ready to go. The T4 comes pre-formatted in RAID 5 to offer a combination of redundancy and performance. If you prefer a different RAID mode (0, 1, or JBOD/SPAN), you can use the CalDigit Drive Utility menu bar app to reconfigure things.

Design


The T4 has a rectangular aluminum enclosure that measures 9.5 inches deep, 5.8 inches high, and 5.3 inches wide. The sides are ribbed to aid in heat dissipation, while the top is smooth with a CalDigit logo. The front of the T4 is dominated by the four drive modules, and underneath you'll see a power button, a blue LED that lights up when the T4 is fully powered up, and then four additional blue LED status for the four drives. These illuminate when data is being written to or read from the specific drive. At the far right of the bottom front is an air intake.


On the rear of the T4. You'll find a fairly large exhaust fan opening covered by a grille, as well as a Kensington security lock slot, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a DisplayPort port, and the connection for the power adapter. The power adapter is quite bulky, but that's unsurprising given the hardware it needs to power in the T4 itself and the extra 85 watts it needs to be able to deliver to the host computer. Overall, it's capable of putting out 230 watts.

With the enclosure, electronics, and all the drive modules, this is a heavy beast checking in at 13 pounds, so once you set this up, it's going to stay there.


Drive Speed


Thunderbolt 3 offers terrific data throughput possibilities, but the speeds you see will depend on other limiting factors. The biggest one is obviously SSD versus traditional hard drive. An SSD setup will obviously be much faster, but it's still expensive and maxes out at only 8 TB of total storage. If you need more storage and can put up with somewhat slower speeds, the traditional hard drives are the way to go.

My 32 GB review unit came with 7200 rpm Toshiba N300 drives, which are well-regarded storage drives optimized for NAS storage setups. Configured in RAID 5 out of the box, I saw read and write speeds of around 500 MB/s, which is pretty solid performance that takes advantage of that RAID configuration's ability to write to multiple drives simultaneously.

RAID 5 speed test

Switching to a RAID 1 setup where all of the data is mirrored across each drive for maximum redundancy, I saw write speeds around 175 MB/s and read speeds of roughly 270 MB/s.

RAID 1 speed test

CalDigit uses proprietary drive modules that make it easy to swap in and out while preventing accidental removal. A pin hole on the front of the module pops out lever that allows you to slide the module out of its bay in the T4. For additional security, a drive lock can also be turned to prevent the pin release from operating. CalDigit's drives are compatible across products, so if you have a RAID 1 or JBOD module in your T4, you can pull it out and transfer it straight to either an AV Pro 2 or the company's previous Thunderbolt 2 T4 model.

Display Connectivity


I connected an UltraFine 5K display to the extra Thunderbolt port on the T4, and experienced no lag or other issues on the display. The Thunderbolt 3 port allows for displays up to 5K running at 60 Hz, but lower resolutions are of course also supported, as are USB-C displays. Other types of displays can be connected to the Thunderbolt port by using a USB-C video adapter.

Alternatively, the DisplayPort port supports up to 4K displays running at 60 Hz, and active adapters can be used to connect other display types such as HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, VGA, or DVI. Dual displays running at up to 4K and 60 Hz each are supported using the DisplayPort and Thunderbolt ports simultaneously, along with any required adapters.

Unfortunately, the T4 must be at least in standby mode in order for connected displays to function, and that means an internal fan runs either continually or cycling on and off every few minutes. It's not nearly as loud as when it's in full feature mode with the drives mounted, but it's definitely noticeable in a quiet office or bedroom. The SSD model of the T4 should run significantly quieter in general, given the lack of moving parts and significantly less heat generated.

CalDigit Drive Utility


The Drive Utility app is a persistent menu bar application, which offers convenient access to drive management functions. You can use it to check on the status and health of each drive in the T4, manage RAID modes, set S.M.A.R.T. check frequencies, and configure notifications for various types of disk events like drive connect/disconnect, temperature warnings, or health issues. It even includes a built-in disk speed test function.


The app does a lot, but it doesn't look terribly pretty doing it. The app window has a jarring black outline that doesn't match the design aesthetic of macOS or most other third-party apps, while other user interface elements just a feel a bit off like the shadowing used to highlight the active tab. I'd prefer a more standard macOS look for the app, but ideally this isn't something you're going to need to use all that often, so it's a fairly minor quibble.


Capacities and Pricing


CalDigit offers several capacity options in its online store, starting at $899 for an 8 TB traditional hard drive model. Higher-capacity models are available at 12 TB ($1099), 16 TB ($1399), 24 TB ($1999), and 32 TB ($2299). If you're looking for the ultimate in speed, there's a single 8 TB SSD option available that will set you back $3499. CalDigit is also offering the T4 through Amazon, although pricing is currently higher on all models except the base 8 TB traditional hard drive model, which comes in at $799.

The T4 is a custom "hybrid RAID" solution from CalDigit combining hardware and software aspects, and it's only compatible with Macs, so be aware of that if you have any Windows PCs in your workflow.

In addition to the complete T4 packages, CalDigit offers separate drive modules in the various capacities if you want to have extras to swap in and out or if one fails. The T4 comes with a five-year warranty on the enclosure and electronics, while the drives themselves have a three-year warranty.

Keep in mind that if you plan to use RAID for redundancy, the actual capacity of your volume will be less than the total capacity of the drives. For example, in a four-disk volume like the T4 configured as RAID5, the volume size will only be 75 percent of the total capacity, as the remaining 25 percent is dedicated to parity to enable you to recover data if one of the drives fails.

Overall, the T4 Thunderbolt 3 RAID performs well and offers a nice balance of storage, redundancy, and speed from a company with a strong reputation for quality and customer support. It doesn't necessarily come cheaply and with four disks it's likely overkill for consumers just looking for backup security, but if you have a significant amount of high-value data that you want to ensure isn't lost, this definitely a RAID storage option worth considering.

Note: CalDigit provided the T4 RAID to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received. MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon and may earn commissions on purchases made through links in this article.


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Review: CalDigit’s ‘TS3 Plus’ Dock Gives You 15 Ports, 85W Charging, and an SD Card Reader for $250

If you've followed all of my Thunderbolt 3 dock reviews over the past year, you know that in general these docks carry a lot of the same features in slightly different combinations. But usually, there's at least one fairly important feature that's missing in each model, whether it be enough USB ports, an SD card reader, or enough power output to fully support a 15-inch MacBook Pro. Price tags pushing to $300 and beyond are also an issue for many potential customers.

So if any of those concerns resonate with you, you're going to want to read on to learn more about CalDigit's upcoming model, the Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus.


The TS3 Plus takes the original TS3 dock that I reviewed last May and addresses nearly every concern I had with it and even lowers the price during the promotional pre-order period to $250 with a 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable included. Packages with a 1.0-meter or 2.0-meter cable are also available for $270 and $280 respectively.

Design


The general design here is nearly identical to that of the earlier TS3 and even the Thunderbolt 2-based TS2 dock that preceded it. While most Thunderbolt docks have horizontal designs, CalDigit has generally opted for a boxier design that can sit either horizontally or vertically on a desk. Oriented vertically, the TS3 Plus stands just over 5 inches tall, a little under 4 inches deep, and just over an inch and a half wide, and weighs a hint over a pound. That makes it almost exactly the same size as and quite a bit lighter than the TS3.

If that's too tall for your desktop, just slide on the included pair of rubber strips for cushioning and tip the dock over on its side, and it'll fit just about anywhere. The aluminum casing has a ribbed design that gives it a bit of an industrial look while also offering some extra surface area for heat dissipation.


CalDigit touts a total of 15 ports on the TS3 Plus, with the front of the dock housing one USB-A port, one USB-C port, separate analog audio in and out ports, and even an SD card slot. A small blue LED lights up to let you know the dock is powered up and has a connection to the host computer.


Turn the TS3 Plus around and you'll find a host of other ports, including four more USB-A ports, another USB-C port, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a DisplayPort 1.2 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an S/PDIF digital optical audio port, and the DC-in connection from the power supply.

USB Ports


If you did the math in the previous section, you've realized that the TS3 Plus has a total of seven USB ports. The previous TS3 had just three, while about the most I've seen in other competing docks is five. The inclusion of five USB-A and two USB-C ports and their distribution between front and back of the dock give you some great flexibility in what you can connect to this dock. The USB-C port on the rear is even a 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 standard, the first time I've seen that in a dock I've reviewed. The remainder of the USB ports are 5 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 1, which is the speed typically seen on these docks.

In my testing with a 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 CalDigit Tuff external SSD and Blackmagic's speed testing software, I saw read and write speeds come in around 350 MB/s and 315 MB/s respectively through all of the 5 Mbps USB ports, both Type-A and the front Type-C style. Those are very typical speeds for these types of docks.

CalDigit Tuff connected to 5 Gbps USB-A port

Where the TS3 Plus has a leg up on the competition in the speed department is the extra Type-C 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 port on the rear of the dock. Connecting the CalDigit Tuff to that port yielded a 45–50 percent increase in transfer speeds, coming in at around 500 MB/s read and 475 MB/s write.

CalDigit Tuff connected to rear 10 Gbps USB-C port

Other docks can match that performance if you use the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port, but then you have to sacrifice connecting a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C display to that port. With the TS3 Plus, you can have both, and transfer speeds over the 10 Gbps USB-C port aren't impacted by also having a 5K display connected to the Thunderbolt 3 port, as there is enough bandwidth over Thunderbolt 3 to support both without compromise.

SD Card Reader


An SD card slot is another one of those features that a lot of people like to see on these docks, eliminating the need for a separate reader to plug into one of the dock's USB ports. For a long time, OWC was about the only major company to offer an SD card reader on a Thunderbolt 3 dock, but Promise Technology joined the club a few months ago with its TD-300 that I just reviewed last week.

CalDigit is now joining the club by offering an SD card reader in the TS3 Plus, and it even supports the SD 4.0 spec over a UHS-II bus interface for the faster speeds with compatible SD cards. Theoretical transfer speeds of 312 MB/s are three times that of the UHS-I bus with SD 3.0 used on other docks. The reader supports standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards.

Displays


As with other docks of this type, the TS3 Plus includes a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, one for connecting to the host computer and one for connecting other peripherals such as a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C display. The dock can support a single 5K external display at 60 Hz over Thunderbolt 3, or a pair of 4K displays using the Thunderbolt 3 port and the DisplayPort 1.2 port. Various adapters sold separately allow the Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort connectors to be used with various types of displays including HDMI and DVI.

The TS3 Plus and other CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 docks support a variety of combinations of displays up to 4K from the two ports, and I experienced no issues testing with several LG 4K displays. A single LG UltraFine 5K display connected via Thunderbolt 3 also worked fine, maintaining a 60 Hz refresh rate.

It's worth noting that the two USB-C ports on the TS3 Plus, including the 10 Gbps one on the rear, are data-only, so they can not be used for connecting additional USB-C displays.

Charging


While many other Thunderbolt 3 docks offer up to 60 watts of upstream charging for a host computer, the TS3 Plus offers a full 85 watts of charging power to support even the 15-inch MacBook Pro. If you're running your 15-inch MacBook Pro under very heavy loads or you want to ensure the fastest recharge of a depleted battery, 85-watt support is a feature you definitely want to look for in a dock. Unlike some other docks, the TS3 Plus can also support charging of PCs over Thunderbolt 3.

The higher 85-watt charging power of the TS3 Plus drives up the size of the external brick, which is quite large, but many users will have the ability to hide it away behind other items on their desks or even off their desks entirely.

Nearly all of the USB ports also support pass-through charging, allowing connected devices like iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches to charge even when the dock doesn't have an active connection to a host computer.

The TS3 Plus will also support CalDigit's downloadable drivers and software utility to boost USB power output to 1 A for slightly faster iOS device charging and to support Apple's external USB SuperDrive. The software utility is a menu bar item that makes it easy to eject all peripherals connected to the dock with a single click.

Wrap-up


Of all the Thunderbolt 3 docks I've tested so far, CalDigit's TS3 Plus is my new favorite. It has all of the features I'm looking for in a dock, including a plethora of USB ports with both Type-A and Type-C options and even a 10 Gbps Type-C port. It also has an SD card reader, 85-watt charging, and a compact footprint in either vertical or horizontal orientation. And to top it all off, it’s currently priced at just $250 during pre-orders, below the $300–$350 pricing seen on most other feature-rich docks. Pricing for the TS3 Plus will rise to $350 once the pre-order promotion ends.

The TS3 Plus does away with the pair of eSATA ports found on the original TS3, but with eSATA usage dwindling, I find it a very worthwhile tradeoff to instead make room for many more USB ports, optical audio, and an SD card reader.

The TS3 Plus begins shipping on February 20, but CalDigit will be offering pre-orders through its own site with a temporary $100 discount off the regular price. For pre-orders, the TS3 Plus with 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable is priced at $249.99, while versions with 1-meter ($269.99) and 2-meter ($279.99) cables will also be available.

It's important to note, however, that these longer lengths require active cabling in order to maintain the full 40 Gbps bandwidth and 100-watt charging maximum of Thunderbolt 3, but that also prevents compatibility with USB 3.1 and USB 3.0 standards. As a result, it's best to stick with the 0.5-meter cable that has full backwards compatibility if you can, even if it means rearranging your desk to get the dock close enough to your computer.

B&H Photo will be CalDigit's exclusive retail launch partner for the TS3 Plus, but won't be offering the pre-order discount.

In addition to the new TS3 Plus temporarily starting at $249.99, CalDigit is also dropping the price of its TS3 to $199.99, down from $299.99. CalDigit claims this makes the TS3 the first Thunderbolt 3 dock with 85-watt charging priced under $200, so be sure to check out our earlier review of the regular TS3.

Note: CalDigit provided the TS3 Plus to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received. MacRumors is an affiliate partner with B&H Photo and may earn commissions on purchases made through links in this article.


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Review: Promise’s $249 TD-300 Thunderbolt 3 Dock Offers Lots of USB Ports and an SD Card Reader

Thunderbolt 3 docks continue to hit the market, and today we're taking a look a recent entrant from popular data storage company Promise Technology, the TD-300 Thunderbolt 3 Dock.


I've tested quite a few Thunderbolt 3 docks over the past year, and the TD-300 ranks right up with the best I've seen due to standout features like five USB 3.0 ports and an SD 3.0 card reader. At $249, it's also priced very competitively against other full-featured Thunderbolt 3 docks.

Design


In the box, you'll find the typical contents for a dock of this type, including the dock itself, an external power brick, and a 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable. Any other cables such as for USB devices or an HDMI display need to be provided separately, although they frequently come with the devices you'd be connecting.

The TD-300 comes in a horizontal form factor similar to many others on the market, and it sits nicely under an external display. It measures just over 9 inches wide, 3.5 inches deep and a little over an inch tall, and weighs just about a pound, so it's a pretty typical Thunderbolt 3 dock from a size perspective.


The enclosure is made of black plastic, matte on the top and glossy around the sides, which sets it apart from the silver and gray finishes seen on most of the other docks I've tested. There's a fairly small Promise Technology logo in the rear left corner of the dock's top, but it's not terribly obtrusive, and the top tapers slightly toward the front of the dock.


The front of the dock includes a pair of status lights, a green one letting you know there's power to the dock and a blue one signifying an active connection to a computer. The lights are fairly bright and can be distracting in a dark room. You'll also find the handy SD card slot, a pair of USB Type-A 3.0 ports (the left of which supports higher-power 5W/1.5A charging) and an audio in/out port.


On the rear, you'll find three more USB Type-A 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, and the DC-in connection for power.

USB Ports


With all five USB ports being USB 3.0, they support 5 Gbps connections, which isn't the fastest standard but is typical for Thunderbolt 3 docks where bandwidth is frequently shared among a host of peripherals. Most other docks on the market offer only three USB ports, so the inclusion of five here offers some nice expandability, and with two of them on the front there's easy access for USB accessories that only need to be attached occasionally.

Testing transfer speeds using a 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 CalDigit Tuff external SSD and Blackmagic's disk speed testing software, I saw speeds around 350 MB/s read and 320 MB/s write through the Type-A USB 3.0 ports, which is typical for docks like this.

USB-A CalDigit Tuff speeds

If you want better transfer speeds and don't need the second Thunderbolt 3 port on the dock for a display, you can hook up a USB-C external drive that way, where I saw speeds in excess of 500 MB/s read and 475 MB/s write with the CalDigit Tuff.

USB-C CalDigit Tuff speeds over Thunderbolt 3 port

With a top-of-the-line Thunderbolt 3 drive like the new ThunderBlade V4 from OWC, I saw read and write speeds approaching 1900 MB/s, pretty close to what I previously saw with a direct connection to my MacBook Pro. Obviously if you start tacking other high-bandwidth peripherals like a 4K HDMI display on to other ports on the dock, the SSD speeds will drop.

SD Card Slot


The TD-300's SD 3.0 card reader on the front of the dock is a great feature that's missing on most other Thunderbolt 3 docks released so far. If you've got photos or other data stored on an SD card, it's great to be able to just pop the card into the front of the dock and have it show up on your computer without needing to connect a separate card reader over USB.

Displays


In line with other Thunderbolt 3 docks, Promise's dock can support either a single 5K display attached to the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port, or a pair of 4K displays attached through the Thunderbolt 3 port and the HDMI port. I tested extensively with an LG UltraFine 5K display hooked up via Thunderbolt 3 and it ran at the full 60 Hz refresh rate with no problems. The usual macOS System Preferences let you manage the monitors in terms of mirroring/extending and arrangement.

Charging


The TD-300 offers up to 60 watts of charging power over its Thunderbolt 3 connection to a computer, which is enough for a 13-inch MacBook Pro but falls short of what a 15-inch model might be able to draw at maximum load. In reality, 60 watts is often enough to keep even a 15-inch MacBook Pro charged up under normal use, but if you're doing a lot of heavy lifting with your machine it might not be able to quite keep up. Recharging a depleted battery via the TD-300 will also be a bit slower than from an 85-watt dock or the 87-watt power adapter that comes with the MacBook Pro.

Most Thunderbolt 3 docks seem to be going with the 60-watt power delivery, so the TD-300 is by no means unique in this limitation, but there are 85-watt ones on the market if that's a necessity for you.

Wrap-up


The Promise TD-300 Thunderbolt 3 Dock offers a solid set of features at a very competitive price point compared to similar docks. It doesn't have FireWire or eSATA ports like a few competitors have, but with those ports becoming less and less popular it makes sense for Promise to put its focus on the flexibility of USB while also including a built-in SD card reader.

Full 85-watt charging support would have been nice to see, so if you're a 15-inch MacBook Pro owner you'll need to decide if that's a dealbreaker based on whether you push your machine hard enough to need the full power, and if so, whether you're okay with using the standard MacBook Pro power adapter alongside the dock.

But overall, the TD-300 stacks up very well against the competition and is worth a close look. The Promise TD-300 is priced at $249 and is available from a variety of retailers including B&H Photo and Amazon.

Note: Promise Technology provided the TD-300 to MacRumors free of charge for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received. MacRumors is an affiliate partner with B&H Photo and Amazon and may earn commissions on purchases made through links in this article.


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