Hands on: $249 CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus is a great port expander for new MacBook Pro owners

article thumbnail

AppleInsider is supported by its audience and may earn commission as an Amazon Associate and affiliate partner on qualifying purchases. These affiliate partnerships do not influence our editorial content.

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

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.