My favorite Thunderbolt 3 dock for MacBooks (and also PC laptops) is the CalDigit TS3+. I did a ton of research before purchasing this dock (with my own money I might add, so this is not a biased review), and in my opinion it is one of the best if not the best dock you can get for your money.
Plus, it even makes certain external drives perform faster when they’re plugged into the dock versus directly into your laptop. More on that later.
Why Having a Good Quality Thunderbolt 3 Dock is Important
Why is having a high quality Thunderbolt 3 dock important? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, it makes it super easy to connect your MacBook or Windows laptop to everything you need with just a single USB-C cable.
This will provide everything from ethernet, more USB ports, and up to 87 watts of charging among other things.
You have the option to connect dual extended 4K 60Hz monitors or a single 5K 60Hz monitor. This is really helpful if you’re constantly on the go with your laptop but still need to use it on a desk setup.
Furthermore, the CalDigit TS3+ is Thunderbolt 3 compatible. This means you’ll get those juicy thunderbolt speeds and increased bandwidth for your devices.
If you’re looking for a dock with increased port selection, CalDigit just released the TS4 – a Thunderbolt 4 dock.
Secondly, a good quality dock will easily last years, so it’s a buy once cry once kind of deal. I always recommend paying a bit extra for hubs and docks, especially ones that provide charging to your laptop.
This is especially important considering there are rumors out there that some docks and hubs are killing M1 MacBooks.
Thirdly, a hub or dock is almost essential in this day and age of disappearing ports.
You can bash Apple all you want for reducing their ports on the MacBooks, but a lot of Windows laptops are also slowly reducing their port selection, although admittedly not as bad as Apple.
We recently wrote an article on the best laptops for students in 2021, and we noticed a distinct lack of ports from brands such as HP or Dell.
The TS3+ Thunderbolt 3 dock features an impressive array of ports. On the front, there is a UHS-II SD card slot, audio in/out, a USB-C 3.1 port and a USB-A 3.1 port. It was pleasing to see the SD card is UHS-II and in testing I was found SD transfer speeds to be very good.
The back features even more ports – see the photo above to see all of them. Some users may complain about the lack of a HDMI port, however the DisplayPort 1.2 and multiple USB-C/Thunderbolt ports more than make up for this in my opinion.
I was surprised to see the addition of a Digital Optical port. Very few docks (even Thunderbolt 3 docks) have this and it’s a welcome extra for those that want to link an audio system or DAC to their laptop.
Now before you ask, no, this dock will not allow you to use 2 screens with an M1 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, even if you use USB-C and a separate DisplayPort connection.
For every other computer it works fine, but for the M1 laptops currently there is still that limitation. You can get around this however if you really wanted to by buying a DisplayLink based Docking Station. Unfortunately, many of these do not have Thunderbolt 3 dock capability.
Transfer & Read/Write Speeds
Let’s talk speed. Each of the ports on the CalDigit TS3+, and have to say I was pretty happy with the speeds. Different kinds of storage devices were plugged in, and made sure to use the correct port for each device. Additionally, I tested a custom super fast NVMe SSD I made myself.
As you can see, when external drives are plugged into the TS3+ rather than directly into the M1 MacBook Pro I’m using for this test, the read and write speeds are actually better.
The SD card is of course the same, as the MacBook doesn’t have an SD card slot. In terms of transfer speeds, they remained pretty consistent throughout my testing.
I will mention that thunderbolt 3 devices can be a little strange, they either work slightly faster or slightly slower when connected to the CalDigit dock, but this is almost certainly due to the M1 hardware and actual thunderbolt device I was testing. I will be doing more testing on this later.
The TS3+ comes with 2 small silicon rubber strips that you can attach to the side of the dock. This will allow you to lay the dock flat if you prefer. I personally like this method more than upright.
So how would you actually use this Thunderbolt 3 dock in real life? I made a Youtube video showing you this in further details.
Things I Don’t Like
Although the CalDigit TS3+ is a great dock, it’s not perfect. There are two main negatives for me. Number one is the price.
At $250 USD it’s not cheap, especially when you have hubs like the Anker USB-C 8 in 1, which I reviewed previously and gave it a thumbs up.
However, for a permanent desk setup I would go with the CalDigit as it’s extremely sturdy and well made, so I would trust it to be connected to my devices 24/7 and be able to handle a large amounot of usage.
The second negative is that you need the power brick for the dock to work… at all. I tried to get the TS3+ working with my Windows desktop PC, but even just trying to plug in an SD card and transferring some photos wasn’t possible.
The dock needs it’s own power source to do anything at all. Not a huge issue, this dock is primarily for laptop users anyway.
So all in all, the CalDigit TS3+ gets the Created Labs seal of approval. It’s going to be a staple on my own desk from now on and perhaps yours too.
Despite the premium price, you really do get what you pay for, and I have no doubt this dock will last many, many years into the future.