Delivering on the promises of Thunderbolt 3
One of the promises of moving to interfaces like USB 3.1 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 3 on notebooks is the idea of the "one cable future." For the most part, I think we are starting to see some of those benefits. It's nice that with USB Power Delivery, users aren't tied into buying chargers directly from their notebook manufacturer or turning to trying to find oddball third-party chargers with their exact barrel connector. Additionally, I also find it to be a great feature when laptops have USB-c charging ports on opposing sides of the notebooks, allowing me greater flexibility to plug in a charger without putting additional strain on the cable.
For years, the end-game for mobile versatility has been a powerful thin-and-light notebook which you can connect to a dock at home, and use a desktop PC. With more powerful notebook processor's like Intel's quad-core 8th generation parts coming out, we are beginning to reach a point where we have the processing power; the next step is having a quality dock with which to plug these notebooks.
While USB-C can support DisplayPort, Power Delivery, and 10 Gbit/s transfer speeds in its highest-end configuration, this would still be a bit lacking for power users. Thunderbolt 3 offering the same display and power delivery capabilities, but with its 40 Gbit/s data transfer capabilities is a more suitable option.
Today, we are taking a look at the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus, a Thunderbolt 3-enabled device that provides a plethora of connectivity options for your notebook.
At just 5.15 inches (131.0 mm) x 1.57 inches (40.0 mm) x 3.87 inches (98.44 mm) large, the TS3 Plus is compact and bit smaller than a standard 3.5 inch hard drive and surprisingly portable.
The front of the TS3 Plus contains the ports you are most likely to interact with often including Headphone out, Line in, both Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, as well as a UHS-II SD Card reader. The inclusion of a full SD4.0 compatible UHS-II reader is somewhat of a rarity, and will properly support the fastest SD cards on the market.
Around back, we can see the bulk of the connectivity options on the TS3 Plus. In addition to the Thunderbolt 3 Input and Passthrough, we can see a total of 5 USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port, Digital S/PDIF audio, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, Full-size DisplayPort 1.3, and the DC-in connection.
Speaking of the DC-in connection, the TS3 Plus is powered by an external power brick capable of 180W. While it might seem like overkill for a device like a docking station, the TS3 Plus can provide up to 85W of charging power to the host device connected via Thunderbolt 3. The charging capability worked great on the Dell XPS 13 9370 we used for testing.
CalDigit offers several different cable lengths with the TS3 Plus, but our unit came with the 0.5-meter option.
Taking a peek inside the TS3 Plus, we see that CalDigit is fully utilizing the aluminum chassis of the device for heat dissipation. Notice the thermal pads making contact with the various controller ICs, and the casing of the device. That being said, this device does get warm, but not hot to the touch when in use.
The idea of performance testing on a docking station device like this is interesting. In theory, this device should be transparent to the end user from a performance standpoint. However, it can be difficult to pump large amounts of bandwidth through the device to see how it copes.
The first step was to verify how the TS3 Plus was connecting to the PC. We used HWInfo64 to verify that it is, in fact, using the full x4 Thunderbolt 3 link, as opposed to some cheaper devices which use a x2 connection.
Next, we wanted to test throughput. Our answer to this was super fast storage devices. We tested the TS3 Plus with 2 fast external drives, as well as while utilizing the Gigabit Ethernet connection.
While running sequential file transfer testing in ATTO on both of the external SSDs simultaneously, as well as writing over the Gigabit connection to our fileserver from the internal SSD on the XPS 13, we managed to pull around 25 Gbit/s of bandwidth through the TS3 Plus. Additionally, we were also using the DisplayPort lanes of Thunderbolt 3 to drive an external 2560×1400 display at 144Hz from TS3 Plus at the same time.
Simultaneously testing these devices provided no performance from testing any of them individually connected through the dock, or through the XPS 13 directly.
Overall, I have been impressed with the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus. While the price is a bit steep at $250 (also currently back ordered), for users who can get away with the processing power of a notebook for all of their work, the convenience of being able to plug in only one cable at your desk is great.
For users who might not need as many ports, give the non-plus version of the Thunderbolt 3 Station a look as well.
|Review Terms and Disclosure
All Information as of the Date of Publication
|How product was obtained:||The product is on loan from CalDigit for the purpose of this review.|
|What happens to product after review:||The product remains the property of CalDigit but is on extended loan for future testing and product comparisons.|
|Company involvement:||CalDigit had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.|
|PC Perspective Compensation:||Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by CalDigit for this review.|
|Advertising Disclosure:||CalDigit has not purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.|
|Affiliate links:||This article contains affiliate links to online retailers. PC Perspective may receive compensation for purchases through those links.|
|Consulting Disclosure:||CalDigit is not a current client of Shrout Research for products or services related to this review.|