a review by Tom Piper and George Kopp
When Apple announced the 2015 Macbook 12” laptop with a single USB-C port, many potential users were put off by the fact that, if I plug the machine in to charge it, I had no other connections that I could use on that MacBook. This made this computer problematic for many things, including plugging in an external hard drive for backup. Fortunately, the battery life of the new MacBook was quite good so that I didn’t need to charge very often. But, it was difficult to imagine not having the need to plug anything in, while I’m charging the machine, just like my previous computers.
A number of new port extension devices were immediately announced to add additional ports back to replace those that Apple removed. One of the first that actually saw the light of day, was from Other World Computing (commonly known as OWC). Their USB-C Dock was announced right after the new MacBook, but didn’t ship for a number of months. Nontheless, users of the new MacBook finally had a port extension device that would allow them to make full use of their new computers.
The OWC USB-C Dock is now compatible with both the 2015 and 2016 Apple MacBook and 2016 MacBook Pro 13" models. The 2016 MacBook Pro 15” is not compatible (according to the MacSales website) which we suspect is due to the higher charging wattage required for the larger screen device. Thus, with a 80w power supply, this dock does not have enough power to charge apples new 15” flagship model.
When paired with one of the compatible machines, this Dock adds a plethora of ports for the user to use, including:
- Four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (including two USB Type-C ports)
- High-speed Gigabit Ethernet
- Front-facing full-sized SD card reader
- HDMI with 4K display support
- Combo 3.5mm audio in/out port
- 80W of power to charge computer and devices
The dock is made of plastic and metal, plus sized to keep the unit firmly placed on any desk (0.9 lbs, 1.1”x3.5”x7.9”. A blue LED light shows from the bottom of the device indicating it is powered up and ready, plus a green LED also on the bottom that shows a data connection with the laptop has been made. The front of the dock has the SD card reader, audio port and a USB 3.1 port that remains powered, even when the laptop is disconnected (this port has enough high power to charge an iPhone or iPad).
The back of the dock contains the majority of the ports including the USB-C port to connect it to the laptop. It is important to note that, of the two USB-C ports on the back, the one with the small computer above (on the right) is the port that must be used with the included cable to connect to the computer. The other USB-C port (on the left) is an active port for plugging in other USB-C devices (not Thunderbolt 3).
Also on the back of the dock are three USB 3.1 ports, with the left most port also being of the higher power type, plus an 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a HDMI port capable of driving a 4K display, and a place for the included power adapter to be connected. One item of note is that the use of the Ethernet port required the installation of a driver from OWC that was available on their website (with the release of MacOS Sierra, the driver is no longer necessary).
In our experience in using the dock with a 2015 Macbook 12”, the dock worked flawlessly. All of the ports connected to the laptop and worked with expected speed. In fact, we were encouraged by the fact that, USB-C seems speedy enough to handle multiple streams of data being copied to multiple devices. While this was likely not something necessary in the real world where, for the most part, a single device at a time will be used, it is good to see that it worked very well. But, if older drives were not first manually ejected from the Mac before allowing the Mac to sleep, then they sometimes did not come back without first unplugging and plugging them back in again. For most people, this is probably not a major issue.
From talking with other owners of the dock, there may be a problem with some older USB devices which were not being recognized by the dock when plugged in. This may be related to the sleep issue, but we were unable to reproduce that problem.
It was pleasing to see that the dock remained sturdy on the desk and did not move around when the cables were tugged slightly. Some competing units that are much lighter exhibit this problem.
To test a potential bonus feature, a USB-C to USB 3.1 adapter was used to connect the dock to a older 2013 Macbook Pro 13”” which confirmed that the USB ports, card reader, audio port, and Ethernet port still functioned just fine. On the other hand, there was some difficulty getting a television connected by HDMI; but, for a completely unsupported use of the device, this was still very impressive performance.
We have concluded that OWC has a winner in their USB-C dock for users of Apple’s smaller laptops. It works easily and performs very well. For a Macbook user with only one USB-C port, or a 2016 Macbook Pro 13” without a Touch Bar with only two Thunderbolt 3 ports, this device adds the expansion that Apple apparently believes users no longer need. The only recommendation we have are that the USB-C cable proved too short for many applications. In long term use, a longer USB-C cable will likely be necessary unless the dock is positioned right behind or next to the laptop.
The OWC USB-C Dock is available for $148.75 at macsales.com/usb-c-dock. Silver, Space Gray, Gold, and Rose Gold colors make for a perfect match with any new laptop. OWC also provides a two-year warranty with the dock. This is one of many fine products available from OWC at macsales.com.