Monday, August 19, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

John Voorhees:

I had been thinking about ways to improve my summertime beta setup when Other World Computing offered to send me its OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock to test. I took them up on the offer, and having used it for a while now, I love the convenience of being able to connect everything to my MacBook Pro with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable. It’s not an inexpensive solution, but compared to the cost of purchasing multiple over-priced dongles, it’s not as extravagant as it might seem at first.

[…]

One especially nice touch that I appreciate is a free menu bar utility OWC offers called OWC Dock Ejector. If you have multiple drives attached to a dock, the process of ejecting each one before disconnecting the dock defeats some of the convenience of having a single Thunderbolt cable connected to your Mac. With OWC Dock Ejector, a single click safely ejects every external drive attached to my dock, so I can yank out the Thunderbolt cable and be on my way.

Another $300+ dock. This one gives you a passthrough Thunderbolt port, a Mini DisplayPort, and a single USB-C port. How about just putting more ports on the computer?

Previously:

Update (2019-08-20): See also: Jon Alper and my reply.

Update (2019-08-23): Howard Oakley :

The same happened with good old USB-A: even when your Mac has four, you quickly accumulate more USB-C devices than you’ve got ports. Yet no one seems to be offering a ‘port expander’ to turn a single USB-C port into several. In particular, I’m now accumulating several external SSDs in compact cases. One obvious step forward would be to mount two or more in a single housing, which is the aim of this article.

13 Comments

Like... what would be Apple's answer to why we are dealing with this insanity, anyway? Unlike leaving behind technology in the past like ADB, floppy disks, and even optical drives... this push to Thunderbolt / USB-C seems super crazy. Like it or not, USB-A is still on EVERYTHING. Because it works and everybody has it. USB 3.x is fast enough for the vast majority of people and the vast majority of devices that currently have USB on them. For tons of people and tons of device manufacturers, there really is no good answer to the question "Why should I switch to USB-C?" (forgetting for a moment how damn confusing USB-C cables are...).

I consider myself a prosumer and I can think of zero reason why I should switch to USB-C/TB. I even looked into getting a TB2 external hard drive (I have a 2014 MBP) and it was INSANELY expensive and really didn't offer me any benefit over a similar USB-3 drive. I have never seen a USB-C device in person. I mean maybe someone next to me on the train had a new Android phone with a USB-C connector or something. But as far as friends who have hard drives, printers, cameras, etc that connect via USB-C? Nobody.

It seems like even now, years after TB first appeared on MBP, it's still troublesome. Other than a VERY slight reduction in cable clutter, allowing you to plug an external monitor and power it from a single TB port (as if having a power cable connected to a monitor that's permanently situated on a desk is somehow a problem, to begin with).... how is TB any better than DisplayPort or HDMI? Does anyone really care that much about daisy chaining their devices, especially given how weird TB and USB-C have turned out to be? If I was needing to use this type of high end equipment to make my living... I dunno, I'd want to go with what's tried and tested and works.

Why, Apple. Why.

"How about just putting more ports on the computer?"

Because it's cheaper to put fewer ports on. It's also cheaper to have just one kind of port instead of a variety of port types. The move to USB-C (and now thunderbolt/usb-c) is all about cutting costs. Ditto the move to integrating storage and ram onto the logic board - fewer parts = lower costs.

The vast majority of Apple's customers never open the case of their computer, never upgrade anything inside, and generally treat their Mac as a sealed box. It's only the tiny but loud minority of nerds (including programmers) who care that there's nothing to upgrade any more, that connecting all the devices they want to connect has become increasingly difficult, or that the repairability of Macs has plummeted of late.

@Ben Thunderbolt is actually worse than DisplayPort, in a way, because it uses up more bus capacity providing a TB port that isn’t going to be fully used, anyway. Same with using TB for power.

@Glaurung But aren’t TB ports much more expensive than USB ports? I wonder if part of the problem is that TB and USB-C look the same. So they don’t want to provide both types on the same Mac. And they can’t give us lots of TB ports for technical reasons. So we end up with no USB-only ports at all (USB-A being deemed too thick).

”The vast majority of Apple's customers never open the case of their computer, never upgrade anything inside, and generally treat their Mac as a sealed box.”

These days, a Mac *is* a sealed box, more or less. I've lost count of how many ordinary users – friends, family, friends of friends etc – I've helped throughout the years to extend the lives of their Macs by switching to lager drives and maybe adding more RAM. Switching from a spinning hard drive to SSD really made a huge difference.

"It's only the tiny but loud minority of nerds (including programmers) who care that there's nothing to upgrade any more, that connecting all the devices they want to connect has become increasingly difficult, or that the repairability of Macs has plummeted of late.”

I don't think that is true. Just because the majority fo Apple's customers can't, or dare not, open the case doesn't mean they wouldn't appreciate upgradability instead of throwing insane amount of money on Apple just because their tiny 128 GB SSD in their otherwise fully functional MacBook Air is full and it's a constant hassle to make more free space available.

A couple of years from now when every butterfly MacBook is out of warranty and people start to realise they have to throw replace half of their computer (at Apple prices) just because a key is stuck, then they will get upset about the lack of repairability.

To me it comes down to form over function. Apple has proven again and again that what they think looks nice is way more important than usability. Their new Keyboards are perfect examples of this. The arrow keys are an abomination and make me angry every time I use them. The touchbar escape "key" is much worse than a real escape key. and having 4 tiny thunderbolt ports on the sides of my utrathin laptop does look good, it just isn't very functional. My computer looks a lot worse with a USB dongle hanging off the side, and every TB port in use which means chords coming out both sides of the computer..

I have found that I no longer care for Apples design aesthetic. I don't think apple even uses its own products, and I"m not sure we are meant to either. Apples products belong in an art gallery to be looked at. If they actually wanted you to use them they would make them better.

Gotta agree with Mike O: it's form over function.

USB C and TB are also smaller connectors, so that goes well with their obsession with thinness.

I'm happy we still have external connections at all. Soon they'll want everything theough their servers.

Although Thunderbolt is more expensive than USB, it has some significant advantages. The macOS operating system treats Thunderbolt disks as internal. You get full metadata, including SMART data, for the drive. It is actually more work to find a piece of metadata to properly identify it as an external drive. USB, by comparison, is a second-class, external citizen. For most people, using external disks in Time Machine or just to copy files, USB is fine. But if you are interested in a dock to do some more intensive work, possibly booting, then Thunderbolt is a better choice.

"But if you are interested in a dock to do some more intensive work, possibly booting, then Thunderbolt is a better choice."

Okay, but if the majority of users are not doing this, and don't need all of the extra functionality that TB offers, and just want to buy an affordable external drive to use for their Time Machine backup or to store their multimedia files... why is TB the only option now?

@Glaurung
Just sitting here waiting for the Mac prices to come down, with all the cost savings and all, should be a nice chunk of change to pass through to us lowly consumers. /s

😊

Sören Nils Kuklau

Okay, but if the majority of users are not doing this, and don’t need all of the extra functionality that TB offers, and just want to buy an affordable external drive to use for their Time Machine backup or to store their multimedia files… why is TB the only option now?

I don’t really follow. Any of those Thunderbolt 3 ports also acts as a USB-C port. You can (and in many cases should) get a much cheaper USB-C dock instead. Heck, since external disks are starting to include a USB-C plug, you may not even have to do that.

If you mean “why doesn’t Apple allow us to buy a cheaper Mac that doesn’t have Thunderbolt at all, but only USB-C”, I would argue the opposite: it’s terrible that Apple ever shipped USB-C-only Macs at all (and that kind of includes the iPad Pro, especially if there’s ever a 2022 or whatever iPad Pro that has Thunderbolt 3). The port is the same; the functionality is not. Bad usability.

As of July, we have a situation where any Mac (but not iPad) with USB-C ports have USB-C ports that also do Thunderbolt 3, and that’s great, because it avoids the “but the plug looks exactly the same?” confusion.

@Sören The issue is that the difficulty of providing lots of Thunderbolt ports combined with Apple’s decision not to mix Thunderbolt and USB-C on the same Mac means that even if you don’t need Thunderbolt you get a very small number of USB ports. This is a regression from decades of Apple notebooks. The USB-C docks are expensive, unreliable, and clunky. And disks including USB-C plugs makes it more complicated because of the lack of hubs that provide extra USB-C ports. So it’s harder to use the same disk in multiple contexts.

Sören Nils Kuklau

The issue is that the difficulty of providing lots of Thunderbolt ports combined with Apple’s decision not to mix Thunderbolt and USB-C on the same Mac means that even if you don’t need Thunderbolt you get a very small number of USB ports. This is a regression from decades of Apple notebooks.

To get pedantic, I don’t think any MacBook Pro (or PowerBook) other than the 17-inchers ever provided more than two USB ports, though.

(But yes, because those ports now fulfill double-triple-quadruple-duty as also being the replacements for power, display, etc., that’s kind of true for all post-2016 MacBook Pros.)

And disks including USB-C plugs makes it more complicated because of the lack of hubs that provide extra USB-C ports. So it’s harder to use the same disk in multiple contexts.

Yeah, that one’s a real head-scratcher.

I can’t speak to the reliability of hubs; I’m still on a 2013 rMBP (though mainly because of the keyboard).

I guess from a culture one can consider either forward-looking or stubborn, I don’t think Apple is going to bring back USB A-ports (say, one on each side). And I don’t think them adding non-Thunderbolt USB-C ports in addition is in the cards either.

@Sören Right, for example the iBook Dual USB had dedicated ports for power, Ethernet, display, and FireWire (and modem). That’s the equivalent of 6+ ports on a consumer notebook; the current MacBook Pro only has 4.

Well, if they’re going to be stubborn then I think they need to do more to get the Thunderbolt market going and build some trustworthy hubs, etc.

Stay up-to-date by subscribing to the Comments RSS Feed for this post.

Leave a Comment