CalDigit’s Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus has been a popular dock for several years, but the emphasis on an external Thunderbolt port makes this less attractive for PCs, unless you’ve invested in Thunderbolt-powered displays.
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CalDigit’s Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus is one of the most popular Thunderbolt 3 docks available, and it’s easy to see why: a space-saving vertical orientation, 87W charging, gobs of available ports, niceties like a S/PDIF optical connection and an additional Thunderbolt port for daisy-chaining devices.
It’s this additional Thunderbolt port that’s a bit of a problem for PCs. Apple sold its own Thunderbolt Display beginning in 2011, and the additional Thunderbolt port feels very much designed for connecting to it. (A second Thunderbolt port connects to the PC via the included cable.) PC displays tend to use HDMI or DisplayPort connections, and directly driven Thunderbolt displays are rarer.
Note: This review is part of our roundup of the best Thunderbolt docks. Got there for buying advice, product comparisons, and recommendations.
You can drive a single external display directly from the dock, however, as there’s a single built-in DisplayPort 1.2 connection. To drive two external 4K/60 displays that use DisplayPort or HDMI connections, you’d need to invest in a separate USB-C dongle (or another Thunderbolt dock—a prohibitively expensive choice) and connect it to the downstream Thunderbolt dock.
The TS3 Plus also includes one full-sized SD (SD 4.0 UHS-II) card reader, the S/PDIF port, gigabit ethernet, and two 3.5mm audio jacks—one in, one out. Five USB Type A ports are also included (all 5Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 1) and two USB-C ports (one 5Gbps port, and one 10Gbps port). You can charge a smartphone from either the front-mounted USB-A port or the rear USB-C port, as both supply 7.5W of power.
Mark Hachman / IDG
The TS3 Plus measures 5.15 x 3.87 x 1.57 inches, and weighs 1.04 pounds. Though it lacks a supporting stand, it rests easily in a vertical position, which is a definite plus in terms of saving space. CalDigit also includes small rubber feet for positioning the aluminum dock in a horizontal orientation.
We used an extra USB-C dongle to enable a second HDMI display, which worked, though the connection dropped momentarily on both displays when playing back video on both displays and transferring files. Otherwise, high-bandwidth video playback went smoothly. The external audio jack also didn’t work initially, but did on a subsequent attempt. CalDigit’s TS3 Plus barely warmed under load.
While we’ve previously listed the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus among the best Thunderbolt docks, it’s also true that a number of dock manufacturers now compete very well against it. For Mac users, this CalDigit dock may be a solid choice. For PC users, we believe there are now better alternatives.