Quick Look: CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus Dock

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: CalDigit

More Ports!

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.

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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.

Continue reading our review of the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Plus Dock!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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CalDigit offers several different cable lengths with the TS3 Plus, but our unit came with the 0.5-meter option. 

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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.

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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.

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For drives, we used the TEKQ Rapide Thunderbolt 3 SSD, as well as the MyDigitalSSD Boost, which features two mSATA SSDs in RAID 0 behind a USB 3.1 Gen 2 connection.

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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 2560x1400 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.

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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. 

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March 12, 2018 | 08:39 PM - Posted by Mobile_Dom

Damn, I gotta say, I'm impressed.

I was very vocal about my thoughts that Thunderbolt was DOA, and even Thunderbolt 2, it was just too limited, too expensive and not flexible enough. but enough changed with TB3 that I will say I was wrong.

I still think that a fully featured USB-C port is better for most people, for those that need it, Thunderbolt 3 is awesome.

(side note, I cannot wait till we start seeing USB3.2 20gbps hubs and stuff, that'd be awesome)

March 13, 2018 | 11:35 AM - Posted by Ken Addison

I think the full backward compatibility with USB 3.1 really was a smart move by Intel here. The new Titan Ridge controller that offers compatibility with TB3 peripherals to USB 3.1 hosts should be a game changer. Finally, we can have a universal docking solution... (we hope!) 

March 12, 2018 | 10:36 PM - Posted by LaptopsAndTB3andYouBetterDoYouHomework (not verified)

TB3 on laptops should raise a warning bell as there have been laptop OEMs who do not supply enough PCIe lane connectivity to the laptop's onboard TB3 controller chip to fully provide 40Gb/s TB3 bandwidth. So sure the dock has it's TB3 controller chip/s on that devices end. But until laptop OEMs can be fully trusted to wire up the laptop's TB3 controller/s with sufficient PCIe lane connectivity I'm not ready for TB3 laptops.

Some laptop OEM were/are only giving the TB3 controller on the laptop 2 PCIe 3.0 lanes and that's not enough PCIe connectivity for the 40Gb/s that TB3 advertises. So the laptop at least has to have 4 PCIe lanes provided to it's TB3 controller chip on the laptop's MB.

If I read a laptop review that fails to mention the exact make/model of the TB3 controller chip used(PCIe lanes provided to the TB3 Controller by the laptops OEM also) then that's not a review of the laptop and I expect that the laptop's reviewer is not doing their job or is limited by the Laptop OEM in some fashion(Review sample strings attatched or $$$ paid).

If the laptop has 2 TB3 ports are those 2 ports sharing the same TB3 conroller chip and Intel makes single and dual TB3 cotroller chips so that's just more information that needs to be provided. If the laptop comes with a dual TB3 controller chip SKU then that will need 8 PCIe lanes or there will be some PCIe bandwidth sharing required for the dual TB3 controller SKU that is installed on a Laptop's MB.

I'm sure not ready to trust TB3 fully on laptops until PCIe 4.0 fully arrives for laptops and laptops need to get PCIe 4.0 long before desktop PCs will need PCIe 4.0.

Right now TB3 is only nice for some mini-desktop systems or PCs where there are better MB standards(More PCIe lanes) but laptop MBs are almost always custom OEM creations where Laptop OEMs cut too many corners.

TB3 works with 2 different types of TB3 cables that both use the Type-C plug and electrical standard. One is the TB3 active cable that is needed for that 40Gb/s and costs more and one is the passive cable that costs less but only supports 20Gb/s over TB3.

If you purchase a TB3 enabled laptop the follow the traces to see if the laptop's OEM is cutting corners with that PCIe lane to TB3 controller chip allotment.

March 13, 2018 | 09:34 AM - Posted by terminal addict

While I understand and agree with most of what you describe, I would still choose a laptop with TB3 over one without. It is important to know how it is implemented in a laptop so that you understand what limits are there, but 20Gbps is still a HUGE improvement over 10Gbps for USB 3.1G2.

Even looking at this review, there is some effort going into driving up the bandwidth usage.

Still, it is sad that OEMs love to promote TB3, and will even say "up to 40Gbps" (shame on you Asus), while going with a 20Gbps implementation.

March 13, 2018 | 11:19 AM - Posted by PitchforksTorchesAndNutcrackersOfRage (not verified)

USB 3.2 offers 20 Gb/s with the USB-IF's new standard that takes a link aggregation approach with its existing USB 3.1 Gen 2 controller standard. So USB 3.2 is merely 2, USB 3.1 Gen 2(10 Gb/s) channels/controllers link aggregated together in that USB 3.2 controller complex/chip that offers 20Gb/s also.

So until Laptops can Certify that their TB3 controllers are recieving the proper 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes of connectivity then TB3 is simply a waste of time on some laptops. If Laptop makers honestly want to remedy that situation instead of doing all that TB3 nefarious obfuscation like not running the proper amounts of PCIe lanes into the TB3 controllers to provide for that "Advertised" maximum bandwidth then folks need to avoid Laptop purchases that tend to overcharge for that TB3 connectivity and under-deliver on the PCIe lanes provided.

Laptop OEMs are the cause of GPU rebranding, that USB Typc-C and USB "3.1(Gen 1, Gen2)", or TB3, bandwidth nefarious obfuscation via always quoting the standard's theoretical high bandwidth while not informing consumers of the actual PCIe connectivty to support whatever standards' bandwidth on their specific laptop SKUs. Laptop OEMs create customized Intel, AMD, Nvidia graphics drivers that rob the laptop's owners of the ability to download the respective GPU/Graphics makers' generic graphics drivers thereby forceing an unnatural planned obsolescence of the laptop's hardware.

Laptop OEMs have never been truthfull regarding just what Ports(UBS, TB#, whetever) are sharing a single USB/TB#/whatever controller's and that controller/s related bandwidth including the PCIe lanes necessary to support whatever full bandwidth the controller requires.

Having loads of ports but insufficient controllers/PCIe connectivity is the hallmark of the Laptop industry's business model with consumers pretty much unprotected by lack of regulatory enforcement actions and an online review press so encumbered by review-sample NDAs and Other Review restrictions that are most definitely examples of inherent conflicts of interest that get between the online review sites' reporting and the consumer's rights to know.

It's no wonder that those Mini-Desktop SKUs with the most complete amount of System Hardware/Firmware and information/documemtation that come with user friendly generic drivers(Graphics/Chipset/others) are so popular with these devices' end users.

Laptop OEMs have burned enough bridges and it's mostly too late to win any real trust anymore among consumers. I'm to the point that I'd rather carry a mini/micro desktop around with a portable USB monitor and foldable keyboard than take any more crap from laptop OEM's and their rather corrupt bussiness model of the last 15+ years, including that one that's the most egregious of all the Thin and Lighs/Ultrabook form factor of uselessness.

I think that as soon as AMD gets out of its old state of mind and starts brading its own devices that are similar to Intel's NUC/Apple Mac-Mini sorts of offerings the OEM laptop industry is going to really earn its comeuppance.
The OEM/Marketing influnced GPU rebranding nonsense is enough in and of itself to rate a consumer rebellion. And a healty market of mini/micro-desktop SKUs, that are in fact as portable as a laptop, all while being much more user friendly and way more updatable. BGA can GO TO HELL, soldered memory, likewise. And don't get me started on those Laptop OEM's Modded/Customized NON-Generic graphics divers as that rates hot tar and loads of feathers on that fine little Laptop OEM "Feature".

I like my CPUs socketed and my memory in the DIMM slot and things upgradable. Don't Glue/Solder me in.

March 13, 2018 | 12:13 PM - Posted by Devouring_with_Doug (not verified)

I am curious to know why Display ports are being used and not HDMI? Recently changing over to MBP and looking for a good dock to use while at home Almost bought the OWC then I saw caldigit 3+ haven’t made the choice yet but hoping for a space grey version before I do. But really curious about the HDMI port not being on these devices

March 13, 2018 | 03:20 PM - Posted by Gunbuster

Probably because you have to pay out a licence fee to use HDMI. Also PC equipment is more likely to be DP, and if its not just get a dongle from amazon for cheap.

I'm more concerned it only has one DP, I mean come on its kind of positioned as a power user product but only one DP???

March 13, 2018 | 03:27 PM - Posted by Gunbuster

A Dell D6000 universal dock is only $170. Why would you get one of these?

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