OWC USB-C Dock review

GeekDad Review: OWC’s USB-C Dock Adds All the Ports Your USB-C Laptop Needs

Computing Products Reviews

I’ve been evaluating a lot of Chromebooks and ultra-light laptops lately. Many of these are now following a trend started by Apple: dumping legacy ports in favor of a pair of USB-C ports. I appreciate the speed and versatility of USB-C, and absolutely those ports should be there. But would it really kill anyone to also keep a few legacy ports as well? Like USB Type-A? After recently switching my own laptop to an M1 MacBook Pro, I got a hands-on taste of what life is like trying to work with just a pair of USB-C ports (one of which is being used for power). Fortunately, OWC had sent along the latest version of its USB-C Dock for evaluation.

This dock is perfect for someone like me, who has a lot of USB Type-A peripherals, still uses SD cards, and has a workstation built around a laptop with only USB-C ports.

First Impression

I’ve been working with different OWC products for over a decade. I believe the first one I reviewed for GeekDad—an SSD for the 17-inch MacBook Pro I was using at the time—was back in 2011. There have been more than a few since then. I always find OWC products are well thought out, solidly built, and aimed squarely at the Mac crowd.

That being said, the dock is also compatible with Windows 10 PCs and Chromebooks.

My review unit is space gray (silver is also available), a compact yet reassuringly hefty chunk of metal. It measures 7.9-inches wide, 3.5-inches deep, 1.1-inches tall, and weighs 0.9 pounds. The top is glossy black plastic. The combination looks nice, but that gloss attracts fingerprints and dust like a magnet, and the black makes them even more noticeable.

Those measurements don’t include a big power brick. I was surprised at how large it is, but when you consider the dock can deliver up to 80W of power, it makes sense. Fortunately, there’s a long cord, so the brick can be hidden out of sight.

Setup and Use

This dock is ideal for anyone with a collection of accessories and peripherals that use USB Type-A to connect. The back of the hub has three high-speed Type-A USB 3.1 ports, and there’s a fourth on the front where it’s easily accessible for thumb drives or whatever. Also around the back is the USB-C input from the laptop, a USB-C output port (USB 3.1 Gen 1 so it can’t be used for video), Gigabit Ethernet, and Mini DisplayPort. All told, there are 10 ports.

Worth noting, the USB-C input for the laptop can deliver up to 60W of power. For many laptops, that means no need to be plugged into a charger if they’re connected to the dock. I was a little worried that since my MacBook Pro is equipped with a 61W charger (seriously, what’s up with that?) there would be issues, but the OWC dock has kept it fully powered and charged at all times.

The Mini DisplayPort output supports up to 4K/30Hz resolution. OWC includes a MiniDisplayPort to HDMI adapter in the box.

In my current setup, my MacBook Pro has a single USB-C cable connected to the OWC dock—that keeps the laptop fully charged and provides the data pass-through to the dock. The second USB-C port on the MBP is free; the MBP power charger remains in a drawer.

OWC USB-C Dock review
OWC’s USB-C dock puts frequently-used ports up front, offers a compact and premium design—but that glossy black top shows the dust… (Photo by Brad Moon)

I have a portable SSD connected to the dock that houses my photo library. One of the USB 3.1 Type-A ports is used for a portable backup drive. My 4K monitor is connected to the dock using Mini DisplayPort, and it’s worked flawlessly as the primary display for several months now. The OWC USB-C dock actually fits nicely below the monitor, out of the way and occupying space that would have been “wasted” anyway. But it’s still close enough I can easily access the front of the dock for loading photos off an SD card. I use the front USB 3.1 Type-A port for thumb drives and to plug in my USB microphone when recording.

Data transfer speeds with the dock’s USB 3.1 ports tops out at 5Gb/s, so copying large files isn’t as fast as connecting a Thunderbolt 3 drive directly to the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port on my MacBook Pro. But it’s still pretty fast, and I’m not doing anything where a file is large enough that I’m sitting around waiting for it to copy—the convenience is well worth any potential speed penalty. If that’s an issue, OWC sells Thunderbolt 3 docks as well…

OWC offers Dock Ejector software that can safely eject all your mounted disks at once. I leave my MBP running, so I didn’t bother installing it. The few times that I’ve rebooted or disconnected the laptop to use as a portable, it’s easy enough to remember to dismount the two connected drives manually.

I’ve had no issues with the setup and everything has run smoothly (although I have not had occasion to test Ethernet)—with one exception, but that was completely my own fault.

The “Joys” of USB-C

One of the early promises of USB-C was simplicity, but instead, it’s turned into a circus of compatibility and functionality issues, especially where cables are involved.

When I first set this system up, the USB-C power cable that came with the MBP was the first one I grabbed. So I used it to connect the laptop to the dock. In terms of data and power to the laptop, all was good, but the laptop could not connect to the monitor via the dock’s Mini DisplayPort. I already had a USB-C cable hanging off the monitor for connecting to other laptops, so I just shrugged and connected the monitor to the laptop directly, using the dock for data and power only.

However, a few weeks later I was tidying up, came across the OWC box, and realized the USB-C cable supplied with the dock was still in there. I swapped my charger cable for the supplied USB-C cable, disconnected the direct laptop to monitor connection, and everything worked perfectly. That got me the second USB-C port on my MBP back and everything has been connected through the dock since, including the monitor.

OWC USB-C Dock review
Not all USB-C cables are created equal. (Photo by Brad Moon)

The lesson here is USB-C cables may all look the same, but you have to pay close attention to which ones you use and for what purpose.

OWC USB-C Dock Specifications

• 1 x SD card slot (front)
• 1 x 3.5mm combo audio port (front)
• 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A port, high power for charging (front)
• 3 x USB 3.1 Type A (one is high power)
• 1 x UBC 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (5Gb/s)
• 1 x pass-through USB-C data/charge port up to 60W
• 1 x Mini DisplayPort
• 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
• Includes Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, USB-C cable
• 2-year limited warranty

* See OWC product page for supported computer hardware and OS versions

Recommendation

If you own a compatible MacBook (or other supported computers) and the lack of ports is a challenge, the OWC USB-C Dock is a great solution. You may end up dusting it a little more than you’d like, but for $119, it offers pretty much every port you might need, putting several of the most commonly used ones up front for easy access.

Disclosure: OWC provided a USB-C dock for evaluation but had no input into this review. As an Amazon Associate, I earn affiliate fees from qualifying purchases.

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