We bought the OWC USB-C Travel Dock E and took it travelling!
The Downsizing Continues
As you might have read, I made the decision to downsize from a 15” MacBook Pro to a new 13” Intel model last year. All went well, the new Intel machine had 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports for peripherals.
For the First Time in 20 Years, I've Downsized My Apple MacBook Pro
Then, I decided to move ‘sideways’ from the Intel 13” to the new M1 powered 13” MacBook Pro. At the moment, all the M1 machines only sprout two Thunderbolt /USB4 (USB-C) ports.
I always get confused about USB-C and Thunderbolt 3/4. It’s actually hard to know what ports they really are as even the Apple website calls them different things depending on what page you are on!
Adaptor, Hub, Dock - They all do the same, don’t they?
So, in the upgrade, I had lost two ports. Not a big problem as I had a hub that I bought from a large online store a few years back that so far had escaped mischievous work colleagues adding an extra letter with a Sharpie to the beginning of the brand name.
That had two USB A ports and an RJ45 for an Ethernet connection. It cost £39 and to be honest, was just a way to get the Internet and a keyboard quickly connected to one of the first USB-C MacBook Airs that I tested out.
I never thought it worked properly though as I felt I never got a decent speed through the RJ45 socket. But being lazy, I continued to use it when needed.
Now, down to two ports on the MacBook Pro and spending time away in hotel rooms, I needed more connectivity for the M1 machine. I love the speed and the battery life of the M1, but sometimes you just need to connect more things. The old hub couldn’t pass through USB-C, so I ended up carrying a selection of Apple adaptors (Not dongles as I got corrected last time) around with me as well.
No you can’t have one!
So, when I saw that OWC had upgraded its USB-C Travel Dock to include an Ethernet port, I thought that was exactly the dock I needed to replace my old hub and adaptors.
As OWC are a sponsor of the site, I reached out and asked if I could test one out. They said no. Not that they didn’t want to help, but as these were selling so well, they didn’t have any stock available for review! So with a quick bit of ‘Duck Duck Going’ (No more Google tracking) I managed to find one for sale in the UK for £59.99. It arrived the next day.
It is very solidly built and feels like a shrunken dock rather than the flimsy plastic nature of its predecessor. It’s a lot heavier too, but in a good, tough, built-to-last way. The black and space grey finish match my MacBook Pro pretty closely.
I did think there was a manufacturing anomaly in the top, but soon realised that this was actually a hole for a blue LED to shine through when the dock gets power! The unit can be bus powered from the host machine, or take power if you put it in-between your Mac charger and your Mac. Doing that will also keep charging the Mac.
The square shape means that the ports are distributed around the edge. The main connecting USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gb/s) cable is stored away on the underneath of the dock with a nice latch on the end to hold it in and a cutout in the edge so that the dock can remain flat on a desk when in use.
Other ports included -
- Two USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gb/s) (Type-A)
- USB-C pass-through power port (up to 100W)
- Gigabit Ethernet (RJ45) - (Or 8P8C really if you want to be picky.)
- SD 4.0 Card Reader (UHS-II)
- HDMI 2.0 (Up to 4K@60Hz resolution
The dock will provide a second monitor using the HDMI port, but it won’t serve a Thunderbolt monitor on the USB-C pass-through. This is not a Thunderbolt dock.
You don’t require any software to be installed to get connected, although OWC do offer a Dock Ejector that sits in the menu bar on a Mac and offers ‘one click’ safe drive ejection.
Not all ports are created equal
The previous ‘hub’ only managed about 60 Mbps through the RJ45 port.
The first test of the OWC Travel Dock E using all the same cabling came in at a stonking 312 Mbps. A five times increase in network speed already made the purchase worthwhile.
That’s the difference between a hub that has connectivity with cheap PCB mounted connectors and a ‘mini dock’ that has custom electronics inside designed to service the ports correctly. Even the RJ45 port has the small LEDs at the top to show data transmission and speed.
Just think about that for a while. Are you using a cheap hub to connect a MacBook Pro to an ethernet quipped NAS to edit? You could be losing a lot of bandwidth!
As for the other ports, I use the USB-A ports on a regular basis. I can keep a keyboard connected and still plug in a USB memory stick from the director. I also have jobs that need clients to view Final Cut Pro timelines in conference hotel rooms. The HDMI port will allow me to plug my Mac into a large LCD TV on the wall which helps a lot. Always remembering to plug everything back the way you found it for the next occupant of course:)
I’ve ditched carrying around all my other adaptors and now only travel with the USB-C Travel Dock E. It seems to hit the right balance between functionality and size. Yes, it is heavier and larger, but the performance gains and convenience make this a complete non-issue.
It has made me realise there is a huge difference between having ports on an inexpensive hub and having ports on a dock that run at the speed you would expect.
This dock has been targeted at users exactly like me. Somebody who happily works on a MacBook Pro, but needs extra connectivity for network, older USB A peripherals and the odd bit of ingesting of footage via the SD slot.
But maybe the term ‘Travel Dock’ doesn’t do the unit justice as this could quite happily sit on an editor’s desk all day providing a second display, a keyboard connection, connection to the office network for access to a NAS and internet, and charging the Mac at the same time. All through one cable!
I’m very happy with the OWC USB-C Travel Dock E, I should have bought one earlier, but the ethernet equipped version has only been out since January this year. If you travel with a MacBook Pro, this is the perfect peripheral to make sure you can connect to whatever you might end up with, from hotel room to coffee shop, battery powered ingesting on location, to network attached editing at a desk with a 4K monitor.
And I haven’t even mentioned that you can plug the dock into your iPad, iPhone or should you really need to, a Windows machine.