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Review: The OWC USB-C Travel Dock E

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.

OWC travel dock 01

 

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.

First Impressions

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.

OWC travel dock 05

 

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.

OWC travel dock 02

 

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

OWC travel dock 06

 

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.

OWC travel dock 03

 

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:)

Conclusions

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.

OWC travel dock 04

 

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.

 

  


Written by
Top BloggerThought Leader

I am the Editor-in-Chief of FCP.co and have run the website since its inception ten years ago.

I have also worked as a broadcast and corporate editor for over 30 years, starting on one inch tape, working through many formats, right up to today's NLEs.

Under the name Idustrial Revolution, I have written and sold plugins for Final Cut Pro for 13 years.

I was made a Freeman of Lichfield through The Worshipful Company of Smiths (established 1601). Though I haven't yet tried to herd a flock of sheep through the city centre!

Current Editing

great house giveaway 2020

2020 has been busy, the beginning of the year was finishing off a new property series (cut on FCP) for Channel 4 called The Great House Giveaway. I also designed and built the majority of the graphics as Motion templates. It has been a great success and the shows grabbed more viewers in the 4pm weekday slot than any previous strand. It has been recommissioned by C4 for 60 episodes, including prime-time versions and five themed programmes. The shows have also been nominated for a 2021 BAFTA.

Tour de france 2020
Although both were postponed to later in the year, I worked again on ITV's coverage of the Tour de France and La Vuelta. 2020 was my 25th year of editing the TdF and my 20th year as lead editor. The Tour was the first broadcast show to adopt FCPX working for multiple editors on shared storage.

 

BBC snooker the crucible

BBC's Snooker has played a big part in my life, I've been editing tournament coverage since 1997. I'm proud to be part of a very creative team that has pioneered many new ideas and workflows that are now industry standard in sports' production. This is currently an Adobe Premiere edit.

amazon kindle BF

Covid cancelled some of the regular corporate events that I edit such as trade shows & events. I was lucky however to edit, from home, on projects for Amazon Kindle, Amazon Black Friday, Mastercard and very proud to have helped local charitable trust Kendall & Wall secure lottery funding.

As for software, my weapon of choice is Final Cut Pro and Motion, but I also have a good knowledge and broadcast credits with Adobe Premiere Pro, MOGRT design and Photoshop.

Plugin Design & Development

I'm the creative force behind Idustrial Revolution, one of the oldest Final Cut Pro plugin developers. It hosts a range of commercial and free plugins on the site. One free plugin was downloaded over a thousand times within 24 hours of release.

I also take on custom work, whether it is adapting an existing plugin for a special use or designing new plugins for clients from scratch. Having a good knowledge of editing allows me to build-in flexibility and more importantly, usability.

FCP.co

Now in its 10th year and 4th redesign, running FCP.co has given me knowledge on how to run a large CMS- you are currently reading my bio from the database! Although it sounds corny, I am pretty well up on social media trends & techniques, especially in the video sector. The recent Covid restrictions has enabled live FCP.co shows online. This involves managing a Zoom Webinar through Restream.io to YouTube and Facebook. 

The Future

I'm always open to new ideas and opportunities, so please get in touch at editor (at) fcp.co. I've judged film competitions, presented workflow techniques to international audiences and come up with ideas for TV shows and software programs!

 

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funwithstuff's Avatar
funwithstuff replied the topic: #113521 19 Mar 2021 23:03
Nice review! I had a similar issue here, and considered the OWC Travel Dock E as well. I've got a decent dongle or two for training purposes, but I usually edit at home. With my M1 MacBook Air being so silent and capable, I wanted to put it on a more equal footing to my iMac. They can share the same LG external monitor, but plugging and unplugging everything is always a pain, so a Thunderbolt dock was the solution.

Right now though, the Thunderbolt dock market is in flux, and none of the devices are perfect. There are new docks from Caldigit and OWC (and others) which do include multiple Thunderbolt ports downstream, but those tend to omit monitor connections in exchange, and they're pretty much out of stock everywhere. The older OWC and Caldigit docks are still out there, but tend to lack USB-C 10Gbps ports, which is the current sweet spot for storage that's fast enough but doesn't cost a fortune. (2TB Thunderbolt SSDs are sadly still very expensive.)

There's also an issue with the M1 Macs at the moment in that most USB drives are seeing substandard performance, 20-30% lower than the same drives on Intel Macs.

Plugable have a couple of TB3 docks which do solve some of these problems, though they don't offer downstream Thunderbolt ports, instead offering (a currently useless) second monitor option. These are hybrid docks, backwards compatible with USB-C systems, though they are true Thunderbolt devices on Macs. (There are tons of cheap hubs out there claiming to be Thunderbolt compatible while actually just being USB-C, so watch out.)

However, as these docks are newer, their downstream USB ports are faster (10Gbps) and my older Samsung T5 is seeing much higher speeds on my M1 than through a direct connection.

So, I bought the TBT3-UDC1, which does allow 10Gbps connections to USB drives on an M1 MacBook Air, through USB-A and USB-C ports. It charges while connected, and ethernet works (though I haven't tested speed yet!).

Looking at other options, the older Plugable TB dock (TBT3-UDV) doesn't offer any 10Gbps USB ports, but has one downstream TB3 instead. A newer Plugable dock (TBT3-UDC3) says in the specs that it doesn't offer 10Gbps connections on an M1 Mac, but hopefully that's an error. And of course you can spend more money on something like the TBT3-UDZ to solve all these issues (and add an SD reader) but that's out of stock entirely at the moment.

I suspect all these docks will soon be refreshed with the newest chipset to allow more downstream TB3 ports, but if you want one right now, you'll probably have to compromise somewhere or other. SD? USB-C ports? A monitor connection? Downstream TB3? You can't have it all.

Long story short: it's working well. A single port connects nearly everything to whichever Mac I want to use, and charges my laptop too.
peteramwiggins's Avatar
peteramwiggins replied the topic: #113523 20 Mar 2021 11:41
I think the two are different types of dock. The one you have seems to be more suited to a static setup. It's also about three times the money!
funwithstuff's Avatar
funwithstuff replied the topic: #113527 20 Mar 2021 14:30
Yeah absolutely, definitely the two things are for different purposes. If I didn’t have a travel hub already then I’d be chasing this new OWC one.

And yes, more expensive too. Here in Australia, the Travel Dock is about $100 while the one I found is $265 and the TS3+ is $400. They can get pretty pricey.