IOGEAR Thunderbolt 3 Quantum Docking Station REVIEW
It can be incredibly frustrating to switch to a brand new computer and not have anything work with it. That’s the feeling I had when I got my 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar — you know, the one that only has USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports? Normally people plan for a change like that, but in my case, a really good deal fell into my lap and with a manner of hours I traded in my 2014 MacBook Pro for my 2016 model. It was quite a change going from having a lot of flexibility with 2 USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports, and an SDXC slot to only having one type of connectivity. It’s a shock really. So, what do you do? There are portable hubs and adapters of course, but those don’t really suit me when I’m working from my home office. I want to be able to charge my laptop and connect to various devices like my speakers, and connected USB devices like flash drives — and I don’t want to have to use half a dozen dongles to do it. So, I sought out a Thunderbolt 3 dock from a trusted company — IOGEAR.
Over the past few months, I’ve really gotten to know IOGEAR as a company and as a trusted product provider. So, I there was no hesitation to install the IOGEAR Thunderbolt 3 Quantum Docking Station into my desk setup when the opportunity arose. The docking station is moderate in size. It’s about three-fourths of the length of my 13-inch MacBook Pro and fashioned in stylish brushed aluminum to match the classic Apple computer look. The dock comes packaged inside a classy IOGEAR branded box with some of the product’s basic details included. Inside the box, you will find the docking station, its 72W AC adapter, a 0.5M Thunderbolt 3 cable, the Quick Start Guide, and the Warranty Card.
One of the best features of the Thunderbolt 3 Quantum Docking Station is that it brings the possibility of 5K into your setup. With the docking station, you can connect your laptop to one 5K display or two 4K monitors if you prefer a dual-monitor setup. With Thunderbolt 3, you have the ability to transfer data at 40 Gbps (a full 4K movie in under 30 seconds) and because Thunderbolt 3 is so versatile, you can charge your laptop, connect to monitors, transfer files, and even connect to wired ethernet through one cable.
Ports Available on the Quantum Docking Station
- Two (2) Thunderbolt 3
- One (1) Display port
- One (1) Gigabit Ethernet port
- Two (2) USB 3.1 Type-A port
- One (1) USB-C port
- One (1) 3.5mm audio input port
- One (1) 3.5mm audio output port
One of my main concerns when I decided to give the IOGEAR docking station a try was power delivery. There are a lot of docks out there that claim to provide power delivery through pass-through charging, but they sometimes don’t have enough wattage to actually charge the battery on the newer MacBook Pros. My 13-inch laptop is a little easier to provide power for because it doesn’t require quite as much as say, the 15-inch model does. For example, the 13-inch MBP only needs 61W, while the 15-inch needs 87W. Most docks I’ve come across cap the wattage rating at 85W. This means that power will be provided and you won’t see a decrease to your laptop’s battery, but it won’t charge. This can be very frustrating when you are trying to find the best option for your desk setup.
The information provided with the Quantum Docking Station states “15W Power Delivery via USB-C”. This made me nervous because of the 61W needed for my laptop. I plugged it in using the provided Thunderbolt 3 cable from one of the Thunderbolt ports on the back of the dock and my computer began charging. It’s a bit slow going — only 5% battery charge gain in 28 minutes — but it does charge.
Given that the specs for the dock state “via USB-C” I thought I would try using my USB-C charging cable that came with my MacBook Pro. I got no response when I plugged it into the USB-C port on the front of the dock. When I plugged it into one of the Thunderbolt ports on the rear of the device, I got a message from my MacBook Pro that said — Cannot Use Thunderbolt Accessory. Connect accessory using a Thunderbolt capable cable. After that, the battery began to charge.
One thing I noticed that was really odd was a disruption in power distribution. I have a small USB operated fan and I had it plugged into the docking station on the front USB port. At the same time, I had my laptop plugged in. I unplugged my laptop and the fan stopped spinning for a few seconds. It was almost like power was cut to that port for a few seconds. In addition to this, I discovered that whenever I had something else plugged in through USB, the laptop wouldn’t cease charging. It would still show that it was connected to a power adapter, but the battery wouldn’t be gaining a charge. As long as the computer was the only thing plugged in, it would charge.
In addition to these oddities with power transfer, I also tested USB Type-A transfer speeds since that is what I mainly use for storage at this time. The IOGEAR docking station shipped with a Thunderbolt 3 cable, but I’m not sure if it’s active or passive. According to StarTech, an accessory company that focuses on ‘hard to find’ connectivity, the difference between active and passive Thunderbolt 3 cables is that active Thunderbolt 3 cables support Thunderbolt at 40 Gbps data transfer at lengths of up to 2m. Passive lower cost cables are only capable of 20 Gbps data transfer at 1m or 2m lengths but can achieve full 40 Gbps at a shorter cable length of 0.5m.
For the purpose of my data transfer testing, I used two different Thunderbolt 3 cables (one shipped with a Belkin Thunderbolt 3 dock) — each was a different length. I wanted to do this to show the importance of knowing which type of Thunderbolt cable you are using. And even if you have a Thunderbolt 3 dock and cable, you may not be getting the best possible connection if you don’t have the right cable.
I selected a folder that contained various types of files including photos and video to copy between the USB flash drive and the desktop of my computer. This folder had a total of 2.89GB of data stored in it. I used a flash drive by Silicon Power (Blaze B30), which features SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen1 connectivity. Using the Belkin cable, I was able to transfer the file in 15.21 seconds. It took about 10 seconds for the drive to eject from the computer. There was a bit of heat on the ends of the cable and the USB drive after the data transfer occurred. Using the provided TB cable, I did the same test. It took 1:10.05 to transfer the same file. The drive took about the same amount of time to eject. I also ran a Blackmagic Speed Test on the flash drive as it was plugged into the two different cables. The screens shots of the results are shown below. It appears that the TB cable that came with the Belkin dock was definitely the faster cable.
Thunderbolt 3 Cable that came with IOGEAR docking stationThunderbolt 3 Cable that came with Belkin docking station
Overall, I think the IOGEAR dock is a nice option for connecting your new MacBook Pro to different devices. I do want to point out the absence of an SD/Mini SD card slot on the dock. This is a definite drawback in my book. Is it impossible to overcome? No, but it makes the user have to use a dongle or adapter, which is the main reason I started looking for a dock — so I wouldn’t have to do that. The Quantum Docking Station has been sufficient for my needs but does have a few quirks. I would be cautious when charging your laptop since it appears to charge more powerful machines when it shouldn’t be able to.
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Originally published at macsources.com on August 22, 2017.