The personal website of Chris Coyier

CalDigit TS3 Plus Dock

This is a $250 dock:

I can’t remember how it came up in conversation, but Shaw and I got started talked about docks like this the other day and I ended up buying this thing mid-conversation. I surprised myself a little as I think that price tag feels a bit steep for what is basically a hub that I’m used to paying tens-of-dollars for. But I get it now, this thing is beefy and has a lot of high-power ports and now that I have it I’m certainly happy with it.

That picture above makes it look a little ugly I think, but the physical device is pretty decent looking. It’s really the other side that matters:

I didn’t really think I needed a “dock” like this. I have a MacBook Pro, and two LG UltraFine 5k monitors. The monitors are Thunderbolt, and I connect them both to the laptop. The monitors themselves are USB-C hubs, so some of my peripheral stuff goes straight into them. I also have a USB-A (or 3.2 or whatever) Hub (that goes into one of the monitors) for stuff that’s still old-USB.

But I also use hard-wired Ethernet, and so I have a Ethernet-to-USB-C dongle and that goes into the laptop too. In total I had three things to plug into my laptop every day getting to work (the two monitors and the Ethernet dongle).

In retrospect, I probably should have piped the Ethernet through one of the monitors to reduce one of the things I had to plug in. But that’s related to where I’m going with this. Would that have been just as fast, going through the monitor hub first? I’m not sure. I’m not sure because I just don’t know very much about all this stuff, and also because something else I was trying to do was failing, it turns out, because it was just going through too many slow connections (I think).

Here’s what was failing. I really wanted to try this setup where I use a DSLR camera (Canon T7i) as essentially a webcam (inspired entirely by Dan Mall).

I’ll blog about this setup separately as it is interesting in its own way, but part of the magic that makes it work is the Elgato Cam Link, which is essentially a fancy expensive HDMI-to-USB dongle that makes your computer recognize the input as a webcam.

The Cam Link is Old-USB, which makes me think maybe other options would have been cleaner, but I digress.

The chain for the camera setup went like this:

Camera
→ Mini HDMI cable
→ Cam Link
→ USB-A hub
→ Monitor
→ MacBook Pro

I had all sorts of struggles getting it set up to work at all, and when I finally did, the video from the camera would work for a minute or two, then just die. Freeze. No input coming through. It would confuse the heck out of any app dealing with the video, sometimes to the point of freezing the app itself.

I was kinda bummed out after putting all that money and effort into getting it to work. That’s why I was trigger-happy on buying this CalDigit dock when the idea came up that it’s essentially a way faster hub. Now the chain from the camera is shorter:

Camera
→ Mini HDMI cable
→ Cam Link
→ CalDigit Dock
→ MacBook Pro

Not only shorter, but avoiding the USB-A hub, which was my best guess as the weak link and the cause of the video failure.

So this dock setup entirely solved this camera issue, and that’s a huge win right there. But I also got to entirely ditch my Old-USB hub, because this dock has 5 of those ports, which was enough for me (keyboard, mouse charger, mouse dongle, and Cam Link). It also has an Ethernet port, so I no longer need the separate dongle just for that.

Because of my monitors, I’m not exactly at a shortage of USB-C ports, but this has a couple of those two which are likely to come in handy as the world moves that direction. I’ll probably use that card reader too, as that DSLR uses those.

Sitting back there doin’ work.

One tiny bummer though. This dock only has two Thunderbolt ports, and you need one of them to connect it to the computer. Meaning only one of my Thunderbolt monitors can go into it. So rather than the glory of just one Thunderbolt connector into my laptop, I have to plug in the dock and one of the monitors.

The UltraFine 5k monitors can’t be daisy-chained. The USB-C port on the dock won’t cut it, nor will the DisplayPort port with a Thunderbolt dongle. So I don’t think there is anything that will get me down to a single laptop plug. The OWC dock looks nice too, but it has essentially the same ports and same problem.