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BIF
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Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Wed Jun 19, 2019 10:23 am

Hello! I wasn't quite sure where to put this question, but since it has to do with a laptop, I decided it could go here for now.

I am buying a new audio interface and I want to use it on my laptop. I only have one TB3 port on the laptop, and it's provided via a USB Type-C connection, which I'm already using with a hub for my USB 3.0 backup hard drive. The audio interface is a true Thunderbolt 2 device, so it has the "Apple TB connector".

Here are the specifics:

The laptop is an Alienware 17M. That page should include links to the manual showing the details about the Type-C connector, but here's a copy/paste of the relevant details:

Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) port
Supports USB 3.1 Gen 2, DisplayPort 1.2, Thunderbolt 3 and also enables you to connect to an external display using a display adapter.
Provides data transfer rates up to 10 Gbps for USB 3.1 Gen 2 and up to 40 Gbps for Thunderbolt 3.

NOTE: A USB Type-C to DisplayPort adapter (sold separately) is required to connect a DisplayPort device.


The audio interface is a UAD Twin Quad. A rear view of the unit shows the "Apple" Thunderbolt connector.

When I placed my order with Sweetwater, we included the standard TB cable and the Apple adapter. So now I can get from the Apple connector on the device all the way to the type-C connector on the laptop. But I still need a hub for the other devices. Sweetwater also have have a hub, but it includes things that I don't need, such as video and Ethernet connections. And it's a couple hundred dollars. I'd like to spend $30-50 on a good quality hub for this purpose.

So I'm on the hunt for a new TB hub. And I'm having trouble coming up with a good search argument for Google and Amazon. I've tried "Thunderbolt 3 hub", and I've tried various iterations of "passthru/passthrough" and "TYPE C" (to try to find a hub with an ACTUAL USB Type C port ON THE HUB ITSELF.

The results all seem to be for hubs designed for the Mac or they have stuff that is more than I need (Ethernet, scads of video options), or less than I need (no USB 3, no camera card slots), or kind of pricey.

So I'm looking for a Thunderbolt 2 or 3 hub that plugs into USB Type3, has a camera card slot, supports 2 or more USB 3 devices, AND supports at least one Thunderbolt device plugged into the hub via USB Type 3.

Is there anything out there? Thanks for any help you can offer!
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:06 pm

So I think I found the answer. Well, "an" answer, at least. I need to be searching for "Thunderbolt 3 Dock" or "Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station".

Hubs use a USB Type C connector on the PC, but that does not make the hub's own Type C connector ports actually pass Thunderbolt through. You just get a Type C connector that is "PD" (Power Delivery only, which is just to charge some devices), or if you're lucky you'll have a Type C "Data" connector and maybe can use that for VGA, Ethernet, or USB, and that's it.

At least that's what I'm getting from my reading now, and it does partially explain why I wasn't finding what I needed to find.

The real killer is that Thunderbolt 3 Docks are all over $100 and some are even $300 or more. Ouch! But at least now I know what the damages will likely be.

Here's the search I did on Sweetwater.

And here's the search I did on Amazon.

At least on Amazon, I think I still need to be really really careful, lest I get socked with a hub that's called a dock.
 
just brew it!
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Thu Jun 20, 2019 8:09 am

Yeah, the USB / Thunderbolt situation is organically complicated. I still don't completely understand it myself. At least I managed to get a single inexpensive dongle which allows me to connect USB 3, HDMI, and power when I use my work-issued MacBook Pro at home. (Unfortunately it sounds like this device won't work for your use case since it doesn't have the downstream TB connector.)

Still amazes me that you can shove that much data plus a substantial amount of power over such a tiny connector...
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Thu Jun 20, 2019 6:31 pm

just brew it! wrote:
Yeah, the USB / Thunderbolt situation is organically complicated. I still don't completely understand it myself. At least I managed to get a single inexpensive dongle which allows me to connect USB 3, HDMI, and power when I use my work-issued MacBook Pro at home. (Unfortunately it sounds like this device won't work for your use case since it doesn't have the downstream TB connector.)
Yep, probably won't work. But once I decide, I'll share my experience.

Still amazes me that you can shove that much data plus a substantial amount of power over such a tiny connector...
I know, right? But truth be told, the Apollo interface I'm buying will still need external power, partly to drive the DSP chips, I'm sure.
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Thu Jun 20, 2019 6:40 pm

BIF wrote:
just brew it! wrote:
Still amazes me that you can shove that much data plus a substantial amount of power over such a tiny connector...

I know, right? But truth be told, the Apollo interface I'm buying will still need external power, partly to drive the DSP chips, I'm sure.

In my case I was thinking more along the lines of how if I leave the MacBook's power adapter plugged into the PD port of the dongle (they gave me an extra power adapter for home), the dongle can also power and charge the laptop. Kinda nice to have only one cable to deal with when "docking".
Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Fri Jun 21, 2019 3:36 am

That's a good point...and I wonder how plugging my non-mac Alienware into a "powered" port might work, like for example if I made a mistake and plugged it into the PD Type C port on the hub. The laptop, being a gaming laptop, already has two power supplies (with two separate power-in ports on the back) and is an electricity hog (when I'm gaming with it), but I doubt it was designed to draw power through the Type C port. So I wonder, would the PC ignore the incoming juice from a hub that was supplying power?

Don't know. They seemed to have broken a lot of rules with the Type C connector, so I'm not sure there is a way to know unless I got my hands on the spec and read it.
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Fri Jun 21, 2019 9:54 am

So I've had this issue (I also use a laptop - Mac, w/ thunderbolt 3) and the use case you want it's a bit pricey, if you want a built in card reader you may want a CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock (https://www.caldigit.com/ts3-plus), which can be used to passthrough TB3 (i.e. daisy chaining thunderbolt devices) and you can connect that audio interface to your dock through a TB3 to TB2 adapter (https://www.apple.com/ca/shop/product/M ... -2-adapter).
Any TB3 dock that has passthrough may be suitable for your needs, however you want a built-in card reader, which limits things a bit. :)

Edit: couple of caveats:
  • If you want to have a video card on your setup for some reason (upgrade options maybe?), you need a eGPU enclosure that also supports passthrough, and it would need to be the first device in your daisy chain
  • If you plan to use this setup with other laptops, it's better to use laptops that have a minimum of 4x PCI lanes in any given Thunderbolt setup, afaik.
  • Power delivery over TB3/USB-C goes up to 100w, but depends on the dock itself. If your laptop has higher power consumption requirements, you will need your actual charger to supply power if you're "docked".
  • Passive TB3 cables may operate in USB-C mode too (can be used with USB-C devices exclusively), but I believe they can be 0.8 meters long, and Active TB3 cables cannot operate in USB-C mode, and can be 2.0 meters long (hiding a dock can be easier with a long cable) - just make sure it's an actual certified cable.
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Fri Jun 21, 2019 10:26 am

I ran into this issue when I ran out of ports on my MBP. I had 2 monitors via TB3 (usb-c) to displayport cables, the charger, and a TB3 (usb-c) to ethernet+3 usb 3.0 A adapter. I wanted to add a TB3 10Gbe dongle and I just couldn't find a simple TB3 hub that didn't cost an arm and a leg. I ended up getting a single dongle that had 2 displayport, 2 usb 3.0 A, and a 1 Gbe network port, which freed up 2 ports.

I really love the TB3/usb-c setup on my MBP, but I wish it had more ports.
Desktop: i7-4790K @4.8 GHz | 32 GB | EVGA Gefore 1060 | Windows 10 x64
Laptop: MacBook Pro 2017 2.9GHz | 16 GB | Radeon Pro 560
 
BIF
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Sat Jun 22, 2019 2:39 pm

Edit: I did buy the TB3-to-TB2 adapter; it should arrive with the interface.
qmacpoint wrote:
So I've had this issue (I also use a laptop - Mac, w/ thunderbolt 3) and the use case you want it's a bit pricey, if you want a built in card reader you may want a CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt Dock (https://www.caldigit.com/ts3-plus), which can be used to passthrough TB3 (i.e. daisy chaining thunderbolt devices) and you can connect that audio interface to your dock through a TB3 to TB2 adapter (https://www.apple.com/ca/shop/product/M ... -2-adapter).
Any TB3 dock that has passthrough may be suitable for your needs, however you want a built-in card reader, which limits things a bit. :)
Good point. I like the CalDigit device. I'm still trying to get over the hives that broke out when I saw the $309 price tag for it. :o It's on the list of course, but I may be able to escape with only about a $170 bill if I relax on the camera card requirement. So I'm looking at these two right now from Plugable on Amazon:

1. For $169 - Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station Compatible without charging but supports DP
2. For $249 - Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dock with Charging and DP + HDMI
Edit: couple of caveats:
  • If you want to have a video card on your setup for some reason (upgrade options maybe?), you need a eGPU enclosure that also supports passthrough, and it would need to be the first device in your daisy chain
  • If you plan to use this setup with other laptops, it's better to use laptops that have a minimum of 4x PCI lanes in any given Thunderbolt setup, afaik.
  • Power delivery over TB3/USB-C goes up to 100w, but depends on the dock itself. If your laptop has higher power consumption requirements, you will need your actual charger to supply power if you're "docked".
  • Passive TB3 cables may operate in USB-C mode too (can be used with USB-C devices exclusively), but I believe they can be 0.8 meters long, and Active TB3 cables cannot operate in USB-C mode, and can be 2.0 meters long (hiding a dock can be easier with a long cable) - just make sure it's an actual certified cable.
Thank you. This laptop has a single RTX 2080 GPU in it, so I won't be looking for an upgrade for a very long time. Like not sooner than next week, anyway... :P
Last edited by BIF on Sat Jun 22, 2019 4:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
 
BIF
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Sat Jun 22, 2019 3:27 pm

Of course, I do have one other possible option. Do nothing right away and just run the audio interface from the TB3/Type C port. I do have 3 existing USB 3.x ports on the laptop. Not every decision needs to be made immediately.
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Sat Jun 22, 2019 11:24 pm

You can always get a USB card reader like this one: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/ ... emory.html
I literally have this setup with an eGPU and it's quite reliable!
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Sun Jun 23, 2019 9:05 am

I actually have a couple of memory card readers already.

I'm thinking about how many devices I will need to pack up (and then keep track of) when it's time to travel. All of these docks already add a power supply and two cables (one for power and one for data) to what I already have today, so reducing my device count (or at least ending up with something close to a push) would be nice.
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Sun Jun 23, 2019 3:32 pm

BIF wrote:
I actually have a couple of memory card readers already.

I'm thinking about how many devices I will need to pack up (and then keep track of) when it's time to travel. All of these docks already add a power supply and two cables (one for power and one for data) to what I already have today, so reducing my device count (or at least ending up with something close to a push) would be nice.

Ah mobile docking stations are a whole different level - the TS3 is the ideal spot then
 
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Re: Help! I'm looking for a Thunderbolt Hub with...

Sun Jun 23, 2019 7:27 pm

Yes, I'm kind of thinking that.

I've decided to use the Apollo interface plugged directly into the laptop for a week or two, then I'll decide on the TB3 or one of the other options. That will spread out the expenditures a bit and will give me time to use the audio interface, which is the main priority here anyhow.

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