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May 17, 2017

Dell Thunderbolt Dock TB16: Our first take

by John_A

A system dock should disappear when it’s working correctly, but Dell’s makes a bit too much fuss.

With the advent of Thunderbolt 3, and its massive power and data capabilities, docks are going from bulky, awkward stands to slim, powerful connectivity extenders. Dell’s TB16, for example, includes a swath of wired connection options, and charges compatible Dell laptops over a single Thunderbolt 3 cable. Yet it’s small enough to easily hide away on a desk.

That kind of simplicity doesn’t come cheap, and the TB16 carries a $300 suggested retail price — not so cheap when you consider the cost of a Dell laptop on top. Is the TB16 the accessory you’ve been waiting for, or is a generic dock a better option?

Short cable provides little relief

While the idea of a dock that the computer doesn’t physically attach to might seem odd, it’s quickly becoming the norm. The Dell TB16 is a bit larger than an Intel NUC. It sports a pair of USB 3.0 ports, and a 3.5mm audio out on the front. The back holds the rest of the ports, of which there are many. For video outputs, there’s one each of VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort, and Mini-DisplayPort, plus two USB 2.0 ports, one more USB 3.0 Type-A, USB 3.0 Type-C, and 3.5mm audio in.

dell thunderbolt dock tb  hands on reviewBill Roberson/Digital Trends

dell thunderbolt dock tb  hands on review backpluggedinBill Roberson/Digital Trends

dell thunderbolt dock tb  hands on review jackpanelBill Roberson/Digital Trends

dell thunderbolt dock tb  hands on review pwrbtnBill Roberson/Digital Trends

The main issue we have with the design is the Thunderbolt 3 cable itself. It’s very short, at just 18 inches long, and it extends permanently from the dock’s left side. The Thunderbolt 3 port on our test system, the Dell XPS 15, is also on the left side. The only good way to connect them, then, is by setting the dock directly behind where the computer sits. It also has a rather large power brick, though that means it will charge compatible Dell laptops.

We also took issue with the TB16’s need for software support. The dock leans heavily on Dell’s drivers and software to handle its myriad outputs, so it often takes some time to load after waking up the system some sleep, and may not work at all on a restart until the user logs in, and the driver kicks in.

Warranty information

Purchased on its own, Dell’s TB16 dock carries a one year warranty against manufacturer defects, as well as regular wear and tear. Purchase it with a compatible laptop, however, and the dock’s warranty is automatically extended to match the laptop’s warranty. Some Dell laptops offer warranties of three to five years.

Conclusion

Dell’s TB16 Thunderbolt 3 dock doesn’t set itself apart from the pack, unless you’re buying it alongside a Dell laptop. The charging power and extra warranty coverage are solid value adds, but its competitors from other mainstream OEMs manage to slide in under the $200 price point. That said, there aren’t many of them, and many are system specific. It makes sense to purchase one with a new XPS 13 or XPS 15, particularly if you can find a deal below $250. Otherwise, it’s not better than any other dock.

Highs

  • Solid connectivity
  • Charges laptop

Lows

  • Short leash
  • Software reliant
  • Awkward cable position




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