In one look
- Adds a network of two Thunderbolt 4 ports plus a 10 Gbps USB 3.2 port
- Charges laptops (up to 60 watts)
- Bus power up to 15 watts on Thunderbolt 3 ports, 1.5 amps on USB Type-A port
- Backward compatible with Thunderbolt 3 on Mac with Big Sur 11.1 or later
- Includes dock ejection software
- Powered hub improves constant uptime
- Requires a minimum of Big Sur 11.1 (an Apple requirement)
- Although this is a four-port hub, it adds a network of just two additional Thunderbolt ports.
The OWC Thunderbolt Hub allows a single port to triple the benefits of Thunderbolt, plus a USB 3.2 Type A port.
Price after examination
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Thunderbolt 3 was an incredible improvement in simplicity, despite the confusion that came with it and the move from USB 3.0 to USB Type A, Thunderbolt 2, Mini DisplayPort, and more. Thunderbolt 3 uses the reversible USB-C connector in orientation and can deliver up to 40 Gbps in each direction of data in an ideal world, while still supporting power (up to 100 watts, depending on the controller and cable) and very high resolution screens.
OWC’s Thunderbolt hub with four Thunderbolt 4 / USB 4 ports and one USB 3 Type-A port fills a piece of the puzzle that has been missing since Apple introduced the new technology in 2016: a multi-port external hub. Only certain Mac models had more than two Thunderbolt 3 ports. (The short-lived 12-inch MacBook had just a, but it only supports USB through USB-C, not Thunderbolt 3.)
Support for a hub was available in the Thunderbolt controller that Apple included with all of its Thunderbolt 3 Macs, but the company had yet to enable this feature and a few others at the operating system level. This came with macOS 11.1 Big Sur on the Intel and M1 Macs. The OWC hub requires macOS 11.1 or later to function properly. (Windows PCs require a Thunderbolt 4 controller for this hub’s functionality.)
The OWC Thunderbolt Hub plugs into AC power, allowing it to perform some cool tricks. First of all, it can deliver up to 60 watts through the included Thunderbolt cable to a Mac laptop. Second, each Thunderbolt 3 port delivers up to 15 watts to connected devices. Third, even the USB Type-A port can deliver up to 1.5 amps, which is enough to quickly charge iPhones and iPads.
Thunderbolt 3 ports can handle anything you plug directly into a Mac’s Thunderbolt connection, including hardware that needs to be first in a chain of devices for hardware capable of going through Thunderbolt. Depending on your Mac, you can plug one or two displays directly into the hub.
I tested the device with multiple Thunderbolt 3 external drives, and it provided consistent access and high data rates. No additional effort was required for management or configuration. All USB-C connectors seem a bit uncertain, as there is no click system or locking mechanism. OWC offers an additional low-tech option, ClingOn, to help secure cable attachment.
Now, there is a math problem involved here. Although this is a four-port hub, three of which are Thunderbolt, you only get two additional Thunderbolt ports: one port on your Mac needs to connect to the host port of the OWC hub. That’s still two more than you had, plus the 10Gbps USB 3.1 Type-A port. For $ 149, it looks both expensive and interesting, especially if you’re using it as a docking / charging station for a Mac laptop.
Front (top) and rear of the OWC Thunderbolt hub.
OWC offers free downloadable ejector software for macOS and Windows, which allows you to click a button in the menu bar to ensure that anything connected to the hub that needs to be unmounted from macOS does so in one go. and you are sure you can unplug the hub or unplug it. This makes it well suited not only as an extension for a desktop Mac, but also for a Mac laptop.
This software requires a kernel extension, which means a reboot after granting permission on an Intel Mac. With M1 Macs, you have to lower overall security to enable a kernel extension, but I found that I could still use the eject all option without lowering the system security level. OWC also told me that later in the year they are planning a revised version of the software that will also not require a security change.
You can use multiple hubs on your Mac, but each hub requires a separate Thunderbolt bus, which is a separate data path and controller. It varies depending on the model. Some Macs have four Thunderbolt 3 ports and two buses (one for each side of a MacBook Pro); other desktop Macs configure buses and ports differently. While the Intel MacBook Air shares a Thunderbolt 3 bus over two ports, the M1 and Mac mini laptops have two, one for each USB-C connector. (You can hold down Option and choose > System information and click the Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt / USB4 link in the sidebar to see your Mac’s number of buses.)
Note on Thunderbolt 3 support in newer Macs: Apple Silicon Macs report that they have Thunderbolt / USB 4 with Thunderbolt 3 support and USB 3.1 Gen 2, but OWC reports that all Thunderbolt 3 optional items are now required for Thunderbolt 4 certification. Indeed, Intel Macs with Big Sur 11.1 or later are more or less Thunderbolt 4 except in the labeling. (Other features include two 4K displays or one 8K display, which Mac M1 and Intel Macs do not allow: Intel Macs and Mac mini M1 provide at least two 4K displays, and some up to 6K with one monitor. ; The M1 laptops only support one external display, and that up to 6K.)
At the end of the line
At $ 149, the OWC Thunderbolt Hub is a reasonable price to add a network of two Thunderbolt ports and a 10Gbps USB Type-A port to expand access to drives, displays, and other peripherals.