MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 and Dell docking stations

I recently got a new MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 ports. These ports are great because they can carry power, USB and output to an external display simultaneously. Not a lot of accessories are available on the market yet though besides simple adapters from USB-C to things like USB, HDMI, VGA, Thunderbolt 2, or Ethernet. Belkin has announced the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD, but it seems like it will be priced upwards of $300. Dell’s XPS 13 and 15 series however has included Thunderbolt 3 for a year now and Dell makes some nice docking stations for them:

Dell DA200: small portable device with Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3, VGA and HDMI.

Dell WD15: stationary device with a size similar to a paperback book, with a 130W or 180W power brick. Over the DA200, it adds mini-DisplayPort, 2x USB2, 2x USB3, Speaker and Headset outputs. It also passes power through to the computer.

Dell TB15: This model appears to have been recalled because it didn’t run stable and replaced with the TB16.

Dell TB16: stationary device shaped like a stack of a dozen CD cases, with a 180W or 240W power brick. Over the WD15, it adds DisplayPort. Note that it connects to the computer via Thunderbolt 3 instead of USB-C, which means it can deliver higher screen resolutions (see below).


First of all, the DA200 just works. VGA and HDMI run up to a resolution of 2048×1152 pixels at 60 Hz (even though Dell says it only supports 1920×1080), Ethernet works without installing a driver (it contains the same Realtek chip, PCI ID 0bda:8153, that the official Belkin USB-C adapter uses). HDCP-encrypted HDMI works fine, as confirmed by starting a Netflix video.

Next up, the WD15. I first hooked it up via mini-DisplayPort and was disappointed to find that it only runs up to 2048×1152 pixels. Switching to HDMI alleviated the problem and my screen ran at its native 2560×1440 pixels — though the colors were all messed up because the computer was outputting YCrCb while the screen was interpreting that as RGB, but that is easily fixed by creating an EDID override. HDCP works just fine — even though Dell says the dock doesn’t support it. Dell also says that the dock can do 4K resolutions (3840×2160 pixel) only at 30 Hz, so if you want to hook up a 4K display, don’t get this dock. The dock has a power button, but it didn’t surprise me to find out that it didn’t power up the Macbook. The Macbook did, however, automatically turn on when plugging in the USB-C cable, even in clamshell mode. One oddity I found was that the front left USB 3 port would only deliver power, not data, while a device was plugged into the rear USB 3 port — while I did not find this documented anywhere, it seems likely that this is a hardware limitation and not a Mac issue — see below for more information. Audio works fine too (it’s a Realtek chip, PCI ID 0bda:4014), but you need to use Audio MIDI Setup and click the “Configure Speakers” to assign left/right either to the first stream (headphone output on front) or the second stream (audio output on the back):

 

Finally, the Dell TB16. I didn’t have this one for testing because the WD15 suffices for my application. Dell says that you can run two 4K displays or one 5K (5120×2880 pixel) display, all at 60 Hz. I assume everything else will work just as it does with the WD15. For USB purposes however, I believe this dock contains a PCIe-attached USB 3.1 chip as the USB-C Alternate Mode Partner Matrix shows that a superspeed USB signal cannot be carried if high-resolution video is transferred. According to one of my readers, it doesn’t work out of the box unfortunately.


USB 3 problems

It seems like I can’t reliably use all USB 3 ports on the WD15 simultaneously. Sometimes they all work, but after the next reboot or unplug/replug cycle, once ceases to work. I had initially believed this to be a hardware limitation, but it appears to be a bug in Apple’s USB 3 drivers. sudo dmesg shows messages like these:

000069.247426 IOUSBHostHIDDevice: IOUSBHostHIDDevice::interruptRetry: resetting device due to IO failures

000069.551400 AppleUSB20Hub@14440000: AppleUSBHub::deviceRequest: resetting due to persistent errors

So the OS shuts down the USB hub. If you google these messages, you’ll find a large number of reports of it occurring with all kinds of USB hubs, but no solutions. So Apple just needs to get their drivers fixed.

21 thoughts on “MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 and Dell docking stations

  1. JR

    I have the TB16 and it does not appear to work with the macbook pro. It will charge it but no displays or usb drives are detected by the macbook. I suspect a driver needs to be loaded…

  2. Michael Kuron Post author

    Thunderbolt itself is driverless. If you don’t even get display output, I suspect it doesn’t switch to Thunderbolt USB-C Alternative Mode. It’s been reported in a few places that Apple’s Thunderbolt driver has some kind of blacklist/whitelist on the current MacBook Pros, but this can be disabled: https://9to5mac.com/2016/11/21/tb3-enabler-enable-unsupported-thunderbolt-3-devices-hack-macbook-pro/ . It would be great if you could try that out and report back.

  3. Mr. Wealth-Lab

    I just used the TB15 with the new MacBook Pro and it worked except the audio. There were some other minor hiccups but all in all it worked. I wonder if anyone tried the TB16. BTW, I used it with an ASUS 2560*1440 monitor.

  4. Michael Kuron Post author

    I’ve added some detail about how I got audio working. Let me know if that helps. Please also report back your USB Audio device’s IDs (as reported by System Profiler).

  5. jack Brown

    I have tried plugging the TB15 into a Macbook (the annoyingly named Air replacement, that is), Early 2015 model. Doesn’t seem to charge or provide any ports. Actually the dock seemed to stop working entirely (for my XPS13) until I unplugged the Macbook and turned the power off on the dock as well. Does the early 2015 macbook only have USB C and not thunderbolt?

  6. Brian

    I tried a new MBP with the TB16 today. It would only charge before I ran the TB3 enabler. After, Video via HDMI or mini-displayport (to HDMI) on the dock worked. Oddly, the mini-displayport and HDMI ports would only mirror content. I could also mount USB storage after TB3 enabler however VGA or DisplayPort didn’t seem to work. I probably will try another dock.

    The TB16 works fine on a Dell laptop with the appropriate drivers.

  7. JA

    Macbook Pro 2016 and Dell TB16 only works with one monitor. I have tried a combination of hdmi with display port and mdp. Both screens flicker and eventually the mbp is unable to keep a stable image. I have tried this with tb3 enabler. I haven’t tried audio but can verify that it does charge the laptop, ethernet connection works and usb 3.0 works.

  8. Lewis

    I’ve noticed that for both the WD15 and the TD16 that the Mac reports the adapter as supplying only 58W instead of the 86W that Apple’s adapter supplies. Has anyone noticed this as well or is it unique to my Mac?

  9. Michael Kuron Post author

    It reports 59W on my 13″ MacBook Pro, which came with a 61W Apple adapter.

    Dell says the TB16 can deliver a maximum of 130W to the computer attached, though it seems odd that they sell it with 180W and 240W power bricks — I don’t believe the dock consumes 110W. For the WD15, Dell says that it also maxes out at 130W (irrespective of whether it’s running on the 130W or 180W power adapter) delivers a maximum of 3.34A at 19.5V, which is close to what the Mac reports. I’m guessing Apple is only using one USB-PD power profile simultaneously instead of drawing energy from 5V, 12V and 20V simultaneously.

  10. Lewis

    I should’ve specified, but this is the 15″ MacBook Pro with Touchbar. It ships with an 87W adapter.

    I compared the “time until full” between the WD15 with 180W adapter charging and the Apple adapter. The time until full is the same. So I guess all is well for charging purposes. Thanks!

  11. Michael Kuron Post author

    The battery probably only charges at ~40W anyway. You need the extra watts if you’re actively using the computer while charging. Even on the 87W, the 15″ may be slowly depleting its battery if it is constantly running at 100% load. So a better comparison would be to compare time-to-full while e.g. running videos through ffmpeg.

  12. Justin

    Hi Michael,

    My wife just got a new 13″ touchbar MacBook Pro, and quickly realized she didn’t have the necessary adapters to connect an external HP 23″ display. Until we get one, I thought we might try using a Dell WD15 dock that I still had around from when I owned an XPS 15.

    We have it connected, and it does seem to be supplying power at least (the Mac indicates its charging) – however, the display doesn’t seem to work or be recognized as being connected – we’ve tried it both with an HDMI to HDMI cable to connect to the HDMI port on the WD15, and with an HDMI to Mini DisplayPort cable. Neither seems to work.

    Any ideas? My general impression from reading about people using the WD15 dock is that it should work fine with the 2016 13″ touchbar MBP – the main complaints I saw were more from people not being able to run at the highest resolutions, etc. But this is a 1080p monitor so probably not an issue.

  13. Michael Kuron Post author

    That’s odd, it works fine for me. When you go to System Profiler, what do you see appear in the Graphics/Display when you plug in the WD15 (hit Cmd-R to refresh)?

  14. Justin

    Sounds like she’s got the display working now (she’s not sure what changed, but when she plugged it back in, it’s working).

    The problem she’s having now is that the display has a purple tint – she found someone else describing a similar problem: “though the colors were all messed up because the computer was outputting YCrCb while the screen was interpreting that as RGB, but that is easily fixed by creating an EDID override. ”

    We’re not quite sure how to do an EDID override though, but it at least sounds like the issue is this YCrCb thing.

  15. Michael Kuron Post author

    Have a look at the “How to force RGB mode in Mac OS X” on http://www.mathewinkson.com/2013/03/force-rgb-mode-in-mac-os-x-to-fix-the-picture-quality-of-an-external-monitor/. It’s not very difficult, but requires a bit of Terminal work and several reboots. Alternatively you can try your display’s on-screen menu and check whether you can manually change the color model there. I tried that on my Dell U2715H first, but it always reverted back to RGB when I power-cycled it, so I had to do the override. Your display might not have that issue, so that could be an easy fix.

  16. Craig

    I just got the Lenovo TB 3 dock. I ordered it in January hah… Anyway, the TB3 cable that came with is super short only 1-1.5′ which kind of sucks for my setup, but it appears that there aren’t that many 40Gbps TB3 cables longer than 1.5′.

    So, plugging it in, it worked out of the box. The issues I’m seeing is that I can only get one display to work. There are 3 ports total, but it looks like one of the ports is a displayport/hdmi so it’s only really one port. If i plug two displays into the displayports it will only mirror them, it will not extend to more than one external monitor. The audio doesn’t appear to be working either. It shows up as an audio device, but I cannot hear any audio.

    I am not sure if I need to use the TB3 enabler or anything to get the other display to work, and for the audio, I attempted the recommendation and it didn’t work for me. Any advice on this would be appreciated. I’m curious to see if there is anyone else out there with the Lenovo TB3 dock for MBP16 (15″ touchbar).

  17. Eddie

    I’ve got a MB Pro 2016 15″ with Touchbar connected via WD15 to two Dell monitors. The problem? The monitors are mirrors. So, while I have a three displays (the MB Pro being the first), the second is OK, but the third is currently useless, since it’s a copy of the second. Can anyone fix this?

  18. Michael Kuron Post author

    The 13″ MBP supports two and the 15″ supports four displays at 4K resolution and 60Hz, so that’s not the limiting factor. Dell says the WD15 can do two displays at 1920×1200 and 60Hz and only one at 2560×1600 and 60 Hz (the latter only over mDP though, while in my observation it only supports it over HDMI).

    What resolution are you running at? Does it make any difference if you run the MBP in clamshell mode (i.e. with only the external screens active)?

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