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decker12
2 Iron

TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

The TB16 works mostly fine, but it’s design is incredibly poorly thought out. There’s a single USB-C TB3 cable coming from the left side of the dock, and the cable is 16 inches long. Due to the way Dell hacked around with the design of the 130w TB3 / 40gbps cable coming out of the Dock, you cannot change the length of this cable nor reposition it, it is and always will be 16 inches long and it will always come out on the left side of the dock. 

Doesn’t seem so bad until you realize that almost all of the new 15” Dell business laptops have a single USB-C plug on the LEFT side of the laptop. So you have a 16 inch cable coming out of the left side of a dock that needs to stretch around to reach the left side of a laptop. Therefore, the cable will only reach the USB-C plug if you position the dock to the left of the laptop and stretch/wrap the cable along the back of the dock, which has the additional problem of stressing the connector that plugs into your laptop. I fully expect these connectors to fail on the laptop within a year of plugging and unplugging. Even if you had a 14” Dell laptop you’re still stressing the connector.

It is baffling how stupid this design is. Just wait until you unbox this thing and put it on your desk and go, huh, I guess there’s literally only one place I can put this on my desk and then only one way I can put my laptop near it. Go ahead and look at the picture on Dell’s website showing the dock connected to a laptop. That picture isn’t just a glossy shot to show off the hardware, it is literally the only way you can arrange your desk with this dock. I have several of these at work and all my users hate the fact that the dock has to go at exactly one place on their desk and the laptop has to go exactly next to it. 

It’s a shame because this is the only Dell docking solution being offered for their modern laptops. Used to be we could buy E series laptops and the E port replicators but Dell is moving away from that so this is what we’re stuck with.

Dell should have made the cable swappable from the left, right, or rear of the TB16 to give the users some flexibility in their desk layout.

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13 Replies
ieee488
5 Rhenium

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

I don't have the device, but one has to wonder if anybody along the process actually tried to use the dock with a laptop or was it all imaginary. LOL.

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jphughan
5 Tungsten

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

I think the envisioned use case was that the user would simply place the dock behind their laptop.  Of course that would obstruct the USB ports on the front of the dock, but maybe that's why all of the marketing photos show laptops with their lids closed and only external displays in use?  Another option would be to get some sort of platform that's wide and deep enough to support a laptop and leaves enough clearance underneath it to support the dock.

As for the cable length, there's a partial explanation for that.  18" is the longest passive Thunderbolt 3 cable that can support the 40 Gbps throughput that this system requires.  There are "active" cables that can extend that longer, but they cost about $80, and some of those won't carry the amount of power that these docks are marketed to be able to provide for attached Dell systems.  The reason I said that was a "partial" explanation is because even if a customer was willing to spend that kind of cash on a longer cable and found one rated to carry the required amount of power, it turns out that the dock side of that cable attaches with a proprietary connector, not a standard Thunderbolt connector, which makes replacement with aftermarket options impossible.  I suppose that may have been deliberate precisely to avoid problems getting customer complaints and negative reviews saying, "This dock doesn't work" when the true cause is that the customer is trying to use it with the wrong cable, but for those of us who would've known the right product to buy and would have been willing to spend more, it is a frustrating limitation.

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jphughan
5 Tungsten

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

And just fyi, it's not entirely true that the TB16 is the only option for modern laptops.  There's also the WD15 dock, and since I have one, I just measured its cable at 30".  The catch there is that since it just uses regular USB-C rather than Thunderbolt, it only supports dual 1080p displays, whereas the TB16 supports dual 4K and even some triple display configurations.  The WD15 also doesn't support "upstream" Thunderbolt peripherals like the TB16 can, if you have any of those.

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decker12
2 Iron

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

We've had a couple WD15s and they were an unmitigated disaster of a product. I actually replaced two of them with the TB16 because both WD15s were so unreliable. They would randomly drop video, USB ports would stop working, and they had trouble waking laptops from sleep. For a while I kept updated the firmwares and BIOS of the hardware involved in an effort to fix it. I replaced WD15s with more expensive TB16s and was initially thrilled with their performance (especially compared to the buggy WD15s) before I realized the cable length limitation.

When we upgrade the laptops, we also have upgraded users to higher resolution monitors which the WD15 doesn't support anyway.

Reading around the forums it appears the WD15s have a ton of problems and my experience was not uncommon.  That really only leaves the TB16 as the single dock option for the new Dell laptops.

Another issue with this TB16 (and the WD15) is that unlike the E-series laptops, the user has nothing to "click" their laptop into. They have to literally just find some space on their desks (within 18 inches of the dock of course) to put their laptop. I actually have removed the E-series port replicator from the Dell under the monitor docking solution and put skid pads on the remaining plastic part so the user can at least lay the laptop on the empty dock plastic.

It's a really crappy solution and my users are not thrilled with losing desk space. I'm not thrilled because it seems so half-assed to just tell my users "Uh, I guess just shove some stuff around on your desk and put your laptop, uh somewhere back there I guess, but remember it has to be almost right next to this new black box oh yeah, and make sure you don't bend that connector in a goofy way because it may eventually break the USB-C port on your laptop".

Shame because I love the new Dell Latittude 15" and 14" laptops. Just without a way to properly dock them I am considering switching vendors. We loved the old E-series because of the docking solution, because users could click into a port replicator and it was reliable and just worked without screwing with this 18" cable and having users rearrange their desks. Now that there's no decent docking solution I'm not tied into Dell as a vendor because HP doesn't have a great docking solution either.

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jphughan
5 Tungsten

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

Ah yes, based on your latest post and looking at your username, I seem to remember having a long discussion with you about these docks a while ago.  Well if the TB16 is the only option that meets your technical requirements, then you're basically stuck for now.  I suspect Dell will release a new TB dock based on Intel's new Titan Ridge controller architecture though.  One of the main advantages of the chip intended for peripheral devices (as opposed to the PC) is that it allows Thunderbolt peripherals to fall back to regular USB-C when used with PCs that don't support Thunderbolt, though of course functionality would be reduced -- but that's better than not working at all, I suppose, which is the case now with the TB16 and any PC that doesn't support Thunderbolt.  Perhaps at that point Dell will design their dock with a standard Thunderbolt cable, in which case they could be replaced by active Thunderbolt 3 cables rated for 5-amp Power Delivery.  StarTech makes one that's 1m long, if you're willing to spring for it.

As for the desk placement issue, I actually see it both ways.  First, the WD15 and TB16 are a smaller overall footprint than a full E-Dock, but more importantly I actually kind of LIKE the fact that the location and orientation of your laptop isn't dictated by the placement and orientation of the dock.  Granted there's more freedom with the WD15 thanks to the longer cable length, but for example it allows the dock to be kept along the rear edge of my wife's desk while the laptop itself is closer to her in case she wants to use its built-in display while docked.  And then the other major boon in her use case is that her personal PC is a Dell, but her work PC is a Lenovo, and having a WD15 gives her a single docking station that works with both systems, whereas before she'd have either needed to keep two large docks on her desk and swap USB and display cables back and forth between docks as needed (or get a KVM, which is even more desk space lost and of course cost), or simply never dock one of those systems.

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jphughan
5 Tungsten

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

Actually, rereading that reply, I guess I don't really see it both ways.... How do your users have less desk space now than they did with the E-Dock?  I get the idea that they can't physically lock their laptop in somewhere, but whether they use an E-Dock, a TB16, or a WD15, they still have a laptop sitting on their desk and a dock behind it.  With the older E Series laptops that had their underside docking connectors closer to the center, the E-Dock's rear protrusion I suppose is a bit shallower than the WD15 or TB16, but the E-Dock is also quite a bit wider, so I guess it depends on the dimensions of the desk.  But on the newer Latitude Exx40 models, the underside docking connector is along right along the rear edge of the system, which means there's practically no overlap with the existing E-Dock "tray", which in turns causes the E-Dock to add several inches of depth to the total desk footprint of dock and laptop solution.  What am I missing here?

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decker12
2 Iron

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

I'll take some pictures of the user's desks and see if I can do a before/after thing to show you how the desk space is lessened. A couple of my users just deal with it, and a couple of them complain about it. The main issue is that the laptop itself is say, a 15 x 12" square, and docked with the under-the-monitor docking solution, lets say it took up 18 x 18", but it was all "self contained" under the monitor for lack of a better term. Now, the laptop has to balance on top of the empty plastic without the e-dock, or if I get rid of the under the monitor docking plastic, it kind of half balances on the plastic monitor stand. Or, the laptop has to move to a different space entirely on the users desk to "lay flat".

The TB16 is a box that sits to the left side of the laptop, because if you put it behind the laptop you lose access to the ports on front of it. If the cable was longer or you could swap the cable from right/left of the TB16, it'd be a bit better because I could place it between the two monitors. Instead it always has to hang out on the left side of the laptop. It sounds minor ("always on the left side of the laptop") and I play it off when I deliver the laptop to the user, but two weeks later they gripe about it and ask "Can I just get a longer cable so I can put it over here instead?"

And yes, I definitely recall our long chat about this! I do appreciate you steering me in the right direction, I have had both docks for a few months now and my complaints about it may seem picky but considering the price of these docks and how IMO they're sunk by this cabling issue. Especially considering how the E-port docks (and the docking solution before that) had this docking problem completely solved for many years.

My biggest concern as the IT guy isn't users complaining about desk space, it's the stress on the TB3 connector on the laptop. Because of the way you have to wrap that cable from the left side of the TB16 to the left side of the laptop, it's always pulling and stressing the TB3 port on the laptop. The TB16 cable is also a fairly thick gauge so it's not that flexible. Knowing how users connect and reconnect all the time I can see that port getting yanked around.

I have had success with for dual-monitor setups is using articulating arms to hold the monitors instead of them on monitor stands. The arm solution reclaims desk space (no more plastic under the monitors) so I may move the complaining users in that direction. 

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jphughan
5 Tungsten

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

Ok, I missed the part about you using the monitor stands that are specifically designed to have E-Docks slotted under them.  I'm familiar with them, but I hadn't seen them for a while.  Now I totally get it.  I have one suggestion on the off chance you haven't thought of it, although I'm betting you have.  Assuming the TB16's greater depth compared to the E-Dock doesn't prevent it from being placed in the dock area under the stand completely behind the laptop, I realize that its front USB ports would be obstructed, but the E-Dock obviously didn't have front-facing USB ports either, so is that situation a dealbreaker?  The E-Dock did have side ports though, which of course the TB16 doesn't.  If those side ports were used frequently, then are you perhaps using displays that have built-in side USB ports that might be able to make up for that loss by running a USB cable from the display down to the dock, at least for the people who don't want the TB16 off to the side?

With respect to the cable, believe me I'm familiar with the fears that exist in IT people based on users who do all sort of crazy things! Smiley Happy  For what it's worth, the cable is actually replaceable separately, since there are screws hiding under a rubber insert underneath the attachment point on the dock (all detailed in the TB16's manual on support.dell.com), but I haven't looked at how easy it is to buy just that part, and again it would have to come from Dell since the dock-side connector is proprietary rather than standard TB3.

Articulating arms are definitely a godsend from a desk space standpoint.  It's amazing how much real estate even regular display stands take up these days, but articulating arms are also a bit expensive and somewhat of a chore to install the first time, especially if you want to route the cables neatly -- and sometimes you need to buy longer cables in order to run along the entire length of the arm before dipping down to the dock, otherwise you risk the cable preventing certain arm positioning.

Anyhow, it sounds like you've already got the only dock that meets your technical requirements, but as I said, given the announcement of Intel's new Titan Ridge controller, you may see a TB17 dock or whatever Dell ends up calling it sometime this year, and maybe that one will use a standard dock-side connector and therefore allow replacement with longer, active cables.  If you go that route, just make sure they support 40 Gbps throughput AND are rated for 5 amps or 100W Power Delivery.  Dell pushes the standard a bit to 130W, but since that's not an official rating of the USB Power Delivery spec, I doubt you'll find any cables formally certified for that.  Good luck!

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Trumptard
1 Copper

Re: TB16 - Expensive, poorly designed, recommend avoiding

I googled the internet annoyed by this same issue. My power supply is bending when I put the computer down after working causing the connection to already start breaking the plastic casing. This design is stupid. Why does the cord come out of the left with the computer power supply on the left? This is not rocket science in any degree. Stupid, Stupid design.

The dock can't go to the back as most normal people have their laptops to the back of their desk work area. 

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