Intel NUC + OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

Posted on September 21, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Chrome OS, Chromebook, Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 16 Comments

I’ve been using an Intel NUC as my primary PC for about a month, with no issues. Today, I finally added a Thunderbolt 3 dock to the system.

And if you listen to First Ring Daily, you may know that I initially struggled with that: As I noted in Friday’s episode, the dock—a 14-port OWC Thunderbolt 3 wonder—worked just fine with a few laptops I tested. But with the NUC, it was only driving video-out; all of the other ports, including the USB ports, were invisible to the PC.

I had asked whether any listeners/viewers had suggestions, and a few did, so thank you for that. But I had resolved to figure this out today, one way or the other. And in the end, I’m semi-proud to tell you that I figured it out myself. And semi-embarrassed that I didn’t figure it out sooner.

My first thought was that I needed to get the Intel Thunderbolt 3 utility that I sometimes see on other PCs. So I went to the NUC’s software download page, searched for Thunderbolt 3, and started downloading the Thunderbolt 3 DCH driver for Windows 10. As I did so, it suddenly occurred to me—yes, I’m a real genius—that maybe the NUC already had this software installed. And that maybe it just needed to be configured.

Bingo.

Sure enough, there was a Thunderbolt 3 Control Center application in Start. And when run, it showed me that the dock was connected to “Port 1” on the NUC. (Which is the only TB3 port on the NUC.) But the Connection Status link under Device Info said “Not connected.”

Not connected. Ah boy. So I clicked that link and was presented with three choices for the port: Connect only once, Always connect, and Do Not Connect. (Yes, with that mix of capitalized and non-capitalized words; Intel must have the Windows Insider bloggers moonlighting on the side.)

Obviously, I chose Always connect. And then Windows pinged and issued a notification: “‘OWC Thunderbolt 3 Audio Device’ is set up and ready to go.” Success.

Sure enough, I unplugged the three USB devices that were originally attached to the NUC—the webcam, the keyboard/mouse dongle, and the USB interface to my podcast mic—and plugged them into the dock. Everything works normally, which is what I had originally expected when I first attached the NUC.

And that means that there is now only one (non-power) cable coming from the NUC: The USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 cable which connects the PC to dock. In other words, this works as it does with a laptop now. (I’ve not tried powering the NUC from the dock, but I doubt that would work: One of the dock’s Thunderbolt 3 ports can drive 85-watts, which should satisfy just about any compatible PC or device. But the NUC uses a desktop-class 28-watt processor and probably can’t be powered over USB-C/TB3. I may test this later for the heck of it.)

The USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock.

This is good for a number of reasons. But the big one, for me, is that it will help me swap out my NUC for other computers, especially portable computers, much more easily; I can simply use all my peripherals by swapping a single cable now. That will help especially with the “Living with…” series, where I am testing various (often non-Microsoft) technologies over periods of time. I’ll test this setup with a Chromebook or two sometime this weekend.

The USB ports on the back of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock.

Now, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is the center of my daily-use PC setup. And the NUC is just a bit player. An easily-swappable bit player.

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Comments (16)

16 responses to “Intel NUC + OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock”

  1. jim.mcintosh

    Thanks Paul, I am so glad to see that I'm not the only one, who should know better, who has those DUH! moments! It's happening to me more frequently the older I get.

  2. brettscoast

    Great stuff Paul thanks for sharing I've really enjoyed your recent series on the Intel nuc you've given it a rebirth of sorts and the final outcome is very positive indeed.

  3. infloop

    It always feels good when you can solve tech problems on your own, regardless of if it's a small thing, a user error, or a tough one.

  4. frank_costanza

    Nice. I'd like to see something like this with a switch for swapping machines.

  5. alexoughton

    For anyone wondering why you have to explicitly tell Windows to connect Thunderbolt devices: This is for security reasons. Thunderbolt devices get a connection to the system's PCIe bus, and get DMA access too. This creates the potential for a malicious device to compromise the system. By putting the connection control with the user, it reduces the risk since you are presumably only going to authorize devices you know about and trust. People can't surreptitiously plug rogue devices into your machine.


    Something else to know about (at least this is the case on my work computer - which I don't fully control the configuration of), even authorized devices won't connect back to the system until I've logged back in to the laptop. This means if I walk back to my desk with the machine locked, I must unlock it on the laptop's keyboard before the dock (and external keyboard) will come alive. I'm not sure if this is always the case, or some additional security my employer has configured.

  6. chrisltd

    I’ll be interested to see if the dock works with Chromebooks or what is likely to be the new Surface USB-C devices. Your dock is specifically a Thunderbolt dock, and I don’t know of any Chromebook or Surface that supports Thunderbolt.

  7. dontbeevil

    Nice that "thunderbolt control center" UWP

  8. sespumapsi

    thanks for this information

  9. vernonlvincent

    Will you be testing with an eGPU soon?

  10. lewk

    "(Yes, with that mix of capitalized and non-capitalized words; Intel must have the Windows Insider bloggers moonlighting on the side.)"


    I laughed way too much at this.

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