Studio Display and the one cable lifestyle

I’m very likely to purchase a Studio Display in the near future. It’s exactly what I’ve been waiting for (an iMac without the Mac) but I have something of a dilemma.

I currently live the “one cable lifestyle” by means of an OWC USB-C dock. Note the word “Thunderbolt” does not feature in the name, or functionality, of this dock. It happily runs two hard drives off USB-A, one SSD off USB-C, my scanner off USB-A, gigabit Ethernet, and provides an SDXC slot and one extra USB-A on the front for on-demand use. The USB-C dock is no longer sold, but it was about half the price of any of the Thunderbolt ones and does all the above comfortably!

Now if I get the Studio Display, the dock will not be able to drive it, as it’s limited to 4K@30Hz. Obviously I want/need 5K and would prefer 60Hz. So I cannot plug a Studio Display into the dock. The dock also requires that it be plugged directly into the computer, so it cannot be plugged into the Studio Display (even though it only requires USB-C). That leaves me with a problem.

I could go to a two cable lifestyle, but my M1 MacBook Pro only has two Thunderbolt ports and I do use the other one for a few on-demand uses (and I wonder which device would charge the laptop?) This would be viable as a temporary workaround, I guess, but is not a long term solution.

I’ve looked hard at my current port usage and could reluctantly cut back on what stays permanently plugged in, but the biggest issue I can see is Ethernet. I don’t know if I could plug a USB-C Ethernet dongle (Belkin makes one) into the Studio Display. Failing this I would have to spring for one of the Thunderbolt docks that can power a 5K@60Hz display, but that’s a significant added expense.

It seems like the Studio Display really is made for the Mac Studio, which already has a plethora of connectivity options. While the laptops can drive the display while receiving a charge “from the one cable” it’s really not a great “desktop” solution.

Am I missing any other approaches? If an Ethernet dongle would work out of the display, I’d probably look to add a basic USB hub off the display at some point, but who knows if that would be reliable.

The display itself has one Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) port and three USB-C ports. Does that help? If not, I foresee a powered USB-C dock in your future. Or a network attached storage device of some type.

Does it actually have to be plugged directly into the computer, or does it just say it has to be plugged into the computer? Lots of USB accessory manufacturers say they should be plugged directly into the computer, but work just fine when connected through a dock or USB hub. Exhibit A, the Elgato Stream Deck, which says it must be plugged directly into the computer. I’ve always run it through an Anker USB hub and it’s worked just fine. I figure this is just because they don’t want to be responsible for providing support/troubleshooting for some users’ flaky dock/hub.

So unless you’ve tried it, don’t assume that your USB-C dock won’t work when connected through the Studio Display.

Yeah, the Thunderbolt port is only for connecting to the laptop, and one of the USB-C ports necessarily has to go to the drive I have Time Machine on and, assuming it works, another would need to be for Ethernet. This means exactly one port left on the laptop (as now) and only one left for ‘everything else’ that I would normally have permanently or semi-permanently attached to the dock. A USB-C dock would answer that (I can use my SDXC dongle directly on the laptop, as that’s only very occasional).

That is a very good point. It says that is the case, but I could certainly try it out. Though if any type of device is going to have problems, I would think a dock would be high on the list. Still, if it does, then problem solved!

I think that sets my direction. Get the Studio Display and see if the dock works off it. If not, live the two cable lifestyle until I can figure out the appropriate Ethernet and USB-C hub to add to the remaining two ports.

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Also, just noting - there’s frequently a difference between plugging something into a USB hub and plugging it into a proper Thunderbolt dock, which is what the Studio Display presumably has.

USB hubs are much more fickle & flaky than the Thunderbolt docks, hence the warnings. :slight_smile: