Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Thunderbolt 2 docks roundup: The easy way to connect to your Mac laptop

Roman Loyola | May 26, 2015
The major change since I last did a roundup of Thunderbolt docks is that the latest docks use Thunderbolt 2, which makes them aligned with Apple's Thunderbolt 2 implementation in its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

The major change since I last did a roundup of Thunderbolt docks is that the latest docks use Thunderbolt 2, which makes them aligned with Apple's Thunderbolt 2 implementation in its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

The market has also grown a little, with a few more offerings to consider. But essentially, the basic functionality of the docks is the same as before: You plug in your display, hard drives, printer, ethernet, headphones, USB devices, and whatever else into the dock, then you connect the dock to your laptop via a single Thunderbolt 2 connection. When you want to take your laptop, you only need to unplug a single cable. When you return to your desk, all you have to do is connect one cable.

In this roundup, I tested seven docks that all use Thunderbolt 2. Some of the docks are quite similar in design, while others are vastly different. All of the docks require a power adapter. All of the manufacturers tout their dock's ability to support 4K monitors, though this is a function of Thunderbolt 2 and not necessarily a dock-specific feature.

I wasn't able to boot from a Yosemite install USB flash drive plugged into the USB port of any of these docks, even though the drive appeared as a bootable drive in System Preferences. You'll need to plug the boot drive directly into a port on your Mac laptop.

All the docks tallied similar results when I tested USB 3 drive performance. Using the Aja System Test and a VisionTek USB Pocket SSD, the docks had read speeds of about 330 MBps and write speeds of about 280 MBps on a mid-2014 15-inch 2.2GHz Core i7 Retina MacBook Pro. All the docks were tested with gigabit ethernet, headphones, and an Apple Thunderbolt Display connected to each dock. (For your reference, the read/write speeds of the VisionTek drive connected directly to the laptop's USB 3 port were 400.3/361.3 MBps.)

One final thing before diving into the products. I tested the docks with a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. A dock would be ideal for the new MacBook since it has the lone USB-C port, but there's currently no way to connect a MacBook to one of these docks--USB-C to Thunderbolt adapters don't exist. (Are they even feasible?) There's at least one MacBook dock in the works called the HydraDock, and there are probably more coming soon.

Top choices

CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2

At $235 with a 1-meter Thunderbolt cable ($200 without), the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 () is a pretty good deal. CalDigit didn't go with a long, brushed aluminum box design the other docks sport. Instead, the Thunderbolt Station 2 uses a handsome vertical standing "Titanium Grey" aluminum box (CalDigit provides rubber feet to let you rest the dock on its side).

 

1  2  3  4  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.