It's a great time to be the owner of a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac! A number of manufacturers have released Thunderbolt-based docks that make it possible for you to plug in one thin cable and have access to a world of ports. The latest company to jump on Thunderbolt is Elgato, with the US$229.95 Thunderbolt Dock.
Dimensions: 7 x 3.2 x 1 inch (17.8 x 8 x 2.5 cm)
Weight: 9 oz (260g)
Two Thunderbolt ports (10 Gb/s, bi-directional Input/Output)
HDMI 1.4 Output (up to 2560x1600 pixels resolution, HDCP compliant)
RJ45 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet
Three USB 3.0 ports (5 Gb/s, support for bus-powered devices, UASP & USB 2.0 compatible)
3.5mm Audio Output (analog stereo, via built-in DAC)
3.5mm Microphone Input (mono, via built-in DAC)
Power Input (DC 12V 5A)
If you're one of those "a place for everything and everything in its place" OCD types, then you're going to love the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock. The back of the dock has widely-spaced and neatly arranged ports. From left to right as you look at the back of the device (see image at the top of this post), there's a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, a pair of Thunderbolt ports, an HDMI port, the Gigabit Ethernet port, and a place to plug in the power cable.
The front is clean, with a minimum of ports -- just one SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm stereo output jack and a 3.5mm mic input jack. While the front and back are black matte plastic, the rest of the dock is encased in a matte finish aluminum that matches the finish of your Mac ... except for that Mac Pro you just bought. No problem, you'll want a Thunderbolt 2 dock for it anyway.
There are four rubber feet on the bottom to ensure that the dock stays in place regardless of how recalcitrant cables might want to move it around. Elgato provides a Thunderbolt cable to connect your dock to your Mac; surprisingly, not every dock manufacturer does this. Elgato says that a $199 MSRP version of the dock will be available without a cable for those who have already have one.
The entire dock is light and compact enough to take with you if you need extra ports on the road. Sadly, the power supply for the dock weighs 13 ounces (with cord) and is almost as large as the dock. I honestly wish manufacturers would put a little more thought and effort into design of the power supplies. You'll want to use the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock as intended -- in one place, like your office desk.
There's not a lot you can say about the functionality of a dock other than how easy it is to set up and whether or not the ports do their job. As you'd expect with a Thunderbolt peripheral, the dock is entirely plug and play with no drivers required. I connected the dock to a MacBook Pro with Retina display, then drove an HDMI-based monitor from it along with a handful of USB 2.0 and 3.0 bus-powered drives I own. Everything came up as expected, and although I did not perform benchmarks, it appeared that those drives were communicating at full speed.
The Gigabit Ethernet adapter became visible on the Mac once I plugged in the dock, and I was able to connect the MacBook Pro to a Gigabit switch successfully.
Price-wise, the Elgato offering is towards the lower end of the pack. Other devices we've tested include the $199 CalDigit Thunderbolt Station, the $299 Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock (available online for less than $199), and the $249 Matrox DS1. All offer similar functionality, although not all include one of the pricy Thunderbolt cables.
Elgato has created a solid, functional, and good-looking Thunderbolt Dock for use with your favorite MacBook or other Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. While it has no special features to set it apart from the other offerings on the market, its pricing and inclusion of a Thunderbolt cable put it solidly towards the top of my list in this category.
Rating: 3-1/2 stars out of 4 stars possible
So, do you have a Thunderbolt-equipped MacBook Pro or Air that needs a dock companion? That's great if you do, because we're giving away one Elgato Thunderbolt Dock. Here are the rules for the giveaway:
Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
The entry must be made before April 15, 2014 11:59PM Eastern Daylight Time.
You may enter only once.
One winner will be selected and will receive an Elgato Thunderbolt Dock valued at US$229.95