Now that the entire Mac line has been blessed with Thunderbolt (or in some cases, Thunderbolt 2) ports, more manufacturers are beginning to make accessories that allow a single port to perform many duties. That's the case with CalDigit's Thunderbolt Station (US$199), a compact docking station that gives Mac users a hand when it comes to getting connected to peripherals and the world.
- Dimensions: 6.85" long x 3.15" wide x 1.02" high (17.4cm x 8cm x 2.6cm)
- Weight: 0.4 kg / 0.88 lbs.
- Power: AC Power Adapter Full range, Output is DC 12V, 5A Max
- Interfaces: 2 x Thunderbolt, 3 x USB 3.0 (1x Front), 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x HDMI Out, 1 x Headphone Out, 1 x Microphone In
- Case Material: Aluminum
- Amazon Buyer Ratings: 4 stars out of 5, 16 customer reviews
Probably the most notable differences between this and the original Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock are that the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station includes a HDMI port, provides UASP and Bus Power support, and also supports USB charging. CalDigit's offering also has an MSRP that's $100 less.
During my testing, I connected the Thunderbolt Station to a MacBook Pro with Retina display, an external HDMI monitor, an USB 2.0 external hard drive, an iPad mini (through a USB to Lightning cable), and a set of headphones. In addition, I used the Thunderbolt Station's Gigabit Ethernet port to connect the MacBook Pro to the network.
This is truly a plug-and-play solution, as there was no configuration required, no drivers installed, anything. It just worked, and worked quite well. The Ethernet connection once again made me wonder why I don't have my office wired for Ethernet, and the iPad mini charged right up as it should have. The bus-powered USB 2.0 drive? Started right up. Note that the no-driver installation is only for OS X Mavericks users; if you are using an older version of OS X, there is a driver to install to enable the Ethernet port.
Size-wise, the Thunderbolt Stations is just small enough to be portable, if you don't mind lugging another pound of weight in your computer bag. But it's meant as a desktop "dock" to allow for easy external expansion of your MacBook, and that's where it really excels. I appreciated the placement of the headphone, microphone and one of the USB ports on the front of the device, as they're always at your fingertips.
My two "complaints" are really quite minor. First -- and realize that this is a pet peeve of mine -- I dislike generic power bricks. I'd gladly pay $50 more for a dock that had a built-in power supply, and with some of the advances being made in switching power supplies, it could probably be built in without increasing the size or weight of the Thunderbolt Station drastically. I mean, seriously, look at the size of the brick in one of the gallery photos... Second, I heard a high-pitched sound that could be a bit distracting. Unplugging the Thunderbolt cable eliminated the sound, but that also kills the functionality of the device.
I honestly can't think of any reason not to purchase the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station rather than one of the other two options listed above. Those who are still tied to DVI monitors might want the Matrox DS1/DVI, but for the rest of us, this dock is just as powerful and less expensive.
Rating: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4 stars possible)