It’s been over a year since we last wrote about Belkin’s Thunderbolt Express Dock ($300), an accessory that had already delayed following its initial September 2011 (!) announcement. After plenty of changes, it has become a real product, so you can hit the order button on Belkin’s website to have one shipped your way. Just as originally promised, the finished unit adds a number of ports to your Mac, making it most attractive to users who need to use lots of peripherals.
The Thunderbolt Express Dock’s back now features a total of ten ports. From left to right, you have Ethernet, FireWire 800, two Thunderbolt ports, audio in and out, three USB 3.0 ports, and a power input. Gone is the HDMI port that was previously expected, and even today, the Dock doesn’t include the necessary Thunderbolt cable for connection to your Mac. Be ready to pony up $29 or $39 for that, too.
Updated: Having tested the Thunderbolt Express Dock for an extended period of time, the biggest comment we can make about it is that it works pretty much exactly as expected. Much like a multi-port USB hub, the most significant thing you hope for from a product like this is reliability, and in all of our testing with various Thunderbolt, USB, and FireWire devices, it achieves the basic goal of plugging a whole bunch of stuff into the back of a station and then connecting it to a Mac with one Thunderbolt cable. To the extent that the cable pokes through the front of the Dock, it makes sense for how the average person would use it, enabling most cables and the significant included power supply to dangle behind it.
From a performance standpoint, we were expecting to see hiccups—but didn’t during typical testing. While it is possible to saturate the data pipeline, and the USB 3.0 ports are limited to half the peak output of USB, most users connecting a large number of devices won’t be using them all at once or testing their speeds. Given the Thunderbolt Express Dock’s prolonged development period, ultra speed-conscious users may well seek out newer Thunderbolt 2-specific options; Belkin calls this “Thunderbolt 2 compatible,” but doesn’t promise faster speeds. Everyone else will be satisfied with this model’s solid performance, and at its now reduced MSRP of $200, less likely to have problems with the price.