It was only a half year ago that we were writing about Elgato’s original Thunderbolt Dock, a handsome little hub designed to connect a bundle of peripherals to any Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. Now Elgato’s back with the Thunderbolt 2 Dock ($230), a remixed version that looks mostly the same but adds throughput to accommodate Thunderbolt 2-equipped Macs and accessories. Still made from aluminum with a black plastic core, the Thunderbolt 2 Dock rearranges and enhances its predecessor’s ports, shipping with a power supply, 1.6-foot Thunderbolt cable, and either one U.S. or two European wall plugs, depending on where it’s purchased. Read on for our hands-on impressions.
Just like the original model, the Thunderbolt 2 Dock includes three USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, an audio input port, an audio out port, an Ethernet port and an HDMI port. You can tell the old and new units apart because of their order: the new model’s front-mounted mic and headphone ports are swapped relative to the original’s, and the rear Ethernet port has moved between the HDMI and power-in ports, pushing the USB and Thunderbolt ports further left. This time, the Thunderbolt 2 ports promise up to 20Gb/second, bi-directional input and output, the HDMI port supports 1.4b (4096×2160 resolution) HDCP output, and the USB 3.0 ports include standalone 1.5-Amp power output with USB Battery Charging 1.2/UASP standard compliance. The stereo headphone output is USB-based and Dock-amplified, with a monaural mic input beside it. Elgato notes that you need to download the company’s free Thunderbolt Dock Utility to enable simultaneous all-device ejection, high-speed USB support, and iPad charging on the Mac.
In hands-on testing of the Thunderbolt 2 Dock, we had no trouble squeezing full performance out of USB 3.0 accessories: with USB 3.0-compatible Macs, a G-Drive USB ran at identical (150MB/second) speeds going through the Dock’s Thunderbolt-out versus through the computer’s USB port, and on a Mac without USB 3.0 support, we still saw 150MB/second speeds when the Dock’s Thunderbolt output. By comparison, we noticed a slight drop in Thunderbolt throughput when testing a Thunderbolt Drive+ connected to the Dock versus a direct connection to a Mac: peak write speeds dropped from around 328MB/sec to 287MB/sec across multiple tests, though read speeds stayed identical at around 373MB/sec. It’s unclear whether this speed discrepancy will be remedied with a driver update, but it’s possible.
The major thing the Thunderbolt 2 Dock offers is convenience. Your ability to connect three USB peripherals, one Thunderbolt 2 peripheral, Ethernet, HDMI and audio cables to a hub and then make a single connection to a Thunderbolt 2-equipped Mac is great, although there will obviously be some compromise in speeds when all of those connections are sharing one pipeline to your Mac. With the Thunderbolt 2 Dock, that pipeline just happens to be bigger and faster than before, and the ports are as modern as they come; configuration is easy, the HDMI output works as expected, and the audio output over USB is clean. It’s a nice bonus that you…