Test driving Belkin’s Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD
A number of other Apple-related websites have announced the release of Elgato’s Thunderbolt 2 dock today; here at TUAW, we’ll be doing a full hands-on review of the Belkin Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD (US$299.99) as well as a giveaway of our review unit. If you use a Thunderbolt 2-equipped MacBook Pro with Retina Display, Mac Pro, or Mac mini, or you’re planning for a future with Thunderbolt 2, check out Belkin’s latest expansion dock.
- Ports: Gigabit Ethernet, headphone, headphone/microphone, 3x USB 3.0 SuperSpeed ports, 2x Thunderbolt 2 ports, HDMI port.
- Display support: Supports dual displays and 4K cinema resolution
Like its predecessor the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock, the Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD is made out of a shiny piece of aluminum designed to match the finish of your Mac and Thunderbolt Display. On the back of the device you’ll find most of the ports – Ethernet, headphone, two USB 3.0 ports, the two Thunderbolt 2 ports, the HDMI port and a power connection. On the front are two ports – USB 3.0 and a microphone/headphone port.
I found the placement of the USB 3.0 port on the front to be quite odd – why not make that a Thunderbolt 2 port, since many users would want to use the shortest possible cable connection between the side of a MacBook Pro with Retina display and the Express Dock.
While the dock does support dual displays and 4K displays, it can only handle a single 4K display at one time. If you’re running two displays, at least one of them has to be Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 compatible, while the other can connect via HDMI. If you have a Mini DisplayPort-compatible monitor, it can be plugged into a Thunderbolt 2 port … but you can only have one Mini DisplayPort monitor or an HDMI display, not both at the same time.
And one nice little feature to end of the design portion of this review – Belkin includes a 1M (3 foot) Thunderbolt cable with the dock.
I tested the Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD with a MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the CalDigit T4 RAID I reviewed yesterday, an external HDMI monitor, and a USB 3.0 hard disk drive.
The device is very much plug-and-play; you just plug things into the proper ports, and everything is taken care of. Some simple testing of file transfer speeds both to the CalDigit T4 and my external USB 3.0 drive showed absolutely no drop in throughput as the result of having the Express Dock HD “in the middle”.
Likewise, the external monitor came up immediately when connected to the HDMI port. There were no issues, even when unplugging the HDMI cable and plugging it back in shortly thereafter. It was just like plugging an HDMI cable right into the MacBook Pro.
The Ethernet port also worked with no extra driver required. When plugged into the Express Dock HD, the Ethernet port immediately showed up as another network adapter. If you’re going to use the Express Dock HD Ethernet adapter as your primary method of connectivity, it’s useful to move it to the top of the “service order” by going to System Preferences > Network and selecting “Set Service Order” from the pop-up menu found below the list of network services.
The testing was done with the MacBook Pro running OS X 10.10 Yosemite; the device will also work with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, but 4K resolution monitors aren’t supported with the older OS.
The Belkin Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD is a well-designed unit that’s perfect for anyone who needs to connect a Mac with a variety of peripherals with a single Thunderbolt cable. However, the price of the Belkin unit is $70 higher than the almost-identical Elgato dock introduced today, which makes the Elgato product immediately more attractive to potential buyers.
Rating: 3 stars out of 4 stars possible
Now, let’s give a TUAW reader the opportunity for connectivity! Belkin and TUAW are giving away a Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD. 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 December 6, 2014 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
- You may enter only once.
- One winner will be selected in a random drawing and will receive a Belkin Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD valued at $299.99