Thunderbolt is one of those tech innovations with a lot of promise, but not much felt effect for the average user. Thunderbolt docks can change that, and the new Elgato Thunderbolt 2 dock promises a much more complete upgrade vs. the Thunderbolt docks of years past. With USB charging, 4K output via the HDMI port, both audio out and microphone in ports, plus three USB 3.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet connector, it’s a way to make use of those Thunderbolts on your MacBook for something practical.
- 3x USB 3.0, 2x Thunderbolt 2, 1 HDMI, 1 GIgabit Ethernet, 1 3.5mm audio in, 1 3.5mm audio out
- Aluminum outer shell
- Includes software to eject all connected drives
- Bundled with Thunderbolt cable
- MSRP: $229.95
- Product info page
- Small physical footprint
- Cheaper than competitors
- Still expensive
The design of the Elgato Thunderbolt 2 Dock may be its most appealing feature, since it matches well with virtually any device in Apple’s line-up of personal computers, and it also takes up relatively little space compared to previous generations and competitors like the Belkin Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD.
The single front-facing USB 3.0 port and 3.5mm input and output (with the out providing amplified signal) is well-placed and easily reached, but I’d be happier if Elgato and anyone else making these docks would just put all the USB inputs up front, even if that is less aesthetically pleasing. I understand that for many, having more permanent solutions in back for stuff that isn’t swapped out that often makes more sense, however.
Other aspects of the design are mostly unexciting, and with a device like this, that’s more of a complement than anything else. A dock should almost be part of the furniture, and the Elgato’s understated Mac hardware camouflage gets things more or less exactly right.
In terms of performance, there’s a lot to recommend this solution. The 1.5A of power supplied to each USB port is enough to make sure your iPhone or iPad can charge when connected, and the HDMI supports 4K resolution in case you happen to be lucky enough to have a great display to use with your Mac.
The USB 3 ports also provide improved speeds, which means that USB 3.0 hardware will transfer files quickly, and the audio out does appear to have some effect on making sound a bit more deep and rich, though don’t expect this to replicate the function of dedicated USB audio amps. The Gigabit Ethernet port also does its job admirably, giving your MacBook a wired connection when you get it home and plug-in to the stationary office after a spell on the road.
The companion software available via download from Elagto’s support site is also a nice touch: It can eject all connected storage drives with a single click form eh menu bar, which is something that OS X should probably offer as a built-in option. Kudos to Elgato for including it, however, as well as bundling in an actual Thunderbolt 2 cable, since having to buy a spare for $50 was always a kick in the pants with the original versions of these Thunderbolt hubs.
Elgato has delivered a solid, basic accessory that benefits just about any Mac owner, and they’ve done it at around $70 less than the competition in the form of the Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock from Belkin. The upcoming OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock adds two more USB 3.0 ports, and a FireWire 800 port for just $20 more, so it might be worth waiting for that if you have legacy hardware or more connectivity needs, but the Elgato at $229 is the best, most affordable option right now, and it should fit the needs of most.