I’ve been editing from home lately, and using my 2012 MacBook Pro as my main editing computer. I had to abandon my 2008 MacPro tower as it’s really showing it’s age. It’s getting finicky with random crashes, the AJA card in it is finally giving up the ghost (8 solid years with that baby!) and it’s just plain slow compared to my 2012 MacBook Pro.
The thing is, my MBP doesn’t have that many external ports on it. Sure, it has a LOT more than a MacBook Air, but when it comes to all the things I need connected to it when editing…it falls short. For the record, it has:
(1) Ethernet port
(1) Firewire 800 port
(1) Thunderbolt port
(2) USB 3 ports
(1) SD CARD slot
(1) Audio In
(1) Audio Out
The Ethernet port I use on occasion to network with the tower, to transfer files. Or to connect to my control surface for color correction. Firewire 800…obviously for a FW800 drive, of which I have a dozen or so. Thunderbolt…that’s the busiest one. For I need that to connect to an IO device, the AJA IoXT that’s connected to an FSI professional color monitor, and also loop to a computer display. And then because my laptop monitor is too small to hold all the bins I need open, I use one of the USB ports for a USB to DVI adapter. And because editing/rendering/compressing causes a lot of heat on my laptop, the other USB is taken by a cooling pad. And then the audio out goes to the mixer and speakers.
Now I’m out of ports, but I need more. I need more USB for thumb drives to connect to, for backing up projects, or bringing over files from other people (fonts, pictures, etc), I need one for the keyboard and mouse, as I don’t use the laptop for that…it’s off to the side, I need one for other USB drives I have, like the RAMPANT drive I grab elements from time to time. Occasionally I attach other firewire drives, and yes, you can loop through…daisy chain…to some other drives, but it’s nice having other connections.
So I need a hub. But I want to future-proof myself so I want a major hub. Not just USB ports…but in the future I will get a new computer, as my 2012 laptop might not last long for editing either. And none of the newer models have Firewire 800. I might also want eSATA ports, as my tower has those, and I have many drives with that fast connection, but no new computers have them. So, I could either get Firewire to Thunderbolt adapters, and eSATA to Thunderbolt adapters, Ethernet to Thunderbolt (for connecting to network RAIDS), and USB hubs, or one unit that solves all my needs.
So I have been looking at Thunderbolt docks. These connect to the computer via Thunderbolt, and with that one connection, offer many connections on the other end. Multiple USB3, Firewire 800, eSATA, Ethernet, and audio ports…with Thunderbolt loop through. The ones I tested are from Otherworld Computing, CalDigit and AkiTio…all offer different options.
Let’s do this in alphabetical order…
AKITIO THUNDERDOCK 2
The Akitio Thunderdock 2 is a nice small box. It’s about the size of a small USB drive, so it has a very small footprint.
And this box sports a lot of connections…two Thunderbolt ports for loop through (very important)…two bus powered USB 3 ports (backwards compatible with USB 2 and USB 1), two eSATA ports (up to 6Gbps), and one FW800 port.
There’s no Ethernet port, but I know many people won’t need this….if you do, other options sport this. But this is the only device of all of them that has both FW800 and eSATA…so that alone makes it useful. The bus powered USB ports get their power from the box, not the computer. So even when your computer isn’t connected to the unit, the USB ports supply power…great for things like charging your cel phone, or keeping your astronaut light lit.
This unit requires power, therefore it needs to be plugged in….just like every model I tested. But this is fine with me…this is how it can offers bus powered USB ports.
How fast are the connections? Glad asked…first, a baseline. The drive attached is a CalDigit VR, the two drives raided as RAID 0, for speed. Here are the speeds of firewire directly connected to the computer. Around 75MBps read and between 70 MBps and 80 MBps write
Now the FW800 port on the AkiTio offers 66 MBps write/80 MBps read…so, comparable.
Now, my laptop doesn’t have eSATA, but my MacPro does…so I’m going to use it as a baseline. It has a CalDigit eSATA card in it. The speeds I get between it and the Caldigit VR are about 111MBps write and 125Mbps read:
The eSATA on the AkiTio? Would you believe it’s FASTER? Well, it is. Between 155-162 MBps write and 164MBps read. Impressive.
In short, the AkiTio is small, sports many connections, and has connections that are as fast, if not faster than direct to computer connections. The only issue I found was that the box ran a little hot. No, you can’t fry an egg on it, but I wouldn’t rest my hand on it for too long. Not hot…but more than warm. But after two weeks of use 10 hours a day, it didn’t seem to be an issue. Great little box. It retails for $245.99 and ships with a Thunderbolt cable.
CALDIGIT Thunderbolt Station 2
A friend of mine has this unit, and swears by it. He has a MacMini that also is running short of connections, and this has served him well. And in my 2 week trial with it, it worked great for me too.
This unit also offers a small footprint, and sits nicely behind or next to my computer.
And this one offers a different set of connections. Two Thunderbolt ports (allowing loopthrough), and 4K HDMI port, three USB 3 ports (two in the back and one in the front that is bus powered), two eSATA ports, an Ethernet port, and audio IN and OUT ports.
The HDMI is 4K at 30Hz, so it can send out an image to a 4K computer display or 4K TV. So you can send a signal out to a computer monitor via HDMI, or Thunderbolt (some monitors still needing a TB to DVI adapter). Now, one thing that this unit CAN offer over any other, is dual display monitoring from a single Thunderbolt connection. Meaning the one Thunderbolt out from your computer, can then be split to the HDMI out and Thunderbolt outs. But ONLY if your monitors connected via Thunderbolt are Thunderbolt native connections…like Apple’s monitors or LG’s TBT display. I was unable to test this feature, as I didn’t have one of those monitors.
The eSATA connection speed is comparable to the AkiTio…156MBps Write 165MBps Read. Again, faster than my MacPro offered.
Very useful to have that, as I have more than a couple drives with eSATA, and with high data rate formats, and the need to edit native formats, speed is good.
Another great box with many useful connections. It gets a little warm, but not bad. The case dissipates the heat well. It also has an AC adapter and is required to be plugged in to work, but again, that’s how you get power out to USB 3 ports. And the dual monitors via one Thunderbolt connection is a nice feature. But again, they need to be specific monitors. It retails for $199, and doesn’t ship with a Thunderbolt cable.
OtherWorld Computing (MacSales) Thunderbolt 2 Dock:
This unit is the biggest of the bunch, but it also sports more connections. And it still fits behind my computer nicely:
OK…this unit has two Thunderbolt ports (again, loopthrough), FIVE bus powered USB 3 connections, one Firewire 800 port, one HDMI 4K port, one Ethernet port, and Audio In and Out.
Where the AkiTio has both FW800 and eSATA…and the Caldigit has eSATA but no FW800…this unit has FW800, but no eSATA. Which is fine for many, as many people might not have eSATA, but need the FW800 connections, as all new Mac computers lack this connection. And we all have lots of FW800 drives that still function, and we still need to connect them to the computer.
The speeds of the FW800 connection are pretty much identical to what I get with the AkiTio box. 67MBps write, 80MBps read.
And like the CalDigit unit, this one also allows for display splitting, with the same restrictions. The monitor connected to the Thunderbolt port must be a Thunderbolt monitor.
This is my favorite unit in the bunch. Mainly because of all the USB ports (five of them) and the FW800 connections. In fact, the two ports on the side are “super-charged,” meaning they have extra power fed through them for fast charging of your tablet or mobile phone. I have a lot of things I need to connect via USB…a USB to DVI adapter (on the computer), a fan (on the computer) and then keyboard, Rampant drive, thumb drive, dongle for Resolve, Time Machine drive, or other transfer drive…all on the OWC unit. And when I do eventually upgrade, I’ll need the FW800 and Ethernet connections as I have lots of FW800 drives, and a color control surface.
And it runs pretty cool…about the same temp as the CalDigit unit. And like the rest, it also requires AC power. It retails for $229, and ships with a Thunderbolt cable.
These are not the only Thunderbolt docks on the market…these are just the ones I tested. There are also ones by Belkin, Elgato, and one by Sonnet that also has a BluRay drive for authoring BluRay disks.
The CalDigit and AkiTio review units were returned. I did retain the OWC unit as my expansion unit of choice.