Elgato_Dock_Device_Perspektive

There are Mac accessories that are exciting or fun, and others that are boring but useful. The Elgato Thunderbolt Dock most definitely falls into the latter category.

As regular readers will know, I’m of the view that wires are evil. Anything that can be wireless should be wireless, and any wires that are unavoidable should be hidden from sight. This is particularly easy if you have an Apple Thunderbolt Display, of course, since all you need in the way of wires from a MacBook is power and Thunderbolt: everything else can be plugged into the back of the monitor.

But if you share my aversion to visible wires and don’t have a Thunderbolt display, or you are frequently connecting and disconnecting your MacBook from a bunch of devices on your desk, the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock may be the answer …

Overview

The concept is simple: you run a single Thunderbolt cable from your MacBook to the dock, and everything else plugs into the dock. Place the dock at the back of your desk, and you can then run the cables out of sight. Leave the office, and all you need do is unplug two cables: power and Thunderbolt. Everything else remains permanently connected to the dock.

You could even do what I’ve done with my desk, and drill a hole for the Thunderbolt and power cables, and run the cables beneath your desk to the dock (or Thunderbolt Display, in my case).

05-thunder

Exterior

The first thing to say about the dock is that it looks the part. With an anodised aluminum surround wrapping around a matte black ABS plastic shell, it’s an excellent aesthetic match for a Mac, and could easily pass for something made by Apple.

thunderboltdock-1

Elgato has clearly tried to balance minimalist looks with practicality. Instead of a featureless front, there are headphone and microphone sockets, and a single USB 3 port.

Ports

The rear of the dock has two Thunderbolt sockets, two more USB 3 ports, an HDMI port and a gigabyte Ethernet port. It’s a powered dock, so the socket for the supplied 12V power pack rounds things off.

thunderboltdock-2

Although there are two Thunderbolt ports, only one is usable: the other is needed to connect the dock to your Mac.

In use

The dock couldn’t be simpler to use: hook up your devices once, leave them connected and then just disconnect the Thunderbolt cable from your Mac when you leave your desk.  If you have external drives connected, remember to eject these beforehand – other than that, it just works.

I’m not keen on the headphone socket being on the front. While that may be convenient for headphones, it’s no big deal to plug those into the Mac given that you’re probably going to take them with you anyway. The far more useful function would be to connect wired speakers, and there I’d want the port on the rear.

The front USB port, on the other hand, is convenient when you just want to temporarily connect something like a camera. I keep USB flyleads in the monitor slot beneath my desk – one each for Apple, mini-USB and micro-USB – for any devices that need to be connected occasionally, and the front port here could be used in the same way.

As a powered dock, all three USB ports provide enough power to charge an iPad.

The main limitation is the number of ports. Using the front port permanently defeats the object of minimising cable clutter, so that means you’re down to just two USB ports. If you have a simple desk setup, this may be enough, but otherwise you’re going to end up connecting a separate powered USB hub into one of the ports.

thunderboltdock-3

Price & conclusions

So, yeah, price. Thunderbolt accessories are expensive. Elgato accessories are expensive. Combine the two, and you know this isn’t going to be a cheap device. It will cost you a cool $229.95, in fact. You do get a Thunderbolt cable with that, so you’re up-and-running right away, but it’s a lot of money for a cable-management device.

It’s essentially the same price as the near-identical $199.95 Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock once you take into account that Belkin doesn’t include a Thunderbolt cable.

Is it worth it? Only you can decide. I’m OCD enough to have commissioned a custom-made desk whose primary function is to hide cables, so I place a high value on a clutter-free environment. While the few seconds it takes to unplug USB and speaker cables isn’t the strongest argument for spending over two hundred bucks, I do have to say it’s one of those trivial daily irritations I was pleased to leave behind. If I didn’t have my cable-free desk, I’d probably go for it.

The Elgato Thunderbolt Dock is available for $229.95 from retail Apple Stores, Elgato and Amazon.

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28 Responses to “Mini review: Elgato Thunderbolt Dock”

  1. Make the price 149.95 and it would be pretty darn exciting.

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    • crichton007 says:

      Heck, I’d have to wait for an even lower price. I don’t need one at home and I know I’d get a fair amount of scrutiny for a $150 purchase at work. If it was sub-$100 I could get one without a second thought. If high prices continue for useful Thunderbolt accessories like this then whatever comes next from USB will be likely to “win” just like Firewire vs. USB went.

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  2. Can you connect a mini-DP-Display and a HDMI-Display at the same time to the dock? I have an Dell monitor with mini-DP hooked up to my macbook and i’m thinking about buying this thunderbolt dock and connect the Dell monitor and my TV to the dock. Is that possible? I’ve heard that it is not possible, you can connect just one display at once to the dock (doesn’t matter whether it is dp or hdmi). Can you try it?

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  3. zoidbert says:

    Something of a hijack: you know why I look forward to a new workweek starting? Because there’s a new Tuesday every week, and thus a new opportunity for Apple to release an updated Thunderbolt Display with multiple USB3 and Thunderbolt ports. #theysayImadreamer

    (Day 949 since last update to Thunderbolt Display)

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  4. zoidbert says:

    On the subject; to be really useful, any desktop dock like this needs to blow the additional ports number out of the water. Why only 3 USB ports? There should be five on the back and two on the front.

    Are we ever going to see any true Thunderbolt hubs? Any device without at least 3 Thunderbolt ports on it is really just a pass-thru, regardless of the addition of HDMI, Ethernet, USB, etc. Is there a technical reason there’s not, say, 4 Thunderbolt ports total on this (other than cost)?

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    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I’m pretty sure there would be no way that could work – Thunderbolt can only daisy-chain devices together in series.

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      • zoidbert says:

        Ah, true. I keep thinking my MBP(r) has two ports, and so do the various new iMacs, but they’re hosts, not hubs.

        So that means the next Thunderbolt Display (if there ever is one; see my other post) could only have a single Thunderbolt port as it itself would be a part of the chain, correct?

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    • ikir says:

      Professional or advanced user need FireWire, eSata, Thunderbolt no USB.
      Usually 2-3 USB is more than enough since you can use the Mac ones too: to just plug a USB key o a joypad you can use Mac ports, you will unplug them after you have finished.

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  5. rafterman11 says:

    I havwe the Be

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  6. rafterman11 says:

    I have the Belkin one and though it was heli-expensive, it IS sure damn useful. One TB connection, one AC power connect, and I have (with the help of a second USB 3 hub connected to the Belkin) a dozen various, high speed connects available.

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  7. Can I use it as a monitor AND use a second monitor attached to the TB out? or does using it as a monitor stop the other from working?

    I’d really like to have 3 monitors from my MBP and there haven’t been any good, non usb, solutions for this yet, for those of us w/o thunderbolt displays.

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  8. ricardogomez297167426 says:

    Good review. I am looking for a Mac hub and I wish manufacturers wouldn’t go half-way for possibly appealing to the widest audience. Yes, let’s put all the ports in back. I see the convenience. Especially the USB port. But audio should definitely be in back. I think most people use the audio out to connect a speaker system. Not headphones. And hey, how about Thunderbolt 2? And have two USEABLE ones.

    I’d probably take this one over the Belkin….

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  9. Even at $100 this is priced way too high. They are crazy if they think $230 is a fair asking price.

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  10. ikir says:

    Nice dock, but still loves the Belkin ones!

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  11. What you’ve missed is that those who have Thunderbolt but not USB3 (my 2011 MBP) and those who have only a single audio jack (newer MBPs) gain an additional capability, so it is more than just a passthrough device for many.

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  12. Apart from the box this looks identical to to Caldigit hub in layout (and internals?).
    Personally I’ve got – and am happy with – the Belkin because it has Firewire which allows me to daisy chain my legacy storage without ‘wasting’ a Thunderbolt port.
    The only other Thunderbolt hub I’d consider because of that requirement is the new Akitio Thunder Dock which has Firewire & 2 eSATA ports but only 2 USB3 ports & no ethernet

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  13. I’d like to see an official response from the vendors, Elgato and Belkin (as well as any others), as to why Thunderbolt peripherals are so expensive. Is it licensing? Is it the cost of the Thunderbolt chipset? Because this trend of >$200 Thunderbolt peripherals is hurting both the small vendors trying to jumpstart this peripherals market, as well as the technology in general for Apple/Intel. FireWire suffered a similar auspicious start (with one same player, Apple) so I’m seriously wondering. No one I know is jumping for Thunderbolt; though everyone seems to LIKE the idea. The docks are too expensive, and the price on Apple’s Thunderbolt monitor is INSANE…haven’t sold one.
    This tech is great, it deserves better than being knifed as a baby by ridiculous licensing/implementation fees. And I think the purchasing public (or at least the INTERESTED in purchasing public) deserves to get a straight answer on what path Thunderbolt is on. Is it really going to be worth it to invest in this tech and the computers/peripherals that implement it if the big players can’t get out of their own way…again?

    Like

    • +1
      Ive just decided to sell my 2011 for a 2012 and pay the extra $500 ish because I had thunderbolt on it for 2 years and never once used it for anything but an external monitor. Sure its a bit more than a thunder hub costs but I also dont need to carry it with me just to get reasonable transfer speeds, especially from my internal ssd. Apple just drop support for things with no notice whatsoever now a days so they can bite me with their thunderous prices for a ‘feature’ that has so little 3rd party support and uncertain future. Usb3 has it all, speed, almost as fast as thunderbolt 1, backwards compatible with usb2, cheap after market stuff and WILL be around well into the future.

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  14. johnpford says:

    Can the Thunderbolt port drive a monitor from the dock? That seems to be always skipped in the reviews.

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  15. johnpford says:

    I personally would love to see a deep dive as to what the differences are between USB and Thunderbolt. For example, I remember the early day arguments of USB vs Firewire, that usb was cheaper as it asked the CPU to do a lot of the heavy lifting where Firewire had it’s own dedicated chipset that offloaded that work. Is the same still true? Somehow I doubt it, but I still would love to see a deeper dive then I plugged a drive into the usb port and did a I/O test, then plugged same drive into the Thunderbolt port. Sure I/O’s are important but so are computer cycles, etc.

    And I agree with so many people on here that price is a deterrent as it stands. If the price were even remotely close I would jump to it in a heartbeat. Also I can’t wait for these docks to get even better, and for them to be cross platform. We have some Dell XPS’s that need some dock love too!

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  16. Jan Raets says:

    Has anyone tried this in Bootcamp / Windows? Will it allow for 2 thunderbolt screens in windows?

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