As I’ve said before, Thunderbolt 2 docks are a really great idea for MacBook users. Before now, there were three major options: Belkin’s $300 Thunderbolt 2 Express HD DockElgato’s $220 Thunderbolt 2 Dock (review), and CalDigit’s $226 Thunderbolt Station 2 (review). All three are designed for the same purpose — to connect a bunch of peripherals (including hard drives, a monitor, and audio cables) to your Mac with one Thunderbolt 2 cable — and they all have the same core peripheral ports, with small differences to set them apart from one another.

This month, Kanex is entering the fray with the Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock ($250), which looks a lot like Belkin’s dock but is closer in price to Elgato’s and CalDigit’s. Aluminum on the top and bottom with a black plastic core, it has a front-mounted USB 3.0 port with two more on the back, and comes bundled with a power adapter and 3.3-foot Thunderbolt cable. While it doesn’t stand out in any major way from its earlier rivals, it’s competently executed and attractively designed, with some modest feature tweaks that prospective buyers should know about…

Key Details:

  • Aluminum and plastic design matches look of MacBooks
  • Eight total ports plus wall power input for computer-free charging
  • Includes Thunderbolt cable, normally sold for around $40
  • Highly similar performance to earlier rivals
  • Single audio port

 

thunderbolt2expressdock-6

The Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock is roughly the same size as Belkin’s and Elgato’s docks, measuring 7.5″ wide by 3.5″ deep by 1.1″ tall. From the side, it looks like an extruded black pill with thick aluminum cladding on the top and bottom, plus four rubber feet to reduce slipping on a desk. Even though it’s technically a peripheral hub, a category known in the USB world for race-to-the-bottom pricing and sometimes quality, Kanex went out of its way to make its Thunderbolt dock feel substantial. Despite the light exterior materials, it has the sort of internal heft that you appreciate when you’re plugging and unplugging things on a desk, and doesn’t feel cheap in any way.

thunderbolt2expressdock-5

Functionally, Kanex’s dock is so similar to earlier competitors that it’s tempting to only focus on the differences. The Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock includes twin Thunderbolt 2 ports — one to connect to your Mac, the other to a monitor, hard drive, or other I/O accessory — plus one 2K/4K-ready HDMI port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, one 3.5mm microphone and headset port, a power-in port, and the three aforementioned USB 3.0 ports, one of which is on the front.

thunderbolt2expressdock-3

But there are a couple of differences. Most other Thunderbolt 2 docks have separate audio-out and audio-in ports, and some have an amplified audio output, but Kanex offers only one port: a standard headphone output that can switch to a microphone input as needed. Like Elgato and CalDigit, but unlike Belkin, Kanex continuously supplies power to the front USB 3.0 port, enabling it to recharge devices even when a computer’s not connected or powered off. However, the port promises only 1.5-Amp output, like its other rivals. That’s enough for full-speed iPhone recharging, but slower than the peak 2.1/2.4-Amp charging supported by iPads.

thunderbolt2expressdock-1

From a data throughput performance standpoint, there were no surprises when I tested the Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock. Like the other docks I’ve tested, I saw peak Thunderbolt 2 write and read speeds of 260 to 375MB/second, respectively, the former below the top 325MB/second write speeds I’ve seen with a directly-connected drive. The USB 3 drives I tested were the same when connected to the Express Dock as with a direct connection, running at around 105MB/second. I had no issues with HDMI output, audio, or device recharging during testing; everything worked as expected.

Most of the time, the inclusion of a cable isn’t a big deal, but Thunderbolt cables are still extremely expensive — the reason CalDigit sells a cable-less version of its dock at a $40 discount. The cable Kanex includes with the Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock normally sells for $37 on its own, helping to explain the unit’s $250 asking price.

thunderbolt2expressdock-4

If you’re considering the purchase of a Thunderbolt 2 dock, the choice between Kanex’sBelkin’s, Elgato’s and CalDigit’s options might seem complicated, but it’s not. Assuming you’ll want a Thunderbolt cable in the package, Elgato’s $220 Thunderbolt 2 Dock just barely edges the other options out on pricing to performance, while CalDigit’s $226 Thunderbolt Station 2 can be had for $186 if you don’t need the cable. Both offer better audio capabilities than Kanex’s dock, and CalDigit’s upright, all-metal design with twin eSATA ports may appeal more to professional users. Why should someone choose Kanex’s Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock instead? If it goes on sale and the extra audio features aren’t important to you, it’s a good choice. But at $250, it’s a middle-of-the-pack option in pricing that doesn’t stand out much in performance.

Manufacturer: Kanex MSRP: $250 Compatibility: All Macs With Thunderbolt 2 Port

About the Author