Computers / Hands-on Review

The StarTech.com Thunderbolt Docking Station for MacBook and Ultrabooks™ Users

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MacBook users have always looked for ways to maximize their ports. The standard dual USB 3.0 ports were nice, but quickly used. When Thunderbolt ports became a standard on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro line, the excitement was palpable—until consumers readily used that port for high-speed access to external drives, displays, and more. Since MacBooks are traditionally not user-serviceable, the only other option was a laptop dock, which had the caveat of being unwieldy (and in some cases aesthetically displeasing). But StarTech.com says, let them eat Thunderbolt cake, and provides a solution that favors your designer’s eye and Mac-user’s sensibility.

"...giving you a number of extra ports, freeing up the ports on your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air."

The StarTech.com Thunderbolt Docking Station lets you add functionality to any Thunderbolt-equipped device by giving you a number of extra ports, freeing up the ports on your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air (or any other Thunderbolt-enabled system). It contains three USB 3.0 ports (backwards compatible to USB 2.0/1.1), two Thunderbolt ports (one to connect to your laptop and another to connect to a Thunderbolt-enabled device), two 3.5mm female mini-jacks, one Ethernet port and one HDMI (19 pin) female port.

These added ports will let you expand your Thunderbolt-enabled MacBook, MacBook Air, or Ultrabook and open up a flexible buffet of connections using a single Thunderbolt cable (which is included in the purchase of this dock). In the scenario in which you are using a Mac Book Air, you now have five USB 3.0 ports (three on the dock and two on the MacBook Air), an HDMI port for dual-monitor displays, and extra mini jacks for professional audio hookups. It also works with Thunderbolt 2-equipped MacBooks and Thunderbolt 2 devices (although you will only get 10GB/s speed, and not the 20GB/s that Thunderbolt 2 affords). Basically, this works almost the same as a port hub for PC users, but with the added functionality of HDMI and an extra Thunderbolt pass-through. Mac users know that Apple makes no docking device, so they will appreciate the added ports on this station.

A word on the dual-display functionality: When using a single display, the dock lets you connect one HDMI monitor (with resolution up to 1920 x 1080), DisplayPort, or Thunderbolt monitor (with display resolution up to 2560 x 1440). But if you use a monitor with a mini DisplayPort connector, only a single display will be allowed, since the HDMI output will be automatically disabled. For dual displays, connect one HDMI and one Thunderbolt monitor, and you’re good to go.

Other options to consider: Adding this dock (which can be positioned horizontally or vertically) will free up valuable workspace and you can daisy-chain multiple devices (up to six, both Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2) for maximum productivity. If somewhere in your current Thunderbolt chain you have room for an extra three USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI output, consider this dock from StarTech.com. The device is also extremely simple to set up—attach it to the stand with the two screws provided (it just looks better vertical, but that’s our opinion) and then connect it to your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro (or any other Thunderbolt-enabled device), and you’re good to go. No drivers, no additional setup, just plug-and-play.

As more and more Thunderbolt and USB 3.0-enabled devices make their way to market, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air users will soon feel the pinch of having too few ports. This dock will help to alleviate some of that anxiety, and add much more productivity to your system.

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