- Plenty of port options
- USB 3.0 upgrade for older notebooks
Requires A/C adapter
- No Ethernet or HDMI
Akitio has expanded its line of Thunderbolt accessories with its new Thunder dock. With eSATA, FireWire 800, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt pass-through, the new accessory aims to provide a sensible set of additional ports for most MacBooks manufactured in the past three years.
We've seen many MacBook-focused accessories that generally mimic the notebooks' industrial design, and the Akitio Thunder is one of the most fitting examples. Its aluminum construction, matte bead-blasted finish and gentle contours appear to perfectly match the design aesthetic of most MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs. This may not matter to some buyers, but it certainly looks natural sitting on a desk next to any Apple devices.
Construction seems to be robust but not overdone. The dock is a bit larger than some external hard drives, but this shouldn't matter when used as a desk accessory rather than another device to throw in a messenger bag.
The Thunder integrates two Thunderbolt ports, two eSATA connections, a FireWire 800 port, two USB 3.0 connections and a port for the A/C adapter. The company likely sat down and tried to figure out what connections would be most beneficial to new MacBooks and older devices alike, and we believe the port choices are sensible.
None of the latest MacBooks offer eSATA connections for the ultimate data-transfer speeds with external storage. The newest MacBook Airs provide several USB 3.0 ports, but no FireWire for audio equipment or other devices. Older MacBook Pros offer FireFire ports, but no USB 3.0 connections to gain the higher speeds for most current USB accessories.
If users have additional Thunderbolt hard drives, displays or other accessories, the Thunder dock provides an extra Thunderbolt port for daisy-chain configurations. Importantly, Akitio includes a Thunderbolt cable for users that don't already have one of Apple's own $39 cords.
We did not have an external SSD with all of the necessary port options to run an objective test on the various port options. Users should expect the fastest speeds via the 10Gbps Thunderbolt interface, followed by eSATA at up to 6Gbps, USB 3.0 at up to 5Gbps and FireWire 800 at up to 800Mbps, with each likely taking a bit of a speed penalty from the dock's chipset.
As MacBooks become more powerful, they serve as effective replacements for a traditional desktop system. This is where devices like the Thunder dock come in, enabling users to obtain the connectivity flexibility of an iMac but without requiring a separate computer, or having to replace older peripherals because they purchased a newer machine.
The Thunder dock retails for $270 and comes with a one-year warranty. Competitors include the $300 ($150 via Amazon) Belkin Thunderbolt Express dock, which omits eSATA but adds an Ethernet port, or the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station, which also lacks eSATA but adds Ethernet and HDMI and sells for just under $200.