Review: CalDigit Thunderbolt Station

CalDigit Station brings nine extra connections for Thunderbolt devices (November 27th, 2013)

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: CalDigit

Price: $199

The Good

  • - Wide range of ports
    - Solid build quality
    - USB 3.0 for USB 2.0 Macs

The Bad

  • - No FireWire connection

Several companies currently offer Thunderbolt docks to expand the interface options for recent MacBooks. CalDigit's Thunderbolt Station is one of the latest, providing a wide range of connections including USB 3.0, HDMI and Ethernet ports, among others. Check out our full review for a closer look at the docking station.

CalDigit's Thunderbolt Station easily blends in with other Apple gear, housing the internals inside a bead-blasted aluminum shell. Its rounded corners resemble the general design aesthetics of newer MacBooks. The build quality appears to be solid, while the overall size is not much bigger than a small external hard drive.

The front side of the device offers a single USB 3.0 port, along with 3.5mm ports for headphones and a microphone. Most of the connectors are placed on the backside, including two more USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt connections, an HDMI output, an Ethernet port and place to plug in the necessary AC adapter.

We initially thought the ports were geared for MacBook Airs, but after further consideration it became apparent that the docking station is quite appropriate for a wider range of Apple notebooks. The latest MacBook Pros come with an HDMI output, however the Air and older Thunderbolt-equipped models lack this alternative display output. The system also provides a way for older devices to take advantage of USB 3.0 speeds, eliminating the need to step down to USB 2.0 speeds for a wide range of USB 3.0 accessories that don't provide additional connection options.

We plugged in a Western Digital USB 3.0 external hard drive to double check the USB 3.0 upgrade capabilities. On a 15-inch Late 2011 MacBook Pro, which lacks USB 3.0 ports, we were able to achieve read speeds of up to 128 MB/s and write speeds up to 110 MB/s, leaving the hard drive itself as the bottleneck when connected via the CalDigit dock. When the hard drive was attached to the MacBook itself, however, the USB 2.0 speeds did not surpass 34 MB/s.

The HDMI output brings varying degrees of usability depending on the MacBook to which the dock is connected. In theory the latest notebooks can support an HDMI monitor alongside one or more additional displays via Thunderbolt, though some of the older computers only support a single external display.

Overall, we found the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station to be a great dock that is particularly useful for the MacBook Air. It neatly organizes cables when the notebook is used on a desktop and connected to one or more displays. At $200, it isn't the cheapest docking solution for someone who merely needs an Ethernet adapter, though it is $100 cheaper than Belkin's Thunderbolt Express dock with similar ports.

by Justin King


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