USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, from a single Thunderbolt port (February 27th, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: StarTech
- Low price for class of device
- Full port speed
- Wide variety of ports
- No FireWire
- Obnoxious branding
Like USB before it, Thunderbolt is taking a path to ubiquity. Originally included on Apple's MacBook Pro series, the new interface technology is starting to show up on Windows computers, and even enthusiast motherboards. The only problem with a new common interface is the displacement of older ones. To fill this gap, many manufacturers are developing interface breakout boxes, including a variety of ports that a Thunderbolt-equipped computer may or may not have. StarTech has a one such entry, a docking station that includes three USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI, and audio in and out ports to Thunderbolt-equipped computers. Is StarTech's offering ideal?
The StarTech offering in the burgeoning Thunderbolt breakout box market is 7.4 inches high by 4.9 inches long by 2.8 inches wide, in a package weighing only 14.5 ounces. The box contains just about every power cable possible, both US-standard as well as several others. In a nice surprise, and a turnabout from just about every other Thunderbolt peripheral we've reviewed, the box comes complete with a one-meter Thunderbolt cable, which amplifies the value of the device.
There's not a lot to complain about with the device's intended functionality. The USB 3.0 connections function up to speed, with no hangups from the box. USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 devices functioned perfectly as well, as expected. As an added bonus, the USB 3.0 ports include full UASP support, for maximum transfer speed to mass storage devices.
We were able to daisy chain a Thunderbolt display off of the passthrough Thunderbolt port with no issues. Audio was clear with no distortion, both playing back and recording. HDMI worked great up to 1080P on a 55-inch television with no pixellation. The Gigabit Ethernet functions very well, and auto-negotiates 1000-base-T, 100-base-T, and 10-base-T with no problems.
The only sleight we can see with the StarTech Thunderbolt bridge is in what it does not have -- there is no eSATA connectivity, nor are there any FireWire ports. Clearly, this isn't an issue if you don't need either of these ports. For the latter, Apple's FireWire adapter hanging off of this breakout box through the passthrough port works fine. For the former, we recommend either buying a dock with eSATA, or the purchase of an inexpensive USB 3.0 to eSATA adapter, which worked fine for us when used through the bridge.
The StarTech Thunderbolt breakout box is in the low-end of the price range we've seen, but in the high-end of supported ports. Sure, we'd like to see the aforementioned FireWire or eSATA ports, but FireWire is on its way out and eSATA is generally an enthusiast-grade port and not of much use to most computer users. Generally, the deciding factor on any given Thunderbolt bridge is if it gives you, the user, the ports you need. The StarTech box brings many desired ports, at an affordable price. What's not to like?