It’s a common problem. You want to be able to connect all your cool peripherals to your computer, but doing so is tedious and messy. What if there was a way to connect everything to a single point, and then just have the one thing to plug into your computer? It turns out that there is! That’s exactly the functionality that Thunderbolt Docks provide. Below, you’ll find a quick comparison of several different models that will help you pick the right dock for you.

A quick overview for those who aren’t sure what we’re talking about. In terms of connectivity and data transfer, there are two standards to take note of. USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. USB 3.0 is more universally applied, while Thunderbolt is Apple specific. On the other hand, Thunderbolt allows for data transfers roughly twice as fast as the best speeds you’ll get out of USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt 2 technology will let you transfer at rates even faster than that, so if you’ve got a fairly up to date Mac Pro, there are few reasons to adopt the slower technology.

And what are we connecting, exactly? Storage. Small storage devices like external hard drives or huge, vast amounts of storage in the form of DAS, which stands for “Direct Attached Storage.” In simplest terms, this is an enclosure that houses a number of high capacity disk drives you can attach to your computer. (Note here that there’s also a thing called NAS, which is like DAS, but specifically geared for use in a network environment, whereas DAS is designed to be connected to, and used by a single computer). It is possible that you may have multiple enclosures (“towers”) of hard drives to store your data on. All can be attached to your computer using the Thunderbolt ports outlined below.

See the whole table here.

Notes on Review Methodology

For each product, we’ll examine and report on a number of statistics. These will include:

  • Number of Thunderbolt Ports
  • Number of USB 3.0 Ports
  • Number of eSATA Ports
  • Number of FireWire Ports
  • Number of Ethernet Ports
  • Number of HDMI Ports
  • Number of DVI Ports
  • Number of Audio Ports
  • Price

From here, we’ll examine the data in a number of different ways to see which device would best suit your needs.

Let’s get started:

Akitio Thunder Dock
Thunderbolt Ports: 2
USB 3.0 Ports: 2
eSATA Ports: 2
FireWire Ports: 1
Ethernet Ports: 0
HDMI Ports: 0
DVI Ports: 0
Audio Ports: 0
Price: $349.99

Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock
Thunderbolt Ports: 2
USB 3.0 Ports: 3
eSATA Ports: 0
FireWire Ports: 1
Ethernet Ports: 1
HDMI Ports: 0
DVI Ports: 0
Audio Ports: 2
Price: $299.99

Caldigit Thunderbolt Station
Thunderbolt Ports: 2
USB 3.0 Ports: 3
eSATA Ports: 0
FireWire Ports: 0
Ethernet Ports: 1
HDMI Ports: 1
DVI Ports: 0
Audio Ports: 2
Price: $349.99

LaCie Thunderbolt eSATA Hub
Thunderbolt Ports: 2
USB 3.0 Ports: 0
eSATA Ports: 2
FireWire Ports: 0
Ethernet Ports: 0
HDMI Ports: 0
DVI Ports: 0
Audio Ports: 0
Price: $179.99

Matrox DS1/DVI
Thunderbolt Ports: 1
USB 3.0 Ports: 1
eSATA Ports: 0
FireWire Ports: 0
Ethernet Ports: 1
HDMI Ports: 0
DVI Ports: 1
Audio Ports: 2
Price: $429.99

Matrox DS1/HDMI
Thunderbolt Ports: 1
USB 3.0 Ports: 1
eSATA Ports: 0
FireWire Ports: 0
Ethernet Ports: 1
HDMI Ports: 1
DVI Ports: 0
Audio Ports: 2
Price: $429.99

Examining the data in various ways, we come up with these results:

Price:
If price is your biggest concern, then the clear winner has got to be the LaCie Thunderbolt eSATA hub. It’s two Thunderbolt ports will allow you to access copious amounts of storage, and the eSATA ports will surely come in handy as well (note that it is one of only two models that even has eSATA hubs), but with only four ports overall, this unit won’t connect as many devices as the other options on this list.

DVI/HDMI Connectivity:
If you’re looking for these connectivity features in particular, then your choice is simple, as there’s only one dock with a DVI port, and two with an HDMI port. Note that devices with this type of connectivity tend to be on the upper end of the price range for the devices we’re comparing. Keep in mind that you can also use a Mini displayport adapter on the second Thunderbolt port to add more video connectivity.

Thunderbolt Ports:
All of the docks listed here have two of these, save for the Matrox models, which have only one each. Having 2 Thunderbolt port is a huge plus as you can then daisy chain up to 6 devices together.

USB 3.0 Ports:
Here, the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock and the Caldigit Thunderbolt Station are the ones you want to look at. The difference between the two (other than price) is that the Station trades a FireWire port for an HDMI port. Also note that the Belkin USB 3.0 ports are not powered so you may have to have an external power supply that you will need to use with the device connected to the port.

eSATA Ports:
If this is what you’re looking for, you’ve got two choices: The Akitio Thunder Dock, and the LaCie eSATA Hub. Which one you pick ultimately comes down to what your second most important feature is.

FireWire Ports:
As above, you’ve got two choices: The Akitio Thunder Dock, and the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock. Again, the choice you ultimately make here will largely be determined by your second most important feature.

Ethernet Connectivity:
Four of the six units compared have Ethernet connectivity, so you’ve got plenty of choices where this feature is concerned, and can let your decision be guided by your secondary and tertiary needs.

Audio Connectivity:
As with Ethernet connectivity, this is a fairly common feature, with four different docks sporting two ports each. Because of that, you’ve got plenty of options and your decision can be guided by what other sorts of connectivity you’re ultimately looking to pair with the audio connections.

Conclusion :
It all comes down to what you’re planing on connecting to the dock. If you have a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro Retina, you might want to get an Ethernet port.  A FireWire 800 could be the much appreciated feature if you’re planing to upgrade to a new iMac, you could have a look at switching to eSATA though as many FW800 enclosure will have booth.

So what’s the Macfixit recommended Thunderbolt Dock? We recommend the Akitio Thunder Dock or the Caldigit Thunderbolt Station as these offer the most common and flexible connections.