Mini-review: OWC’s Thunderbolt 2 Dock maxes out on ports, footprint to expand your Mac’s connectivity
Other World Computing doesn’t just dabble in Mac accessories — it’s one of the most popular third-party Apple RAM and SSD vendors, and sells some of the only Blu-Ray drives marketed at Mac users. So it wasn’t a surprise to learn that OWC had developed its own Thunderbolt 2 Dock ($228), entering an accessory category that was simultaneously worthwhile and fairly stagnant. Almost all of the have the same core features and design elements, mixing silver aluminum, black plastic, an external power supply and a bunch of ports together to make one-point connectivity hubs for Macs. OWC’s design is similar, but it’s functionally unique.
Measuring 9″ wide by 3.5″ deep by 1.1″ tall, OWC’s Thunderbolt 2 Dock is the largest such accessory I’ve seen, looking like an elongated Mac mini with a glossy black top. The right side has two always-powered USB ports, while the back includes a collection of 10 additional audio, video, and data ports, plus wall power. That means OWC’s design is both the biggest and most capable Thunderbolt 2 dock out there, but does that also make it the best? From my perspective, that depends on your Mac’s needs…
OWC ships the Thunderbolt 2 Dock with only one pack-in: a large wall power supply that separates into a cabled box and a detachable wall power cable. Like some of its rivals, you’ll have to buy a Thunderbolt 2 cable separately, or purchase a bundle for $31 more with a 1-meter cable included. (A shorter 0.5m cable can be purchased separately for $25.)
The single most standout feature of OWC’s Thunderbolt 2 Dock is its collection of USB 3.0 ports. Two of them are on the unit’s right side, and guaranteed 1.5A of wall power even when a computer’s not connected — a boon for keeping iPads or iPhones fueled no matter what. Three more are on the back with regular charging capabilities, alongside separate 3.5mm headphone and microphone ports, a FireWire 800 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, a 4K-compatible HDMI 1.4b port, and a wall power port.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no other Thunderbolt 2 docks on the market with 5 USB ports, which is the single biggest difference compared with Elgato’s same-named accessory (shown above); the FireWire 800 port provides compatibility with Apple’s old high-speed hard drive standard, introduced in 2003 and effectively discontinued in 2014. Of the Thunderbolt 2 docks I’ve seen, the only other one with FireWire support is Akitio’s Thunder2 Dock.
Speed-wise, OWC’s Thunderbolt 2 Dock worked as expected. I saw no obvious degradation in USB 3.0 performance relative to a direct connection, with 208MB/second read and 155MB/second write speeds. But like some of the other docks I’ve tested, I noticed a small fall-off in write speeds using Thunderbolt 2 — consistent 370MB/second read speeds, but only 280MB/second write speeds, down from 317MB/second speeds through a direct connection to the Mac. The extent to which speeds are compromised may depend on how many devices you’re simultaneously connecting to the Dock, though the speeds mentioned above remained the same even when there were multiple USB devices, an HDMI monitor, headphones, and a Thunderbolt drive connected and being used at the same time.
As mentioned in my Best Thunderbolt 2 dock for your Mac guide, OWC’s Thunderbolt 2 isn’t the only “best” option out there, but it’s one of several top picks. Its large size and matching collection of ports makes it a particularly good pick for Mac users who need lots of USB and optional FireWire 800 compatibility, though at a modest price premium, while Elgato’s version sells for less and takes up less room, and Akitio’s version gives up A/V connectors and ports to achieve an even smaller form factor. Go with the one that best suits your personal needs and budget.
Other World Computing
$228 / $259 (with cable)
Mac with Thunderbolt 2
More From This Author
Check out more of my editorials, How-To guides, and reviews for 9to5Mac here! I’ve covered a lot of different topics of interest to Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and Apple Watch users. I’ve recently discussed how to safely prepare and wipe your iPhone for resale or trade-in, and how to get the best iPhone trade-in price to help buy an iPhone 6s, amongst many other topics.