Four years into Thunderbolt’s commercial availability, consumers and manufacturers are certain of one thing: Thunderbolt is hard. The exciting technology that Apple and Intel unleashed upon the world in February 2011 has seen its share of obstacles, and manufacturers continue to have difficulty producing stable products, especially when it comes to multifunction docking stations. Many of the docking stations that hit the market in the first few years were underwhelming and plagued with bugs. Others have been delayed repeatedly after making big promises about their capabilities. But one company has thus far proven that it can master Thunderbolt: CalDigit.
The California-based company specializes in high-end storage devices and accessories, and we’ve reviewed several of their Thunderbolt-based products in the past few years. CalDigit’s first Thunderbolt dock, the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station, emerged as our favorite dock of the first generation of products. It offered a compact and attractive design with a decent selection of expansion ports. Most important of all, however, the dock was stable, and didn’t present the random disconnects or system freezes that we saw with just about every other Thunderbolt dock available at the time.
But that was more than a year ago, and the introduction of Thunderbolt 2 called for an industry-wide product refresh. To answer that call, CalDigit has recently released its Thunderbolt Station 2, a dock with an entirely new design, more ports, and support for 4K displays thanks to the higher bandwidth afforded by Thunderbolt 2.
Despite our positive experiences with CalDigit in the past, we’re wary of Thunderbolt docks in general, and so we’ve carefully tested the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 in a variety of configurations over the past few weeks. We’re happy to report that, just like its predecessor, the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 performed as expected. Read on for the details.
Design & Specifications
The CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 comes neatly packaged in a small form-fitting box. As has become standard practice in the Thunderbolt market, the device is packaged without a Thunderbolt cable. All you’ll find inside is the dock itself and a power adapter. Fortunately, that’s all you’ll need if you have a spare Thunderbolt cable; there are no drivers or utilities to install for basic functionality. We tested the Thunderbolt Station 2 on OS X 10.10.2 and it worked right out of the box.
The Thunderbolt Station 2 is small – at just 5.2 inches tall, 3.8 inches deep, and 1.7 inches wide – but it weighs in at about 1.3 pounds, giving it a deceptively solid and high quality feel. The entire chassis is designed from polished aluminum that looks and feels great. Its “Titanium Gray” color clashes a bit with the lighter shade of iMacs and MacBooks, but compares nicely to the reflective black coating of the 2013 Mac Pro.
The sides and top of the Thunderbolt Station 2 are designed as heatsinks for the fanless chassis, and do a solid job of keeping the device well within a comfortable temperature range. The bottom of the dock has a rubber pad to keep it positioned firmly on your desk, but the Thunderbolt Station 2 can also be used on its side for a lower profile setup. For this configuration, CalDigit includes removable rubber feet strips that snap on to the heatsink ridges
While it doesn’t have every port on our wish list, the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 offers a good selection that improves on its predecessor and should cover the needs of most users. Ports include:
3 x USB 3.0 (5Gb/s, 1 front and 2 rear)
2 x eSATA (6Gb/s)
2 x Thunderbolt 2
1 x Gigabit Ethernet
1 x HDMI (1.4b)
1 x microphone in
1 x headphone out
There’s no power switch or other controls; when connected to a computer via Thunderbolt, a blue light will activate on the front of the dock and power and data will begin flowing to the various ports. One exception to this is the front USB 3.0 port. As long as the dock is connected to its power adapter, the front USB port will always supply power to a connected device, letting you keep your iPhones, iPads, eReaders, and other UBS-powered devices fully charged, even when your Mac isn’t connected to the dock.
Next on Page 2: Using the Thunderbolt Station 2