Review: Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock
Missing Mac ports reunited, for a price
Belkin’s site declares the Express Dock is compatible with MacBooks and doesn’t mention any other Apple Macs. So I tested it out with a Core i5 Mac Mini to see if it would play nice and indeed it did, which isn't too surprising as it has the same chipset as the entry-level 13in MacBook Pro. I didn't have a Thunderbolt MacBook to hand, so it seemed a good enough substitute. A quick blast on a MacBook Air and daisy-chaining to a DisplayPort monitor from the Express dock worked fine along with Ethernet too.
The spacing between ports is about right, but having recessed audio sockets is a bad idea
I also ran Windows 8 via Boot Camp, which Belkin definitely doesn't mention as compatible, and the ports worked fine on there, too. However, it didn't see the daisy-chained HFS+ ThunderBolt drive. File-copying speeds over the Express Dock's USB 3.0 interface to an external flash drive were at best comparable with the Mac tests, but as you can see from the graph below the transfers speeds could fluctuate considerably. Even FireWire copying worked on this makeshift Windows PC.
Just to get an idea of transfer rates I copied across 1GB and 25GB files between various storage interfacing using a G-RAID Thunderbolt drive, for FireWire 800 tests, a G-RAID mini and for USB 3.0 a Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD in an Akasa enclosure. Apple’s Activity Monitor was used scrutinise the data rates; while not the most detailed tool it does provide a useful overview of both disk and network speeds. Overall, the results below show the data transfers were in keeping with the capabilities of the storage media tested.
Storage Interfacing Tests
Left, 1GB (copied twice) from Mac HDD to Thunderbolt G-RAID at 212.4MB/s, and right, and a 25GB transfer at 194.4MB/s
1GB (copied twice) (125MB/s) and 25GB (112.2MB/s) from Thunderbolt G-RAID to Mac HDD
1GB (copied twice) (141.6MB/s) and 25GB (142.3MB/s) from Thunderbolt G-RAID to USB 3.0 SSD
1GB (copied twice) (82.2MB/s) and 25GB (81.8MB/s) from Thunderbolt G-RAID to FireWire 800 G-RAID
25GB transfer (at 162.6MB/s) from Thunderbolt G-RAID to itself, and 2 x 25GB (at 144.5MB/s) from Thunderbolt G-RAID to FireWire 800 G-RAID and Mac HDD
Boot Camp Windows 8: 1GB (at 82.3MB/s) and 25GB (91.3MB/s) from Mac HDD to USB 3.0 SSD
Belkin notes that the Apple SuperDrive is not too friendly with the Express Dock, although apparently this is an Apple issue that requires these optical drives to be connected directly to the host. Apparently the SuperDrive has quite a few compatibility/suitability issues among Apple’s own gear. As I didn’t have a SuperDrive handy I tried something similar, a Plextor PX L611U host powered USB DVD writer.