Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock Review: So Pointless, So Expensive, So Good

What the hell is this thing? Why does it cost so freaking much, and why the hell do I want it so much? I can't explain it...

What Is It?

A massive docking station for your Thunderbolt-enabled Mac laptop.

From left to right, it's packing an Ethernet port, a Firewire port, two Thunderbolt ports, a headphone jack, mic in and three USB 3.0 ports. All those are wrapped up in a slim, silver aluminium-coated, MacBook-esque log.

The Thunderbolt ports allow you to daisy-chain up to five Thunderbolt devices to the dock at a time. One Thunderbolt port will always be lost to connect to your Mac.

What's Good?

This thing is really freaking handy. Odds are — unless you have a high-end MacBook Pro — you probably only have one Thunderbolt port on your Mac and more than a few adapters to use at once on it. If you want to connect to Ethernet, HDMI and/or Thunderbolt displays or storage, for example, you're going to find yourself coming up short. That's where this thing comes in handy.

Right now I'm running a second display, two USB 3.0 devices, Ethernet, headphones and a mic, and I still have room for more. all that gear only takes up one of my precious Thunderbolt ports.

It's a space-saver's wet dream, this thing, and if you're a Mac fanboy who loves the look of your MacBook, this thing handily sticks with your sleek, silver aesthetic.

What's Bad?

Good. God. Why is this thing so outrageously expensive?!

Before you scroll down and look at the price, take a guess how much it will set you back. $100? $200? NOPE:


That is next-level bonkers.

Sure it's useful, but why the hell does it cost so much?

To add insult to injury, the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock doesn't come with a Thunderbolt cable to attach to your Mac in the box: you have to buy that one yourself at an additional cost of $45.

"But Luke," I hear you ask, "why must I spend an additional $45 on a two-metre Thunderbolt cable when the 0.5-metre one will do for just $35?" Because, dear reader, the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock doesn't position the Thunderbolt ports very well, so you're left dragging the dock around your desk by your laptop anytime you go to reposition.

The Thunderbolt Dock has a nifty little divot through the middle where you can loop your Thunderbolt cable through to the other side, but it still doesn't get you all the way to your Mac's Thunderbolt port if you opt for the short one. It'd be way better if the second Thunderbolt port was on the front of the device. but that's not happening here.

Also, it gets crazy hot. Not-burn-your-hand-hot, but hot enough that you'll notice if you stick your finger on it.

Should You Buy It?

It's clunky, it's expensive and it's not great value, so why do I still want to part with the better part of $400 for it? Why? Is it because Belkin has tapped into the Apple zeitgeist perfectly with this thing? Maybe. Is it because it gives me more access than I could dream of than with just my one Thunderbolt port? Probably. Is it priced at a person who has more money than sense? Most definitely.

Don't get me wrong, if this was even $100 less and came with a 2-metre Thunderbolt cable in the box, it'd be a no-brainer. Just think long and hard before you part with your cash for one. I know I will.

Images: Belkin


    And now we wait for the extremely cheaper, slightly bulkier Chinese knock-offs! Woo hoo!!

      Or the black plastic version for PCs that's $99 and works just as well.

        If it works with PCs it will work with Mac, thy are both Intel chipsets, and thunderbolt is intels baby anyway. But currently there are no PCs with thunderbolt commercially available so you'll be waiting a while...

          Yes but you'll be able to buy the PC version at your local Asian computer shop, whereas the Mac version will carry the Apple tax and stupid Mac users won't even realise they could buy the same functionality up the road for a fraction of the price.

            You're a stupid person and a stupid PC user.

            That's all part and parcel of being a part of the Apple family.
            I still don't get someone at work saying they'd rather pay $30 for an Apple adaptor cable because maybe the "quality" is better over the $6 one.

    Devices like this essentially highlight the major annoyance I have with Thunderbolt, and a lesson that should have been learned with SCSI: chaining is a stupid, stupid idea. Really.
    If you've got an X (drive, display, Apple's gigabit ethernet adapter, whatever) which requires a Thunderbolt port and doesn't have passthrough, then you're pretty much screwed. Apple went one step further to make life a PITA and shared the Thunderbolt port and display. Want a second monitor AND gigabit ethernet (or even 100Mbit ethernet) on your Air? Well, I guess you're SOL.

    Seriously, whoever made these design decisions needs to stick their head in a blender.
    And now I'm done with the anger.

      Disagree. This stuff is still 1st Gen and will get cheaper with competition & economies of scale.

      Chaining means you can make devices smaller with less ports for better usability 99% of the time. It's an added feature that you don't need to use if you don't want to.

      Thunderbolt is meant to do everything, so ideally it will replace all other ports which will simplify things a lot in 2-3 year.

        Chaining is an 'added feature' only if you compare it to 'one device per port only', not 'using hubs like USB'.
        I have no problem with a new port type trying to do everything (once again, much like USB), but trying to do everything and having chaining rather than hubs is not good for usability. Having only daisy chaining means that if you want to use two devices which don't have passthrough on a computer with a single Thunderbolt port, you're stuck.

        True, having less ports can make devices smaller and easier, but the same outcome can be achieved by manufacturing USB devices with integrated single-port USB hubs.

        Price-wise though, you're probably right.

      so a thunderbolt enabled display wont let you daisy chain that gigabit ethernet port?

        It will (I believe) if it has a passthrough port (like the Apple one does), but if you want to use a display which is not a Thunderbolt device (e.g. a typical video projector) you run into problems.

      You can daisy–chain monitors using Thunderbolt as well as using the built–in Gigabit Ethernet installed on the display:

        Yeah, the Apple Thunderbolt display does have Gigabit Ethernet built in (it resembles a docking station, in a way) but if you want to connect a Gigabit Ethernet adapter and something like a video projector, then you run into problems. Indeed, the Gigabit Ethernet adapter is a nice example of a device which doesn't provide pass-thorough.

          Some devices now have dual–Thunderbolt ports; such as the retina MacBook Pro, iMac, and the upcoming Mac Pro (it has six). All that's missing is the MacBook Air.

            That will hugely reduce the problem. (I'm on an Air).

    "$349? That's a bargain!" - Mac users

      It get's hot? That's not a bug - it's just the way you are holding it.

        Nah, I think it is a bug. So I'll just drive two and a half hours to the Mac store in the city and get it swapped at their Genius bar. It comes with a one week warranty, but I paid the extra $50 and got the warranty extended to 1 year. The guy mentioned this ACCC thing, which I assume is a certification group

          lol what? all Apple products have 1 year warranty.

            Or like all products sold in Australia, they have a warranty for "A reasonable period from date of delivery until the failure becomes apparent".

            Maybe also of interest:

            A bit OT but seriously, if you've spent $800 on an iPhone (or Galaxy S4) and it stops working after 1.5 years, then you should be chatting to the seller about what constitutes "a reasonable period of time" for an $800 device, then the ACCC.

            Ask Italy about Apple warrantee, just saying. The ACCC reference is very relevant.

              At lease SOMEONE got the joke!

              For the rest of you, @c38s is spot-on with Italy, but Apple in Australia have been trying to dodge second party hardware warranties, especially for iPhone cases that they sell (but don't manufacture), telling people to go to the manufacturer directly, but not telling them how to get there.

              My poor joke :(

        'pointless' + 'expensive' = 'good'

        The mantra for all Mac products/users

      I think you'll find no one will pay that price, not even you stereotype "Mac users", until the PC market enters thunderbolt, peripherals will be few and far between. And while USB 3 has about 20 times more bandwidth than anyone can utilise, means thunderbolt with has 4 times more than that again is even less appealing right now.

      Which is a shame because they are cute little plugs, and I just want to stick something small in mine :)

    "I think you'll find no one will pay that price, not even you stereotype 'Mac users'"
    I for one could not wait for this wonderful device to arrive.. it gives me all the extra expantion i need when I am away travelling.. and I tend to travel with a lot of hard drives, and two usb ports are just not enough. This dock is not really intended for your average user who buy a mbp to access facebook and twitter, its a pro level device aimed at working pro's who CAN afford to buy it, as its a company expense :-)

    I wonder - how much is actual technology cost and how much is the cost to licence the technology? I have a bit of a suspicion that the licensing cost is what is making TB devices so expensive.

    What the hell is this thing? Glorified device fixing Apples problems
    Why does it cost so freaking much? Price inflation due to corporate profit greed because Apple
    and why the hell do I want it so much? Because you are an idiot.
    I can’t explain it…You should be fired.

    Will this work if I wanted to connect 2 monitors to my imac which has only 1 thunderbolt port? (I would obviously get one of the knockoffs, but the principle is the same)

    If you have a Thunderbolt Display, this product is redundant. The reason the price is so high for the Belkin dock (and likely why it runs hot) is because Thunderbolt tech requires a chip controller. It's the silicon that is adding to the cost and the heat.

    Apple sheep running a MacMini and this Belkin thing could save on some heating bills by the sound of it.

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Screen

    This is why Thunderbolt cables etc cost so much.
    These docks are no doubt over priced. But if you work with media professionally or as a hobbiest Mac still offers 'switch on and go' performance. Really I build my own PCs but windows is a pita to use professionally.
    Mac people are usually involved in media if they aren't part of the general mac drone population.
    Besides the software and the fact that thing like the imac are just one great big heatsink make them completely quiet. I have built silent PCs and they can cost a lot.
    Something like Logic pro is one third cheaper than a lot of the serious Audio production applications.
    If you have to add up your time ,software, not having to update three times a week, devices that just plug in and work without having to check drivers all the time etc etc. I take Mac everytime, it depends how much your time is worth of course.

    ..oh I for got the link, Thunderpants uses active cables.

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