Archive for June, 2013

One Step Back..One Step Forward

The step back has to do with the Belkin Thunderbolt Dock.

I mentioned in my earlier post about this device that due to its lack of USB 3 support in Windows 7 under Bootcamp I was considering letting my wife see if it would meet her needs on her MacBook Air.  So, last night, I set up the unit on her desk and hooked up her 11 inch MacBook Air to it when she got home.  She runs a dual monitor (24 inch Apple Cinema Display with a mini-display port as prime with a 23 inch Apple Cinema Display via a DVI/USB 2 adapter) set up that hooks up via mini-display port and USB.    I hooked both monitor as well as her other peripherals into the Belkin Dock and then booted up.  At first, it all appeared to work with no hitches, but then I discovered that when booting from a cold start, the second monitor, attached via the USB adapter, would not power up.  Unplugging the USB adapter and then reinserting it would solve the problem every time; but…again…the whole point of the dock was to eliminate plugging and unplugging things.  While the dock did centralize and slightly reduce clutter, in the end it once again did not eliminate having to plug in extra peripherals.  So, I have decided to return the dock and try to get a refund from Belkin.  I’ll keep you apprised about how that goes.

I suspect all these problems don’t suggest a fundamental design problem with the Dock, but instead center around hidden and minor problems pumping USB 3 inputs over the Thunderbolt bus.  I’m not familiar enough with the USB 3 specification or the Thunderbolt specification to go deeper than that, and I don’t have an Apple Thunderbolt monitor to play with to see if it acts in the same way.  But the whole experience makes me a bit leery of dumping big bucks into any kind of “all-in-one” Thunderbolt solution, as much as I might like to find one.

The one thing I would suggest as a needed design change to the dock is to include a front facing Thunderbolt port that would become the input port from the Thunderbolt Mac.  The pictures you can find on the web showing the cable from the Mac to the unit that appear to run to the front of the device show it running through a cable tray to a port that is on the rear of the device.  Most people who are going to be interested in this device are because they don’t have an Apple Thunderbolt monitor, and a lot of them are going to be running mini-display port monitors that plug into the Thunderbolt port, meaning that all Thunderbolt ports on the dock may be taken.

The step forward has to do with noticing that I was able to install a downloaded Mac OS 10.8.4 Combo Updater package on all my machines, including newer ones that have protested in the past that only the App Store could perform the updates.  This made downloading and installing the update a time saving and relatively painless process, as opposed to having to latch up to the App Store which each new machine, download a patch and wade through the installation for EACH one. I had been bitching at Apple about this for some time, and it appears they have listened.  Thanks, Apple!  It made my life with the App Store a bit more loveable.

The Belkin Thunderbolt Dock: Mixed Utility

Like many Mac users, I’ve been hoping for more utilization of the power of Thunderbolt than being able to hook in a few multi-purpose adapters to my MacBook Pro.  So, when Belkin proposed the Thunderbolt dock, I thought that might be the way to go.  I have one now sitting on my desk, nestled behind a 24 inch Apple Cinema Display with a mini-display port hookup.  I use it to hook up my 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro and my 2.5 GHz Core i5 powered Mac Mini using a single Thunderbolt chord to the monitor and a mix of peripherals.  Was the dock worth the $299 it cost?  I’m not so sure.

There are two major reasons why I’m hedging.  The first is that the design just isn’t as well thought through as it could have been.  Its advertising says it has two Thunderbolt ports, which it does, but that’s still misleading.  Yes, it has two, but one of them is used to hook to the Thunderbolt port of your Mac, so only one Thunderbolt port is usable for peripherals.  If your display is, like mine, a mini-display port version, then there are NO Thunderbolt ports remaining for any peripherals on the dock itself.  (I tried to ferret this out prior to its release but obviously was unsuccessful…so I took a gamble…and lost!) This is not much better than my Retina MacBook Pro without the dock, since I typically use one Thunderbolt port for the monitor and the other for a Gigabit Ethernet connection rather than run the slower “N” wireless connection on our home network.  It does leave one Thunderbolt port free that wasn’t before..on the Mac itself.  The dock would have been more worth the money if it had been designed so that the Thunderbolt cable from your Mac connected into the dock’s front, leaving two Thunderbolt ports open on the rear, especially considering the Belkin’s premium cost.  The only way to get full utilization out of the dock is to already have an Apple Thunderbolt monitor.  That really seems redundant..and expensive!

Moreover, this morning I discovered that when hooked to my Mac Mini and booted into Windows 7 via Bootcamp, NONE of the USB 3 devices are being passed through to the Mini!  This is a serious drawback that wasn’t spotted by one reviewer, which shows that most of them are doing little more than regurgitating press releases.  I got everything back by unhooking the Apple keyboard and plugging it directly into the Mac Mini so at least I had a keyboard and mouse and could make things work.  Don’t know whether the Ethernet also didn’t get passed through…

I do like the convenience of usually having to only plug in a Thunderbolt cable instead of USB, audio, etc; but I am honestly now looking at whether I might just give the dock to my wife whose MacBook Air doesn’t have a Bootcamp partition.  For the rest of you thinking about buying it, better think twice if you think it’ll work under Bootcamp; you’ll find yourself doing what I did and plugging stuff in anyway to get it to work.  If you’re running OS X and want it, fine, as long as you realize if you have a mini-display port monitor, any Thunderbolt items will have to be hooked into the Mac itself or there will still be three cables you have to hook up to make it all work (two power, one TB cable to the dock, the other to the monitor).

The bottom line with this device is that the single Thunderbolt cable hook up is still a myth, three hundred dollars later.

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