Belkin Thunderbolt Dock: Up and running
Well over a year after I first read reports of a mythical Thunderbolt dock from Belkin I have now laid hands on the beast. Exactly as described when I announced it was shipping on May 10, the $300 device has an impressive complement of ports. It is connected at the moment to my MacBook Air by a single Thunderbolt cable and offers Ethernet and Firewire ports, a second Thunderbolt socket, three USB 3.0 connections and speaker and microphone jackplugs.
The device is surprisingly big: 9.25in long, 5in deep (plus the various connection plugs protruding) and 1.25in tall. So it isn't going to be unobtrusive on your desk. On the other hand, the silver finish complements and Mac and the build quality appears to be good, so it will look the business despite being so large. In fact, this device looks more Apple than Belkin. Apart from the rather bulky hub, the power unit is gigantic brick measuring 6in by 2.25in but at least that can be hidden under the desk.
I have high hopes that this will solve the myriad of cables attached to my desk-top MacBook Pro; it will certainly make docking a lot easier. I will report further if there are any issues arising after use.
PROBLEM UPDATE: After a problem-free day I noticed that the disks attached to the Belkin dock would systematically unmount, accompanied by the usual OS X advice to eject before unmounting. I have seen this behaviour before when USB hubs are insufficiently powered. However, with the Belkin simply unplugging the power suppy and reconnecting enabled the disks to reconnect and all would be well for several hours. When powered up, the dock became warm but not hot, although I suspected overheating or an inadequate power supply (despite the enormous power brick). After speaking with Belkin's technical support (the person I spoke to had no knowledge of the Thunderbolt Express Dock and was not particularly helpful), I tried connecting the hub to a different power socket, this time a mains outlet rather than an extension lead. There was no improvement and the disks would disconnect after a few hours.
Finally, because my hosts here in DC have a 220-volt circuit in their kitchen, I carried the whole set up, computer, hub and cables, downstairs and plugged the dock in to the high-voltage supply. After 14 hours the unit is still working perfectly, the disks have remained mounted and, interestingly, the Belkin has stayed cool, significantly cooler than when it was running on the standard 110-volt supply. I have no explanation for this. I suppose it could be that the China-made products were tested on 220 or 240 volts and I have one of the first examples delivered in the USA. Since I shall be using the hub on 240 volts in the future I am hoping it will remain trouble free. I thought I would detail this problem in case anyone has the same difficulty.
UPDATE: After a day on 220 volts the Thunderbolt Dock was reconnected to the standard 110 volts and has now been running for two days and connected disks, including a Thunderbolt disk, have remained connected. The top of the hub is definitely warmer with the 110-volt supply than when running on 220 volts. Experts will probably say this is impossible. Again, I have no explanation for this and I am merely reporting on the facts.
LIKELY SOLUTION : I think I have now got to the bottom of this little problem. Before setting up the Thunderbolt Dock I had visited a local Apple store and purchased a Belkin iPhone dock. I connected this, loaded with the iPhone, to the Thunderbolt Dock for charging purposes. Following the problems of disconnecting disks and the experiment with 220 volts, I did not reconnect the phone and, as outlined above, all was well. I have just reconnected the phone to the Thunderbolt Dock and put it on charge. Within 15 minutes the disks began ejecting. The problem therefore appears to be with attempting to charge devices via the dock, which is something most people would attempt to do. Temporarily I have disconnected the iPhone and will let the dock service external disks only. Later I will experiment to see if the charging of phones and connection of disks is supported when the dock is connected to a 220-volt supply. As with all such problems, it is often a case of trial and error before understanding the reasons.
PROBLEMS PERSIST: The dock is now connected to a 240-volt supply and is plugged in to my home-based MacBook Pro Retina. After a day of faultless performance, the dock is now up to its old tricks again. The USB 3.0-connected drives drop out (with the error message about not ejecting properly) and this is happening randomly. It is happening to drives with an independent power supply, so I think we can rule out power as a factor. At the moment, therefore, this expensive dock is a useless brick. I will take the matter up with Belkin and report back.