While the notoriously cost-conscious PC market hasn’t embraced Thunderbolt technology yet, you can’t buy a brand-new Mac from Apple without it having at least one Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt’s versatility means that Apple can keep its computers slim and the ports to a minimum—with the right cables or adapters, a Thunderbolt port can connect devices that use FireWire 800, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, and Ethernet.
The problem arises when you need all those connections at the same time. A versatile dock like Belkin’s just-announced Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD, while seemingly pricey at $300, could mean the difference between getting along with a MacBook Air (two USB ports and one Thunderbolt) or an iMac (four USB and two Thunderbolt), and having to step up to a Mac Pro, which has plenty of ports (four USB, six Thunderbolt 2) but also starts at $2999.
Belkin’s new dock replaces last year’s Thunderbolt 1 model, which earned four mice. Connecting to your Mac’s Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 port, it puts two Thunderbolt 2 ports in easy reach, as well as three USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI 1.4b, one Gigabit Ethernet, an audio output in the back for speakers, and a headphone jack in the front.
Because the dock requires AC power, the USB ports can charge your devices even if the dock isn’t connected to a computer. You can connect up to two displays to the dock, even if one of them is 4K. But if the 4K display is connected to the HDMI 1.4b port, the refresh rate is limited to 30Hz.
The brushed aluminum case even fits right in with the rest of your Apple gear. Good looks and the convenience of having USB ports within reach instead of tucked way behind an iMac display might not be enough for just anyone to justify a $300 purchase. But if you need an extra Thunderbolt port for editing video or hooking up more monitors, the Belkin could justify its cost.