Mac users roughly have two options if they want to use bare SATA drives: use a Wiebetech (now: CRU) Ultradock device and connect the drive through legacy interfaces or USB 3, or a Thunderbolt dock. If the latter is opted for, there’s either the RocketStor 5212 with one Gen. 1 Thunderbolt port, or the Thunderbolt 2 OWC Drive Dock. And of these two, the latter is obviously the fastest way to access those bare SATA drives.
The appeal of a bare drive dock is that you can hot swap and read two drives simultaneously. But I have been using the RocketStor to boot from a bare SanDisk SSD, squeezing out the last bit of performance of my iMac mid-2011. The RocketStor does the job, but it’s a not so nicely designed plastic device and it only has one port, so it needs to be the last in the daisy chain.
That’s a huge difference with the OWC Drive Dock, that has speed to spare with its two Thunderbolt 2 ports and single USB 3.1 Gen. 1 interface. And on unpacking the OWC Drive Dock I couldn’t help but smiling. This is an all aluminium square with independent power switches and LED activity monitors per drive bay, in addition to an overall on/off switch at the back of the unit.
The top is made from robust black plastic with dust protected covers. The whole thing is bigger than the RocketStor and built like a tank. This dock doesn’t need to sit at the end of the daisy chain. It also has its auto-switching power supply built-in and like other drive docks accommodates both 2.5in and 3.5in drives.
The whole experience is much more comfortable with the OWC Drive Dock than it has been with the RocketStor — even the SATA interfaces inside are more robust. Traditionally, people have been using drive docks to give bare SATA drives a second life, but I use it for a load of tasks, including backups, offloading media to internal drives and RAID systems and more. The one and only thing I could possibly have wished for is the SATA connector sitting just a bit further off the edge so that I could use it to mount Atomos’ disk caddies when offloading video.
But it’s a wish none of the SATA docks is willing to meet, because the bare drives must rest their back against something in order to reduce the risk of breaking the SATA connector when removing the drive — which you’re bound to do often.
The OWC Drive Dock’s Thunderbolt 2 capabilities open up new usage scenarios besides the ones I mentioned earlier. For example, I tested the dock using two identical WD drives set in a RAID 0 configuration to create backup copies from video offloads quicker. It worked like a charm, although you must ensure both drives are switched on more or less simultaneously to avoid RAID errors.
I also tested the OWC Drive Dock to start up the Mac from and here I found out that I needed to remember to switch on the active bay just seconds before turning on the Mac. Forgetting that makes the Mac start with its dreaded “System not found” folder icon.
After a few weeks, I’m more or less in love with this OWC Drive Dock. Its nice ergonomic design and sturdiness combined with its performance make for a very appealing product. OWC’s Drive Dock with Thunderbolt 2 costs $269.75 (roughly €245).