14 Jun 2017

OWC Drive Dock lets you use bare SATA disks with a Thunderbolt 2 Mac

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Discreet it's not, powerful it is: the OWC Drive Dock Discreet it's not, powerful it is: the OWC Drive Dock OWC

RedShark Review: Want to use bare SATA drives with your Mac? OWC might well have the answer in a sturdy and ergonomic package that also happens to be built like a tank.

Mac users roughly have two options if they want to use bare SATA drives: a Wiebetech (now: CRU) Ultradock USB 3 Gen. 1 device 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.

The appeal of a bare drive dock is that you can hot swap and read two disks simultaneously. I personally have been using a RocketStor for about a year now 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 (white — would you believe it?) 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 and expansion functionality to spare with its two Thunderbolt 2 ports and single USB 3.1 Gen. 1 interface. On unpacking the OWC Drive Dock I couldn’t help but smile. This is an all aluminium relatively large square box 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 a robust matte black plastic sheet which folds the inwards-swinging dust protection 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 docks to give bare SATA drives a second life, but I have been using the OWC Drive Dock over the past couple of weeks 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.

Alas, no such luck and for a good reason: 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 simultaneously to avoid RAID errors.

I also tested the OWC Drive Dock to start up the Mac from and I found out that I needed to remember switching on the active bay just seconds before turning on the Mac — that I didn’t have to do with the RocketStor. Forgetting it makes the Mac start with its dreaded “System not found” blinking folder-with-a-question-mark icon.

After a few weeks, I’ve more or less fallen in love with OWC’s Drive Dock. Its nice ergonomic design and sturdiness combined with its performance make for a very appealing product, especially given its $269 pricepoint

Erik Vlietinck

Based in Holland and Belgium, Erik Vlietinck is the publisher of the IT Enquirer, a pan-European online publication covering multimedia content production.

He also regularly creates online textual and video content for websites of companies across Europe and writes for Photoshop User and occasionally contributes to Post Magazine. Erik has been a freelance writer for over a dozen IT-magazines in Great-Britain, Holland and Belgium.

He has written product reports on editorial systems, superwide format UV-curing inkjets, Postscript RIPs and DAM systems. From 1998 to 2004 Erik wrote the Administrator Guides for DMPartners’ linguistic search engine for publishers and WoodWing Software’s Enterprise 7 cross-media publishing system.

Up to 1990, Erik served as a solicitor at the Antwerp Bar Association and a lecturer at Vlekho, a university located in Brussels, where he bored post-graduate students with IT contracts law.

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