If you’re a Mac user needing (or wanting) extreme flexibility when it comes to connecting accessories and peripherals, you need to give Sonnet Technologies’ Echo 15+ Thunderbolt 2 Dock a serious look. With prices starting at $470, it’s not a casual buy, but this 16-port docking station for computers with Thunderbolt ports is worth the money.
The Echo 15+ is a workhorse of a docking station that allows you to connect just about any current and legacy device, including the latest Ultra HD 4K displays. It even packs an optical drive and an internal drive bay. You get the ability to read from/write to optical media including Blu-ray Discs, all by simply connecting the Echo 15+ Thunderbolt 2 Dock to your Mac (or Windows machine, if you must) with a Thunderbolt cable (which you’ll have to buy separately).
If you’ve got a really big desk, you can plug up to 16 devices, including printers, keyboards, mice, cable modems, external hard drives and SSDs, displays, headphones, speakers, microphones, and iOS devices like iPhones and iPads. The Echo 15+ packs a plethora of interfaces, including four for USB 3.0, two for 6Gb/s eSATA, one for FireWire 800, and one for Gigabit Ethernet, as well as two 3.5 millimeter audio inputs, two 3.5 millimeter audio outputs, and dual Thunderbolt 2 ports to support daisy-chaining of Thunderbolt peripherals.
USB 3.0, audio input, and audio output ports are located on both the front and back of the enclosure. This is extremely convenient as you can leave frequently used devices connected to the back ports and disconnect the gadgets you use less often from the front ports. Each of the dock's USB 3.0 ports can charge an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, even while the computer is disconnected, off, or sleeping; all four ports provide 7.5 watts of power.
Still not enough? The Echo 15+ offers a choice of a built-in 8x DVD±RW drive, a Blu-ray BD-ROM/8x DVD±RW drive with Blu-ray player software for OS X, or a Blu-ray burner 4x BD-R/8x DVD±RW drive. The Sonnet product also provides space, mounting support, and 6Gb/s interfaces for one 3.5-inch or two 2.5-inch internal SATA drives.
The 6Gb/s SATA interfaces pack enough power to support a pair of SSDs at up to 750 MB/s or an HDD at its maximum speed. This provides more-than-enoughstorage for use by a Mac as a Time Machine drive, to back up the computer's data, or to store burgeoning Photos and iTunes libraries.
Now I haven’t tried this personally since I work from a home office, but Sonnet says that in deployments in which the Mac located away from the workspace, such as when equipment is secured in a centralized machine room, the Echo 15+ at the user's desktop can be connected via an optical Thunderbolt cable and Sonnet's Thunderbolt 2 expansion systems. For instance, you could connect the Echo 15+, equipped with peripheral gear, to a Mac mini computer mounted up to 60 meters away inside a Sonnet xMac mini Server Thunderbolt 2-to-PCIe expansion system or RackMac mini rackmount enclosure installed in an equipment rack in the machine room. Sonnet offers optical Thunderbolt cables in 5.5- and 10-meter lengths.
The Echo 15+'s aluminum case dissipates heat and is tough enough to support a27-inch iMac (which is what I’m using it with). The dock supports Sonnet's ThunderLok Thunderbolt connector retainer clip (sold separately), which slides over a standard copper Thunderbolt cable and screws into the back of the Echo dock to prevent accidental disconnects.
The Echo 15+ Thunderbolt 2 Dock with DVD±RW Drive is available for $469. The Echo 15+ Thunderbolt 2 Dock with Blu-ray Player costs $499. The Echo 15+ Thunderbolt 2 Dock with Blu-ray Burner will set you back $599 is overkill. But for those Mac users who like to go nuts and plug in every accessory and peripheral you can find …. well, say hello to your new best friend.