As I have said before, what you do when you get a Mac with only a couple of ports (four on the MacBook Pro 15-inch)? Barely anyone I know finds this enough, and Apple keeps changing ports on us. I’m not about to lambast Apple for this – if we didn’t believe in change, we’d still be using floppy discs and serial ports, and forget about smartphones.
The new USB-C ports on the MacBook are smaller than previous plugs, yet handle almost everything. Once upon a time you needed a Mac with a USB port or two (preferably more), Mini DisplayPort, perhaps HDMI, Thunderbolt, maybe FireWire, and SD card slot … now the confusingly-named Thunderbolt 3/USB-C (it’s the same thing on a MacBook, with the port sharing these duties) does all of those jobs.
But four USB-C ports still isn’t many, and most of us have things we’ve been plugging into our Macs for years already that we still want to plug into whatever new Macs we et. Personally, I have two printers, three hard drives, an extra monitor, a mouse, a wired extended keyboard, an audio interface, a light (I know, that’s just silly) and hey, I like to directly plug in an iPad or iPhone every now and again too, for faster sync and backups and, best f all, faster OS updates (via iTunes).
The Kensington SD5000T Dock is aimed at professional environments and therefore has a Kensington lock slot, plus it has been designed to be mounted to the rear of VESA-compatible displays with a separate bracket accessory as longs as it supports the pretty rare Zero Footprint Mounting system. For this to work, you need a display that includes accessible VESA mounting holes even with the display’s foot attached. Of course, like most docks, the SD5000T will also sit happily on a desk. I guess this means that, mounted onto a monitor and locked with a Kensington lock, it effectively locks up your monitor too, at least against those without the time and tools to remove it from the bracket.
The SD5000T is a serious looking thing, in black and silver, following the convention of two handy ports on the front and all the rest on the back for more sedentary tasks. Left to right, on the front in a sort of indentation on the right, is the more standard USB 3, which is backwards compatible to any older USB plugs that fit it (stepping down to their speeds) but which is not USB 3.1, plus an additional USB-C port (which boasts USB 3.1 speed anyway).
On the back of the Kensington SD5000T (shown above) there is, left to right: Ethernet (I noticed I had to restart my Mac with the Dock plugged into the MacBook Pro to get this connection to work, by the way), USB 3, Audio In, Audio Out, the Kensington lock slot (in the middle), 2xUSB-C (one of these needs to go into your Mac but there’s a pretty short USB-C cable supplied), DisplayPort and the AC power inlet.
Since the USB-C cable can charge up even a MacBook Pro 15-inch (thus releasing another USB-C port on the Mac, which is great), there’s a very large power brick that comes with this Dock – it’s almost the same size as the dock (you can see it below). In other words, the SD5000T dock serves to deal out signal to all these different ports and interfaces while also charging your MacBook, which is a very big tick in favour of USB-C, no?Using USB — The older USB 2.0 standard is capable of a theoretical maximum data transfer rate of 480 megabits per second while USB 3.0 is capable of 5 gigabits per second, or over 10 times faster.
USB 3.0 ports have a blue ‘tongue’ inside the plug. USB 3.1, released in July 2013, can theoretically hit 10Gbps, rivalling the speed of Ethernet and the original Thunderbolt standard – and that’s the same theoretical speed as USB-C, but not many devices ever implemented USB 3.1 whereas the USB-C version, thanks to Apple, is beginning to gain traction.
Actual speeds — Copying a 6.05GB movie file from the very fast internal 1TB SSD in a 2017 MacBook Pro to a USB 3 (traditional, not Solid State) hard drive, in this case a LaCie Rugged plugged into a USB 3 port on the back of a Dell U2715H monitor (which is plugged in, in turn, via an adapter into one of the MacBook’s USB-C ports) took one minute 28 seconds (1:28). I didn’t expect it to make any difference, but I also tried this plugged into the front USB 3 port on the SD5000T. (It’s amazing how quickly you get annoyed at having to get the damn USB 3 plug in the right way up, after just a few days using USB-C!) Sure enough, a virtually similar 1:29 (which means that USB 3 hub on the back of the Dell is better than I thought, anyhow).
As an interesting comparison, I also have at hand an OWC SSD in an external housing – the same 6.05GB movie file copied to this, also over the USB 3 port, in under 20 seconds, or in 22.5% of the time! Almost five times faster.
I also, out of interest, plugged the same USB 3 cable into the USB-C port via a USB-C to USB 3 adapter and got 1:36. This should be distinctly faster through a USB-C cable to a USB-C hard drive. There are a few available already, and I’d love to try one. But suffice to say if you have a faster hard drive, you will get faster performance. Anyway, I figured I’d end up using the LaCie plugged into the Dock, but that’s pointless now as I may as well leave into plugged in the more difficult-to-reach Dell, since it stays mounted.
The Blackmagic Disk Speed tests for these drives, by the way, were 63.9MB/s read and 66.8MB/s write for the 1TB LaCie USB 3 Rugged external drive, 290MB/s read and 420MB/s write for the 512GB OWC Elite mini U3FW. I could not measure my own internal 1TB SSD, but Apple reckons this runs at a blazing 3.1GB/s read and 2.2GB/s write.
Conclusion — A handsome unit with an unexpected design benefit that it quickly becomes a handy receptacle for paperclips and pens as the top has raised edges – it can act as a little tray. This Kensington Thunderbolt 3 dock has a handy (OK, indispensable) array of ports and the fact that it charges even a 2017 MacBook Pro 15-inch is a big positive. I actually have an additional monitor with DisplayPort and getting that was the first time I even saw that type of port, being more used to HDMI and Mini DisplayPort. Unfortunately I don’t have a DisplayPort cable to try it with (I’ve been using the Dell with a DisplayPort to USB-3 cable – the Dell did not come with a DisplayPort cable. But it drives it find with this cable via USB-C.
What’s great — Useful array of ports, attractive and useful design.
What’s not — Expensive compared to other docks but its ‘sensible’ design, plus the possibility to lift it off the desk into the back of the right VESA-compatible monitor plus the Kensington Lock Slot should justify this for enterprise users.
Needs — Anyone with the need for more than four USB-C ports on a new MacBook.Kensington SD5000T Dock, NZ RRP $519.95 (US$349.99)
System — Mac OS, Mac OS 10.5, Mac OS 10.6, Mac OS 10.7, Mac OS 10.8, Mac OS 10.9, Mac OS X 10.10, Mac OS X 10.11, Mac OS Sierra 10.12
More information — Kensington.