Mechanical hard drives will continue to be available — though decreasingly important — into the foreseeable future. New drives are cheaper and higher-capacity than increasingly popular solid state drives, and old drives pulled from computers are hard to throw away, even if they’re past their prime. Most people would seek out an external hard drive enclosure, which is ideal if you want to commit to repurposing one internal drive for an extended period of time. But what if you want to swap multiple internal hard drives in and out on an as-needed basis?

Sporting a substantially metal chassis with Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.0 ports, OWC’s new Drive Dock ($245) is a premium solution for people who want high-speed, on-demand access to internal hard drives. The top has two SATA-compatible drive bays, each capable of holding 2.5″ laptop drives or 3.5″ desktop drives, while the bottom holds a power supply capable of safely powering both drives as plug-and-play volumes…

There’s no question that Drive Dock carries a substantial design and electronics premium over functionally similar alternatives from companies such as Sabrent — this, like OWC’s Mercury Pro optical disc burners (reviewed here), is a fancier, Mac-matching option with features that will be of disproportionate interest to professional users. The thick aluminum and equally sturdy black plastic chassis are arguably the least important of these features, though they do a very nice job of matching everything from iMacs and Mac minis to MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros; they also enable Drive Dock to remain stable on your desk when you’re connecting or disconnecting drives from its bays.

Key Details:

  • A professional-grade docking solution for SATA internal drives
  • Features Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3 interfaces for high-speed data
  • Can be used on as-needed basis to swap/access old, unused drives
  • Fastest speeds will be seen with 2012+ SATA III drives, esp. SSDs

On the functional side, OWC bundles Drive Dock with a Thunderbolt 2 cable, which is fairly uncommon for accessories of this type, as well as dual Thunderbolt 2 ports so Drive Dock can sit in the middle of a Thunderbolt chain rather than at its end. You’ll also get a USB 3.0 cable and a power cable in the box; a power switch on the back controls the entire unit, while individual power buttons on the top can power each drive on or off as preferred.

Using Drive Dock is as simple as plugging your internal drive into one of the bays, SATA plugs facing downwards in the lower left corner. You’ll hear a soft click when the connection is made, and at that point, the drive will be ready to show up as a volume on your USB- or Thunderbolt-connected Mac. No drivers are necessary, and the user experience is literally indistinguishable from using a dedicated external enclosure… except for one thing. Once you press the Eject button on OS X, Drive Dock enables you to just physically pull the internal drive out at will and swap it with another if you want. With standard external hard drive enclosures, that feat is either impractical or impossible.

If you’re planning to use Drive Dock with recent, fast SATA III drives, the speed benefits will be more obvious than with older, slower SATA I and SATA II drives. As my personal collection of spare internal hard drives is limited, and doesn’t include anything with SATA III, I wasn’t able to push Drive Dock to its theoretical limits. Using both Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3 connections, my single SATA II drive tests tapped out at around 125MB/second for both reads and writes, below the Drive Dock’s Thunderbolt 2 (477-522MB/second) and USB 3 (347-427MB/second) peak single drive benchmarks. OWC notes that it is also capable of running two drives in a RAID 0 configuration at speeds of around 371-378MB/second, varying only slightly based on your choice of Thunderbolt 2 or USB 3 interface. With a SATA III mechanical hard drive, you can expect up to 180MB/second speeds; a SATA III SSD will come closest to pushing Drive Dock’s capabilities.

As Mac peripherals go, Drive Dock is quite clearly designed to appeal to a very specific audience: professional Mac users who have need for a high-performance, quick-swap adapter for internal hard drives. It isn’t cheap, but it isn’t flimsy, and it looks very much in the right place next to a desktop or laptop Mac. The ideal customer for such an accessory is someone who either has a lot of internal hard drives — say, a video professional or huge fan of multi-drive backups — or a need to frequently switch between several drives that aren’t better placed inside discrete external enclosures. Drive Dock’s pricing, finish, and features make it a good choice for creative professionals who care about speed and aesthetics.

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