Two concerns in particular had me thinking twice, and then again, about choosing a 13-inch MacBook Air as my next “digital hub” anchor Mac system: cramped (or prohibitively expensive) flash-only storage capacity, and the lack of an internal optical drive. I took one future-proofing precaution, coughing up an extra 200 bucks for a flash memory upgrade to 256 GB, which is still no more than barely adequate these days unless you’re prepared to put a lot more faith in the Cloud than I am.
As for the optical drive issue, I have to concede that the SuperDrive in my 2008 MacBook that the new Air would replace hasn’t been getting a whole lot of use over the past couple of years, but I still like to have the ability to access software installers, music CDs, and files archived to optical media, as well as watch movies and other video material on disk. My barely broadband Internet service, the only one available at the rural redoubt where I live and work, isn’t quite up to the bandwidth demands of watching streamed video without hangs and dropouts.
Despite these misgivings, I took the MacBook Air plunge before Christmas, and found a workaround solution to both issues in the form of
Apricorn’s Aegis NetDock Mac Edition compact 3 in 1 USB Docking Station of their ($189 for the 500GB model). This handy peripheral combines a 4-port USB Hub, a dual layer DVD burner, and a 500GB or 1TB hard drive, all in a striking high gloss candy-red enclosure unit with a footprint smaller than an office stapler when in its space-saving vertical stand, or not much larger than a CD/DVD jewel case when laying flat. . Aegis NetDock thereby provides desktop functionality and optical drive support while occupying only a single USB connection and more than doubling the MacBook Air’s stock USB connection capacity to five open ports.
Back in the ’90s, Apple’s first effort at building compact laptops (if you don’t count the original PowerBook 100) was the PowerBook Duo, which combined what was then a subcompact laptop computer module that could be used as a freestanding notebook for portability and road warrioring. Unfortunately the Duo’s keyboard was not full-sized and its pointing device — a tiny trackball –left something to be desired. The Duo laptop module had no internal floppy drive or optical drive, and only A minimalist selection of I/O ports, but it could be inserted in a dedicated desktop Duo Dock with a full-size CRT monitor, a full set of contemporary I/O ports, a Floating Point Unit coprocessor, and two internal NuBus expansion slots that would let it function as a desktop computer — albeit not an especially powerful one. Later, a variety of more compact, “headless” Dock solutions displaced the bulky original.
With its trim, 6.25″ x 5 .75″ x 2 .125″ dimensions, the Apricorn Aegis NetDock can be comfortably carried in one hand, and will be an easy and lightweight fit in most computer bags or backpacks, making it no hardship to take along when you’re mobile. Note well, however, that the NetDock is not bus-powered, and requires power from its plug-in power supply brick, so while it is light and compact, it isn’t truly portable for road use away from AC wall current. There’s also no Thunderbolt connectivity. At your office or home desk top workstation, the NetDock can be operated lying flat (best for using the tray–loading optical drive), or on edge, slipped smoothly into its included desk stand which results in a tiny, easy to accommodate footprint when it’s called on for use in crowded spaces like dorm rooms or cluttered office desks (as mine usually is).
When it’s time to hit the road, all you need do is pop the USB cable connector, slip your ‘Book into its travel case, and you’re away. To reconnect upon your return, just plug the USB connector back in and you’re ready to roll. The NetDock’s four USB ports are convenient for connecting keyboards, mice, printers, scanners, and other USB peripherals, or connecting digital cameras, and two of the four in the NetDock are also configured to be always on for charging USB devices, such as your phone, iPad, or iPod. NetDock also has an auto on/off feature that powers down the unit when it’s idling.f
The front side of the NetDock unit is occupied by the pop–out optical drive tray and a drive activity LED, while the backside port array includes the four USB ports, the mini USB connector port for computer interface, and the AC adapter power port. The included stand grips the drive module securely but smoothly between its soft, rubbery, contact surfaces, and has a wide enough stance to prevent easy tipovers.
Cloning the main partition of my computer’s hard drive using Carbon Copy Cloner took roughly 2 1/2 hours, which is pretty much par for the course with external drives through a USB 2.0 interface. I have several 3.5″ 7200 RPM external hard drives, but for large data transfers, the USB 2.0 interface rather than the relative spin-speed of the hard drive module is the main bottleneck. A major advantage of the NetDock’s laptop–size 2.5 inch drive module is that it is very quiet compared with some of the screamer 3.5″ 7200 RPM units, and I of course if you install an SSD, it will be dead silent.
Toward the end of that decade, laptop computers became powerful, versatile, and connectable enough, with availability of larger, higher-resolution displays, and sufficient video support to drive much bigger external ones, that many of the the Duo’s erstwhile advantages were negated, but now with the popularity of thin and light MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros, and PC Ultrabooks, It seems quite logical that the PowerBook Duo concept would be successfully revisited and updated, using a modern ultracompact laptop like a MacBook Air or PC netbook as its “core module.”
Enter Apricorn’s Aegis NetDock 3 in 1 Docking Station. It’s not quite a full revival of Apple’s Duo concept – there’s no provision for memory expansion or expansion card slots, but its attractive, compact enclosure houses an optical CD/DVD drive, a four port USB hub for connecting peripherals and external input devices, and a built-in hard drive for storage expansion, providing upgraded functionality while retaining the ultralight’s easy-to-carry portability when untethered. At home or the office it connects to your computer by plugging in a single USB cable.
Some Mac users may complain that the Aegis NetDock isn’t color-coordinated with MacBook aluminum livery, coming as it does only in a rich shade of candy apple red, which I think is quite attractive. It’s slightly puzzling that no other colors are offered. but I rather like the splash of bright color, even though red is not my usual choice when given my ‘druthers (except perhaps with Ferraris).
4-Port USB Hub
Capable of connecting and charging all Apple “i” devices, iPhone, iPad and iPod, the NetDock’s 4-port USB Hub with two “Always On” USB ports, enables you to connect up to four USB devices using a single USB port on your MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air.
Dual Layer DVD Burner
The Aegis NetDock’s optical drive is a solution for installing software that still ships(ped) on DVD or CD, data you may have stored on burned optical disks, playing games or watching DVDs. Need to burn an iMovie or iLife project on a DVD? With the NetDock optical drive’s Dual Layer recording engine, you can record up to 8.5GB of data per DVD, virtually doubling data storage capacity on a DVD recordable disc from the single layer recording capacity of 4.7 GBs.
High Capacity Hard Drive
The the Aegis NetDock is fully compatible with Time Machine, and with either a built-in 500GB or 1TB hard drive it also gives most of us plenty of space to store and back up our files, media collections, photos and videos in one local and always-accessible location.
The Aegis NetDock is also available without a hard drive, and its easy open (just one screw to remove)enclosure enables you to add, swap, or change out the hard drive in a snap. The enclosure fits any 2.5″, 9.5mm SATA hard drive.
Green Energy Efficient Design
In addition, the Aegis NetDock’s energy efficient design incorporates a convenient auto “ON” and “OFF” feature, automatically turning on when connected to your MacBook, and powering down when not in use. Even when running, the NetDock’s HDD is nearly silent.
“With so many mobile professionals and students using the MacBook Air as their primary computer, the ability to conveniently add desktop features when needed makes the Aegis NetDock an ideal companion for the MacBook Air,” says Mike McCandless, VP of Sales & Marketing at Apricorn. “Its tiny size, affordable price and comprehensive feature set make the Aegis NetDock an appealing addition.” I agree.
The NetDock comes with a one-year warranty, and sells for:
With 500GB Hard Drive – $189
With 1TB Hard Drive – $229
Without Hard Drive – $69
Apricorn’s Aegis NetDock is available from online retailers and Apricorn’s website at:
For more information on Aegis NetDock Mac Edition go to:
Appendix: Aegis NetDock Specifications
Data Transfer Rate
USB 2.0 – up to 480mbps (dependent on hard drive and controller)
Input/Output: 100V – 240V 50/60Hz 2A / 12V – 2A and 5V 2A
8MB (for models with hard drive)
Hi-Speed USB 2.0 | 4-Port USB Hub with two “ALWAYS ON” USB Ports
5400 (for models with hard drive)
Average seek time
12 ms (for models with hard drive)
Shock – non operating 1000G 1ms
Shock – operating 300G 2ms
6.25 in x 5.75 in x 2.125 in
3 year limited
Mac (PC version available)
Apple G3 or later CPU, 64MBs RAM, USB, CD ROM or CD-R/RW drive
Supported Operating Systems:
OPTICAL DRIVE SPECS:
Dual Layer Recording: Yes
DVD±R DL Write Speed: 4X
DVD±RW Write Speed: 8X
DVD Read Speed: 8X
CD-R Write Speed: 24X
CD-RW Write Speed: 24X
CD-ROM Read Speed: 24X