By Stephen Schleicher
Once upon a time, there was a young man – we’ll call him Stephen – who worked during the day at a remote location, slaving away for the man; his MacBook Pro was his only way to get work done. At night, he would come home and go to work on his Mac Pro, editing, and writing, and generally doing work that needed to be handled on a beefier computer, with multiple monitors. In fact, much of his work benefited from multiple monitors, but connecting multiple monitors to his MacBook Pro and his Mac Pro was a nightmare at best, as cables needed to be connected and reconnected, potentially ruining ports, and driving Stephen mad as he tried to maintain a neat cabling system. And then there were times when he needed to connect external storage and peripherals like microphones and USB devices, which lead to even more gnashing of teeth and screams of woe as the cabling system fell into ruin
One day, a package arrived from ATEN. Inside was the 2-Port Thunderbolt 2 Sharing Switch, that promised to solve the problems of connecting two computers to all of his devices.
Is there a happily ever after?
There are a number of positive things to say about this switch. Yes, you can connect multiple devices to the switch and accessing them on both systems, and yes, you can have a multiple monitor setup between your laptop and your other computer system. Connecting everything to your system is a breeze, ATEN even includes a thunderbolt cable for your laptop as that is probably the only extra cable you’ll need to make the conversion. The process of connecting all of your cables and wires makes you rethink some of your cable run choices, as you will quickly realize which of your thunderbolt devices actually have passthrough ports, and which do not.
Once everything is connected (there are ports for audio in/out as well) and powered on, all you need to do is press the One button for your first computer, and the Two button for your second computer. I was fairly impressed with how well everything worked, including the wireless USB mouse, that instantly started working on my laptop, even though the two had never been connected before. The peripheral sharing between computers is fantastic, and if you are someone who is constantly jumping back and forth between systems, this may be your best solution. Keep in mind this isn’t just a KVM switch, the ATEN 2-Port Thunderbolt 2 Sharing Switch is designed to connect all of your USB and Thunderbolt 2 peripherals and share them between two computers.
There were a few things that troubled me about the switch, though. The first is how long it took to switch between platforms. It takes 10-seconds for everything to switch over and for the monitors to activate. Granted, if a user is going to work on one system or the other, chances are that person will be working for quite some time, and an initial 10-second wait may not be that big of a deal. I doubt users of this switching system will be switching back and forth in rapid succession.
If you are a Mac user, you are probably very familiar with the “Disk Not Ejected Properly” messages that appear every time you pull a USB cable, or eject an SD or CF card from your card reader. Using the 2-Port Thunderbolt 2 Sharing Switch will result in a lot of those message appearing on the screen as your Thunderbolt and USB external storage devices will need to connect and reconnect each time you switch between systems. I’ve never had a device fail from hot-plugging, but I do know some people have freak outs when these messages appear.
I have a large number of peripherals connected to my Mac Pro, including a couple Black Magic Intensity that I use during live-streaming events. While these Thunderbolt devices can be daisy chained, they are usually at the end the chain, and don’t work if they share the same port. The ATEN 2-Port Thunderbolt 2 Sharing Switch only has one Thunderbolt “input” device, which can limit those who do push their systems to the limit. I would have liked this unit a great deal more if there was a second (or third) Thunderbolt port for peripherals.
The other feature that didn’t work the way I expected was the number of displays that could be connected. With a Mac Pro, I could only get two external monitors to connects (one Thunderbolt and one HDMI), while I could get three screens with the laptop (the laptop screen, one Thunderbolt, and one HDMI). This may be my fault as my “third” monitor is a Dell 4K display that uses a DisplayPort. The ATEN 2-Port Thunderbolt 2 Sharing Switch supports either HDMI or mini DisplayPort, but not both, so this was a bit of a drawback for my setup, and you can not daisy chain Thunderbolt monitors. Granted, the solution might be two keep the third monitor connected directly to the MacPro, which is fine if you need one monitor on all the time.
Unfortunately, I’ve moved on from needing a two system setup for my daily work, so while I like what the ATEN 2-Port Thunderbolt 2 Sharing Switch can do, it really doesn’t fit into my workflow right now. While there are a number of oddities and potential drawbacks for inclusion in my system, I believe I’m one of the outliers that push my system to the limits when it comes to my current workflow. Does this mean this is a skip it device? No. I think the ATEN 2-Port Thunderbolt 2 Sharing Switch is a perfect solution to those who need to an advanced switching solution for their Thunderbolt systems.
The ATEN 2-Port Thunderbolt 2 Sharing Switch has a SRP of $328.99. For more information visit http://www.aten.com/au/en/products/usb-&-thunderbolt/peripheral-switches/us7220/