OWC miniStack STX review: External storage and a Thunderbolt hub under your Mac mini

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The OWC miniStack STX is the latest evolution of enclosures designed to sit underneath a Mac mini, bringing a Thunderbolt hub along for the first time.

The OWC miniStack STX gives you more Thunderbolt ports to use with your Mac mini.
The OWC miniStack STX gives you more Thunderbolt ports to use with your Mac mini.


There are many ways that you can expand the utility of the Mac mini. If you need more ports, you can always add a Thunderbolt dock, while storage can always be increased using an external hard drive.

Continuing from where the original miniStack left off, the OWC miniStack STX consists of an enclosure has the same width and length as a Mac mini. The design is meant to sit directly below the Mac mini, raising it off the desk surface by about an inch.

The OWC miniStack STX is designed to fit in underneath the Mac mini.
The OWC miniStack STX is clearly designed to fit underneath the Mac mini.


Just like the Mac mini it's under, the miniStack STX is aluminum, complete with identical rounded corners to the hardware it is supporting. It is similarly spartan in its appearance, with the front bearing the OWC logo and two small LED status indicators, nothing on the sides or rounded corners, and all of the connectivity saved for the rear.

OWC miniStack STX review - Key Specifications

  • Houses1 SATA drive, 1 M.2 PCIe SSD.

  • Offered without drives, or configured with storage.

  • SATA drive configurations from 1TB to 18TB, M.2 between 1TB and 8TB.

  • 3 Thunderbolt 4 ports plus 1 Thunderbolt 4 to host Mac.

  • 770 MB/s claimed storage performance.

OWC miniStack STX review - Ports and Connectivity

Around the back is the business end of the miniStack STX, with it offering a selection of extra ports that could be handy for M1 Mac mini owners. Occupying one Thunderbolt port on the Mac mini, the dock provides three more Thunderbolt 4 ports in exchange. What looks like USB-A ports aren't, and are instead the exhaust vent for the unit's fan.

The OWC miniStack STX and its power cable. iPhone for scale.
The OWC miniStack STX and its power cable. iPhone 11 Pro for scale.


A 20V DC power connection and a Kensington lock slot round out the accessible ports at the back.

With macOS Big Sur and a new Thunderbolt chipset, Thunderbolt has evolved. Instead of one host port only allowing daisy-chained peripherals, Thunderbolt is now a protocol that allows a hub and spoke configuration.

Interestingly, it's not just a Thunderbolt hub. Host computers lacking Thunderbolt can use a USB-A to USB-C cable to access any installed storage and still get an, albeit expensive, USB hub. This doesn't allow downstream Thunderbolt-only peripherals to work with a non-Thunderbolt host, though.

The Thunderbolt and USB ports on the OWC miniStack STX are located at the back, just like a Mac mini.
The Thunderbolt ports on the OWC miniStack STX are located at the back, just like a Mac mini.


OWC says you can add a mix of up to five Thunderbolt devices, three USB devices, and two displays to be connected, depending on the host device.

For example, The M1 Mac mini can drive one display on HDMI and one on USB-C, so you could run the USB-C display through the dock if you wanted to. You can connect two screens if you have a 14-inch MacBook Pro or 16-inch MacBook Pro.

OWC miniStack STX review - Storage expansion

Internally, the OWC miniStack STX has a SATA connection for 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives. A second port supports M.2 SSDs. Both ports can be used in conjunction.

An empty OWC miniStack STX, before inserting any drives.
An empty OWC miniStack STX, before inserting any drives.


OWC offers the enclosure with an arrangement of storage options. It can be supplied with a hard drive between 1TB and 18TB in capacity, and an M.2 NVMe drive between 1TB and 8TB.

If you bring your own storage, installation is simple. Four screws hold the top of the miniStack STX to the base. The SATA port has sufficient room to plug in a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drive, and the drive is secured either with the screw holes on the bottom of the case, or the riser next to the port.

In terms of how fast you can access data, OWC claims it can run at up to 770MB/s of "real-world" performance. Our speed testing bore this out.

OWC claims 770MB/s for disk reads and writes, and it seems to be a good ballpark figure in tests.
OWC claims 770MB/s for disk reads and writes, and it seems to be a good ballpark figure in tests.


This is as fast as it will go, likely due to Thunderbolt PCI-E channel allocation. We tried the enclosure with a NVMe M.2 drive capable of hitting 2650 megabytes per second, and the peak speed on the enclosure is what you see above. And, this about 770 megabytes per second is peak speed -- if you have two drives installed, that is about as fast as it will go in total between the two drives.

You can fit a 3.5-inch hard drive inside the enclosure, or alternatively an SSD, as well as an M.2 NVMe drive.
You can fit a 3.5-inch hard drive inside the enclosure, or alternatively an SSD, as well as an M.2 NVMe drive.

Not just for the Mac mini, but it is best with it

If you're connecting it to a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, you can also benefit from 60W of power delivery via the USB-C Thunderbolt ports. This is more than enough for the MacBook Air, but just shy of what the 61W charger supplied with the 13-inch MacBook Pro offers, nor the 67W or 96W versions included with the 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro.

In our testing in normal day-to-day operations, with a drive installed the 60W provided power to a 16-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro, but we lost about 3% of battery per hour. Under load, this number varied, but it just could not keep up.

You do get an 18-inch cable, which is usually a decent length, but it is way too long for this sort of use.
You do get an 18-inch cable, which is usually a decent length, but it is way too long for this sort of use.


The potential to use it with other hardware is probably why OWC included an 18-inch Thunderbolt cable with the unit. An 18-inch cable is good for peripherals that aren't eGPUs, but it's far too long if you're using it with a Mac mini placed right on top, as intended.

In such a case, switching it out for your shortest on-hand alternative may be a good decision. Fortunately, there are lots of inexpensive alternatives for Thunderbolt 3/USB4 host computers, and we've been using it with this, with no issues.

Should you buy the OWC miniStack STX?

Apple storage is fast, and expensive. On the M1 Mac mini, going from 256GB storage to 1TB adds $400 to the cost. The OWC miniStack STX retails for $300, and adding 1TB of (slower than Apple's internal) SSD space for about $90 these days, brings it right up to that 1TB, plus you still have the 256GB internal to the Mac mini.

So, the cost is about a wash, just counting the storage. But, you also have a second storage bay in the unit, and three downstream Thunderbolt ports for more peripherals. It obviously doesn't help with USB-A peripherals, unless you buy an adapter, but as always we don't recommend that, and suggest a proper cable instead, like we have always done since the dawn of computing.

Like we said when we reviewed the OWC Thunderbolt hub, this isn't for everybody. But, for the few workflows that need multiple Thunderbolt ports in a tree downstream of a single port on the host machine, it fits that niche perfectly, and an additional price premium of $120 gives you two bays for storage, in a slick enclosure.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

OWC miniStack STX Pros

  • More Thunderbolt!

  • Two internal storage bays

OWC miniStack STX Cons

  • Pricey, and not dissimilar in cost to Apple's first-party storage

  • Not enough host power

Where to buy the OWC miniStack STX

The OWC miniStack STX starts at $299 and maxes out at $1,849 for 26TB total capacity (18TB HDD plus 8TB SSD).

You can choose from dozens of configurations at MacSales.com, OWC's ecommerce site.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 6,016member
    This is what all docks should be (you reading this Satechi?).

    My only gripe is the low(er) bandwidth on the m.2 interface which would prevent me from buying this.  I’d want SSD performance to be as fast as what thunderbolt performance should be.

    great start though.
  • Reply 2 of 11
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,778member
    I would have thought the main use for this would be external storage? The number of TB4 ports is probably limiting storage performance.  
  • Reply 3 of 11
    thttht Posts: 4,707member
    This is definitely on the list if I get a Mac mini to replace my 2013 iMac 27. Maybe even two of them if I can daisy chain them. 2 10-TB drives? Something like that. Assuming the Mac mini with M1 Pro/Max or M2 has the same footprint.
  • Reply 4 of 11
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,561administrator
    entropys said:
    I would have thought the main use for this would be external storage? The number of TB4 ports is probably limiting storage performance.  
    If you're looking for just external storage in a Mac mini footprint, there are other, less expensive, options using USB 3.1, not the least of which is the non-Thunderbolt hub OWC miniStack.

    https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/external-drives/owc-ministack $84.99, bring your own drive.

    I'm not aware of any dedicated Thunderbolt Mac mini-sized storage enclosures presently shipping other than this one.


    edited January 2022
  • Reply 5 of 11
    I've never had a bad experience with ODC hardware so I'm sure it's a great piece of kit, but wow, how did that get out the door with that ugly ass logo on the front

    surely SOMEONE at the company looked at this thing and said "ugh"
  • Reply 6 of 11
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,628member
    That's a very clean look. Seeing the clean stack reminds me of how much I wish Apple would design the Mac mini to natively support clustering and other distributed computing options, including allowing one (or more) of the stack items to be an Intel x86 based computer to allow backward compatibility with legacy Mac and Windows operating systems and applications. I suppose OWC could build a KVM into a version their device to allow 3 or 4 minis to be stacked, but I'm still holding out hope for a true clustering configuration with job distribution, load balancing, distributed processing, etc. 
  • Reply 7 of 11
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,213member
    Continuing from where the original miniStack left off
    This is their third iteration, the first was fitted to the pre-2010 models — I had one with my old 2009 mini I used for a media server. Thinking about getting a v2 for my newer 2018 mini media server, but was hoping the price would drop — it's actually a few bucks more expensive than it was before this new one came out! 
  • Reply 8 of 11
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,213member

    dewme said:
    That's a very clean look. Seeing the clean stack reminds me of how much I wish Apple would design the Mac mini to natively support clustering and other distributed computing options,
    Xgrid has been dead for almost a decade, bruh.
    including allowing one (or more) of the stack items to be an Intel x86 based computer to allow backward compatibility with legacy Mac and Windows operating systems and applications.
    How would that even work? At that point why not just KVM into the other mini?

     I suppose OWC could build a KVM into a version their device to allow 3 or 4 minis to be stacked, but I'm still holding out hope for a true clustering configuration with job distribution, load balancing, distributed processing, etc.  
    And why does OWC have to do anything if you can already stack minis as tall as you want? Why do they have to build a bespoke KVM solution  into their *storage device* for you and the three other people that want something like this?
  • Reply 9 of 11
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,628member

    dewme said:
    That's a very clean look. Seeing the clean stack reminds me of how much I wish Apple would design the Mac mini to natively support clustering and other distributed computing options,
    Xgrid has been dead for almost a decade, bruh.
    including allowing one (or more) of the stack items to be an Intel x86 based computer to allow backward compatibility with legacy Mac and Windows operating systems and applications.
    How would that even work? At that point why not just KVM into the other mini?

     I suppose OWC could build a KVM into a version their device to allow 3 or 4 minis to be stacked, but I'm still holding out hope for a true clustering configuration with job distribution, load balancing, distributed processing, etc.  
    And why does OWC have to do anything if you can already stack minis as tall as you want? Why do they have to build a bespoke KVM solution  into their *storage device* for you and the three other people that want something like this?
    Not really looking for a KVM, looking to be able to run multiple instances of macOS and Windows in windows on the same console with drag & drop between instances. This is a use case that is already supported on Intel Macs using desktop virtualization like VMWare Fusion but missing from Apple Silicon Macs up to now. How would Apple do it? I suppose there are several ways, such as putting an HDMI input port (or two) on the Mac and having the Mac handle the processing to interleave its own native video and the video from other ports. I'd imagine TB4 could be used as well.

    The notion of Macs having a way to input video from other Macs/PCs would apply equally well to other Macs, especially the iMac, which does not lend itself to a KVM solution because of its built-in monitor. If my current iMac had a way to accept video from even one other computer and stick it into a window, which could be run full-screen, I would have bought an M1 Mac mini on day 1 of its availability.

    You're correct, this has nothing at all to do with OWC, but as I said, seeing the stack reminded me of what else could be done using the same form factor.


  • Reply 10 of 11
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,778member
    entropys said:
    I would have thought the main use for this would be external storage? The number of TB4 ports is probably limiting storage performance.  
    If you're looking for just external storage in a Mac mini footprint, there are other, less expensive, options using USB 3.1, not the least of which is the non-Thunderbolt hub OWC miniStack.

    https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/external-drives/owc-ministack $84.99, bring your own drive.

    I'm not aware of any dedicated Thunderbolt Mac mini-sized storage enclosures presently shipping other than this one.


    Yes, absolute kudos to OWC for doing do. I was just commenting on the speed limitation. I would happily forego some of those TB4 out ports to get higher speeds out of the storage. The Mac mini has a few other ports anyway.
    edited January 2022
  • Reply 11 of 11
    So this might be a solution to clean up my desk.  Running a 2019 Intel mini, with an older LaCie Thunderbolt 2 4TB drive, and  a 1TB NVME in an OWC Thunderbolt Express mini case, both plugged into two of the Thunderbolt 3 ports on the Mini.  I realize the transfer rate on the NVME would go down, but not an operational issue for me. 
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