For the first year that Intel's Thunderbolt technology has been available, relatively few devices have been released that use it. While the technology offers promise of extensive expansion, most Thunderbolt devices have been high-speed storage options. However, this trend is beginning to shift with the announcement of the new devices such as the Matrox DS1, a $249 Thunderbolt multi-I/O device that will be available in September, which can be used as a docking station among other purposes.
Following Thunderbolt's relatively slow adoption in the computer industry, in late April Intel announced an initiative to give Thunderbolt a bit more momentum. Since this announcement, more Thunderbolt options have become available, including alternative Thunderbolt cables to Apple's offerings, and now more options for hosting different I/O connections.
While Thunderbolt's speed is an attraction, one of its major advancements over other I/O technologies is its extension of the PCI Express bus which allows it to host numerous secondary controllers and supply different I/O protocols if necessary. So far one of the only devices that does this has been Apple's Thunderbolt Display, which includes Ethernet, USB, and audio connections that allow it to serve as a convenient dock for laptops.
Unfortunately Apple's Thunderbolt display is not only expensive at $999, but its inclusion of a large display also makes it unnecessary for many people who already have a display they use with their systems. To provide similar functionality for people with existing displays, Matrox has built the DS1.
The DS1 contains two USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port, gigabit Ethernet, audio-in and -out, and also a DVI connection to host a third-party external display. The USB 3.0 port is exciting news to see, since Apple has so far not included USB support on Mac systems, and the only options have been PCI Express cards such as that from LaCie for desktop systems.
While the I/O connectivity provided by the DS1 cover many uses and allow the device to serve as a docking station for many systems and setups, it is also missing a few options that many might like to have. The first is that it does not contain a secondary Thunderbolt connection, so it must be put last-in-line in the Thunderbolt device chain. Additionally, while it contains USB 3.0, it does not have any FireWire ports. Lastly, having a card-reader option would have been nice to have, though there are many USB card readers that can supply this functionality.
The Matrox DS1 is a good option to have, but is not the only docking solution we will see in the near future. In addition to the DS1, the Belkin ExpressDock is also slated to debut in September, and be similarly priced as the Matrox solution.