Apple ThunderBolt Hub And Dock Options Expanding

Apple ThunderBolt Hub Ports
The number of shipping ThunderBolt docking stations and device expansion hubs has grown rapidly recently. If you remember two or so years back, the world waited, waited, and waited for Belkin to actually ship it's announced, delayed, then revised the specs on it's multi-port ThunderBolt dock. Eventually Matrox beat them to the punch with the first devices that reached the market. Fast forward another year and we now have a half-dozen or more ThunderBolt expansion hubs from six manufacturers vying for consumer's wallets.

The current players now include Belkin, Matrox, Akitio, StarTech, CalDigit - and now ElGato. It should be noted that StarTech, CalDigit, Matrox and ElGato's products appear very similar; with Analog Audio In and Out jacks and a USB 3.0 SuperSpeed port on the front -- with varying USB / FireWire / Ethernet / Video / ThunderBolt output interface configurations on the back.

It seems some are licensing a reference OEM design of some sort, and custom tweaking their port configuration choices somewhat. Check specs closely since some only have a single ThunderBolt port which doesn't allow easy pass-through daisy-chaining, others may have only a single USB 3.0 port but additional, slower USB 2.0 ports on the back. Some don't feature a FireWire port at all, but hubs featuring dual ThunderBolt ports might allow you to use one of them with a ThunderBolt to FireWire 800 adapter. Video support for DVI or HDMI might vary as well.

Of note, some of the newer models of these ThunderBolt hubs can properly support high-current device charging for iPads and/or additionally support devices like Apple USB keyboards or external USB-powered SuperDrive disc drives. ElGato and CalDigit offer such support for their ThunderBolt multi-port devices with an OSX 10.9+ software download available at their respective websites.

10Gbps USB 3.1 vs ThunderBolt - The War Few Care About

Literally, within hours of the USB Consortium's official announcement about the standardization of the upgraded USB 3.1 specification to 10Gbps data transfer rates, the tech columnists and bloggers of the world promptly, predictably and prematurely declared ThunderBolt interface at war, dying, dead. It's all so cliche' I want to puke. Never mind the fact that there won't be any USB 3.1 ports or gadgets to plug into them for another year or two. They're already counting the dead bodies and detailing the 'fatal blows' before any have occured.

Computing technology isn't set on a 'battle ground'. It's simply a landscape for emerging, existing, aging and fading technologies that cycles through some very logical progressions, serves specific computing needs and is eventually supersceeded by 'The Next Thing' that does it better, faster, more efficiently and ulltimately cheaper.

This false 'War' between ThunderBolt vs USB 3.0, or ThunderBolt II vs USB 3.1 doesn't resonate in the least with MOST consumers. Spec driven tech GEEKS may be important early adopters and cheerleaders, but little of this matters to a computing technology consumer who just 'plugs gadgets in' and doesn't give a damn about what's under the hood.

USB in general - USB 3.0 in fact, and USB 3.1 in particular will resonate with consumers for 1 reason above all others: Any given USB gadget will simply be CHEAPER than it's ThunderBolt equivalent. So if you want a gadget war, the war is always won on price for the cheapskates, and won on time-is-money technical prowess to the Professional, Business and Enterprise markets.

CES 2012 Preview : PC and Mac ThunderBolt Accessories

ThunderBolt Products at CES 2012
Intel and Apple's ThunderBolt interface had a rocky debut year in 2011. Although Apple managed to ship millions upon millions of ThunderBolt enabled MacBooks and desktop Macintosh systems through the year, products to plug into this new high-speed interface were in desperately short supply.

This year's Las Vega Consumer Electronics Show gave hope that A LOT more ThunderBolt accessories are on their way. CES 2012 had a diverse range of ThunderBolt product announcements from several high-profile companies that spell good things for the TBolt market in the year ahead.

Proof that ThunderBolt isn't just a market for Macintosh -- The Acer Aspire S5 Windows notebook was featured as one of the first PC laptops that will incorporate a built-in ThunderBolt port.

A surprising twist for a company known for their awesome Mac TV Tuner products, ElGato announced a ThunderBolt SSD drive in a compact, laptop size format for release later this year.

OCZ Technologies - the clear leader in the Solid-State PC and Mac SSD drive market also announced a laptop-sized SSD drive with ThunderBolt port, the LightFoot series.

Peripheral maker Belkin trotted out a multi-port ThunderBolt Hub and docking station that offers HDMI, USB 2.0, FireWire 800, Analog audio and Gigabit Ethernet ports in a sleek case - that's sadly slated to ship near the END of 2012.

Promised to ship MUCH sooner - Seagate showed off it's GoFlex ThunderBolt drive adapter to reach the market by the end of Q1 2012. The GoFlex desktop and portable drive series is already a great line of hard drive storage products with interchangeable USB2, USB 3.0, FireWire and eSATA adapters currently available. ThunderBolt adapters will help preserve and extend the value of GoFlex drive owners.

LaCie - one of the few companies besides Promise Technologies to actually ship ThunderBolt hard drive and SSD storage products in 2011- announced an interesting ThunderBolt eSATA hub/ converter that features dual ThunderBolt ports and twin eSATA ports to offer very direct drive transfers at maximum speeds.

Currently shipping, Sonnet Technology showed off it's Sonnet Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter - a great intermediary solution for those with eSATA, FireWire or USB 3.0 Express cards and drives to convert to ThunderBolt at a reasonably affordable price point.

While still proving to be a slow-road to the fast lane of truly high-speed Mac computer peripherals, ThunderBolt *IS* gaining momentum and traction - if you can wait it out and afford these products when they arrive. However, I still think the not-so dark horse in this race is USB 3.0 which is MUCH further ahead in the market and will deliver a far wider range of computer peripherals - more affordably and sooner - to the Mac (and PC) consumer marketplace.