Belkin has finally announced pre-orders for its long-awaited Thunderbolt Express Dock, originally announced in September 2011. After several delays and changes to the product’s features, the company claims the dock will begin shipping next week.
Belkin was one of the first companies to announce a multi-port docking solution utilizing Apple’s then-new Thunderbolt interface. With a single Thunderbolt connection, users were promised the addition of FireWire, USB, audio, and Ethernet ports to their Mac. Although still useful on desktop Macs, the Thunderbolt Express Dock is clearly targeted at Macs with a limited number of ports, such as the MacBook Air.
After its initial introduction, Belkin changed the features of the product several times, replacing the original USB 2.0 ports with USB 3.0 ports, removing HDMI and eSATA ports, and adding dedicated audio in and out ports. The anticipated price also fluctuated, reaching $400 before settling at $299 at launch.
The current and final configuration includes, from left to right:
1 Gigabit Ethernet
1 FireWire 800
2 Thunderbolt (one in, one out)
1 3.5mm audio-out
1 3.5mm audio-in
3 USB 3.0 (limited to 2.5 Gbps)
Once launched, the Thunderbolt Express Dock will be one of a very few ways that 2011-era Mac owners can add USB 3.0 connectivity to their setups. Although unfortunately limited to roughly half of USB 3.0's 5 Gbps maximum speed, the USB 3.0 ports will still vastly outperform the USB 2.0 ports found on Macs prior to the 2012 models.
Matrox launched a competing product, the DS1 Thunderbolt Docking Station, in mid-December for $249. Although cheaper, the DS1 features fewer connectivity options, with a user’s choice of an HDMI or DVI port, 1 USB 3.0 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, and audio-in and audio-out.
The Mac Observer has a test unit of the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock on its way and we will provide you with a full review once it arrives. Until then, those interested in pre-ordering can do so at Belkin’s website.