The increasing range of Thunderbolt peripherals was on display at last week's Macworld Expo in San Francisco. While the highlights of previous Expos were a Thunderbolt-equipped drive here and there, and the arrival of non-Apple Thunderbolt cables, this year showcased small networking and storage protocol adapters, and PCI Express (PCIe) card cages that will be welcome additions to professional Mac workflows.
Kanex showed several interesting combo adapters, including Thunderbolt to USB 3 and Gigabit Ethernet, and another for Thunderbolt to USB 3 and eASATA connectors. The company said the pricing isn't finalized (around $100) and the adapters will ship sometime in the third quarter. According to Kanex, both connections on the adapter can be used simultaneously.
These adapters will certainly be popular among mobile professional users with Thunderbolt-equipped MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs, some of which don't have USB 3 connectors and none of which have an external eSATA port. Apple sells a single-protocol Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter for $29 and this would provide both. In addition, many video pros (and others interested in speedy storage) have an investment in eSATA storage, which connected to MacBook Pros with an ExpressCard/34 card; Apple dropped the card slot from the latest models of MBPs.
One Stop Systems showed the range of PCIe card cages in its Max Expansion Cube-branded lines of products, including boxes with 1-, 2-, 3-, 5- and 8-card slots. These are the company's nanoCUBE (supporting a single PCIe Gen. 3 x8 short card); the µCUBE line (models supporting 1, 3 and 5 full-height, mid-length cards); and the CUBE line (models supporting 1, 2, 5 and 8 full-height, full-length cards). I saw the enclosures running solid-state memory modules; and they also can support Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet cards. The $430 nanoCUBE employs a clear, plastic enclosure.
The Western Digital booth presented its new My Passport Pro series of two-drive systems that come in a variety of capacities, including 4TB. The bus-powered hard-drive systems have an integrated Thunderbolt cable that wraps around the drive. Users have the choice of configuring the drives as two individual drives (Just a Bunch of Disks), spanned (RAID Level 0) or mirrored (RAID Level 1).
Very fast and very small was Akitio's Palm RAID system, which incorporates two mSATA SSDs in a small, metallic case. Like the WD systems, it is bus-powered, will be able to be configured to run as JBOD, or RAID Levels 0 and 1; and comes with a short Thunderbolt cable integrated into the enclosure. The system will ship later this year, the company said.
Akitio showed a number of interesting Thunderbolt products, such as the $249 Thunder Dock, which integrates a pair of Thunderbolt, eSATA and USB 3 ports as well as a single FireWire 800 port. The device doesn't support Windows running in Boot Camp, the dock's spec sheet says.