Sonnet ExpressCard/34 docking connector
Sonnet Echo express card is a new Thunderbolt device which expands your computer’s connectivity and capabilities. Thunderbolt dock review - What that comes down to, is that you can plug one of these in using a Thunderbolt cable and then choose whichever Express Card/34 adapter that you want to use. You can buy the Sonnet express card adapters, but there are also other manufacturers that make the express cards. I would expect them to work in a industry standard docking connector. This dock connector from Sonnet supports the CompactFlash and SDXC readers, gigabit ethernet, USB 3 and some of the eSata adapters and of course it will connect with FireWire.
Limitations of the Sonnet docking connector device
Even though this is not going to be a terribly cheap way of connecting your present technology or even your future technology to your Mac via Thunderbolt, initially it could work out cheaper than using the Apple dock connector for Thunderbolt which is the Apple Thunderbolt Cinema Display. There is only one express card slot in this device, which is severely limiting to the number of things that you can connect to your Thunderbolt enabled Mac computer at any one time. At least if you get the Apple Thunderbolt Cinema display you have a number of USB connections, FireWire, gigabit ethernet and also another Thunderbolt port, so that you can continue the Thunderbolt daisy chain. I am surprised to find that this Sonnet Echo express card Thunderbolt adapter has only one Thunderbolt port. This means that it can only be connected at the end of a Thunderbolt chain.
The Sonnet Echo express card docking device, does take advantage of the fast interface that you get with Thunderbolt. You get 10 GB per second data transfer, but you have to remember that the bottleneck will be the speed of the express card adapter at 5 GB per second. The device that you are connecting into this adapter will also rule the data speed, so that if you are using FireWire 800 then the maximum speed you’ll get is whatever FireWire is capable of.
Costs of the dock connectors
It seems that this solution for transferring data using the Thunderbolt connection on the Mac, is going to be more suited to users that already have some of these express cards. So if you buy yourself a new Mac that doesn’t have an express card slot, but does have the Thunderbolt port and you don’t want to pay for the Apple Thunderbolt Cinema display, then this could be a decent enough solution. The product doesn’t come included with a Apple connector Thunderbolt cable, so you will have to go and buy the Apple Thunderbolt cable, which as we know is a little bit pricey to connect your dock for Thunderbolt.
Apple Thunderbolt cable at $50, it does make it quite an expensive card reader. Unless you have a specific need for connecting a device via express card, and you need it now, then you may be better to wait a little while longer. I expect in time there will be cheaper better solutions for connecting our devices via Thunderbolt.