The Sorry State of Thunderbolt Peripherals

In theory, Thunderbolt is awesome, one tiny port that can be used to connect monitors, GPUs, high speed storage and other peripherals to laptops and desktop computers.  What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, Thunderbolt peripherals are slow to arrive on the scene.  Apple released their first computers with Thunderbolt ports over a year ago. To compliment them, they released the gorgeous and expensive Thunderbolt display.

Don’t get me wrong, the Apple Thunderbolt display is a perfect demonstration of why Thunderbolt is so cool. The display has one cable with two connectors, a magsafe connector to power an Apple laptop, and a Thunderbolt connector.  The display itself is gorgeous, includes speakers and a webcam, and it expands that single Thunderbolt connection into gigabit ethernet, three USB2 ports, a FireWire 800 port, and another Thunderbolt port that you can use to attach another Thunderbolt display, or a mini-DisplayPort adapter. Awesome!


On the other hand, it is $999. That is by no means a bad price for a great 27″ high resolution display, but I’m happy with the 24″ display I already have and in no hurry to replace it. But then there is mess. Ugh! I’d love to reduce that mess down to a power cable and a Thunderbolt cable.

In theory, I should be able to buy a docking station. In practice only Belkin and Matrox have even announced Thunderbolt docking stations, but neither of them are shipping, and when they do, they are expected to run $250 – $500.

Apple had a one-year exclusive on offering Thunderbolt ports on their computers. Now that that has ended, I hope we’ll see more competition, but it may take a while. NewEgg only has ~5 motherboards with Thunderbolt ports right now. A bigger issue though may be that so far, Intel is keeping a tight reign on the chips required to interface with Thunderbolt.

I’d be quite happy with a simple device that connected to a Thunderbolt port and provided USB3 ports and DisplayPort connection. I could hang USB ethernet and audio adapters off of that.