Intel's Thunderbolt port is becoming less exotic as it spreads beyond Macs to high-end PCs, and Thunderbolt docking stations are following suit.
CalDigit on Monday began shipping its $200 Thunderbolt Station, a device that plugs into a computer's Thunderbolt port to provide three USB 3.0 ports, separate audio input and output jacks, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, an HDMI port, and a second Thunderbolt port so more devices can be attached. That's a notch cheaper than alternatives that have been on the market so far.
The idea is that a person with a laptop can plug in a single Thunderbolt cable that links to a variety of peripherals, making it easier to disconnect and reconnect a laptop to all the equipment at home or in the office.
The HDMI port can handle resolutions as high as 2560x1600 and supports the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) technology for playing copy-protected video.
In terms of specifications, the CalDigit dock compares favorably with other docking stations already on the market. That includes Matrox's $249 DS1, which has only a single USB 3.0 port and single Thunderbolt port but that does have a DVI video port; Belkin's $300 Thunderbolt Express Dock, which supports FireWire but has no video output; and the bigger Sonnet Technologies' $400 Echo 15 Thunderbolt Dock, which also includes a DVD drive, two eSATA ports, a FireWire port.
Anyone considering buying Thunderbolt gadgets like this should expect to have to spend another $30 to $50 for a cable. And if you have a Windows machine, note that many Thunderbolt peripherals are certified only for use with Macs at this stage. CalDigit's works with both Macs and Windows machines, the company said.
Thunderbolt competes chiefly with USB, which is ubiquitous and after a years-long transition is getting much faster data-transfer speeds. Thunderbolt is a premium technology for now, and Apple's new MacBook Pro and Mac Pro machines come with the faster new Thunderbolt 2 version.