Belkin just announced a new Thunderbolt 2 docking station that delivers a massive 20 Gbps of bandwidth, but whose $300 price tag goes to show why PC buyers have expressed so little enthusiasm for the speedy new bus.
The Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD is designed to work with laptop or desktop systems that have Thunderbolt ports, either PCs or Macs. Intel developed Thunderbolt, but only Apple has embraced the technology with open arms. PC manufacturers, on the other hand, have been reluctant to support it because of the cost it adds to a system. Even “Thunderbolt ready” desktop motherboards merely have Thunderbolt headers on them; buyers must purchase a Thunderbolt add-in card separately (at a cost of $85 to $100).
Belkin’s powered dock has two Thunderbolt 2 ports, three always-on USB 3.0 ports (that can charge an attached device whether or not a computer is attached to the dock), one HDMI 1.4b port, gigabit Ethernet, a headset jack in front, and an audio output in back.
The dock can drive up to two displays directly (one must be a Thunderbolt or DisplayPort model), and it supports 4K video resolution on one display. 4K refresh rate via HDMI, however, will be limited to 30Hz. That’s a limitation of HDMI 1.4b (resolved by HDMI 2.0), and it’s no big deal if you’re watching movies. It will be problematic with an HDMI display if you’re doing anything painstaking, however, such as editing photographs or playing games.
If you need oodles of bandwidth—say, for editing 4K video—Thunderbolt 2 is a fantastic technology. It’s four times faster than USB 3.0, and 25 times faster than FireWire 800 (another bus technology that never gained much traction in the PC market). In addition to being supremely fast, Thunderbolt 2 allows you to daisy-chain devices (up to six from a host computer, or up to 5 from a dock like Belkin’s) from a single port.
If the technology wasn’t so freaking expensive, I’m sure it would be a lot more popular with PC users. It’s the usual conundrum: Thunderbolt won’t get cheaper until there’s mass adoption, but mass adoption won’t occur until Thunderbolt gets cheaper.
Be that as it may, Belkin says its $300 Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock HD (Belkin model number F4U085bt) is available for purchase now (including a 1-meter Thunderbolt cable) at www.belkin.com.
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Michael is TechHive's lead editor and covers the smart home and home entertainment markets. He built his own smart home in 2007, which he uses as a real-world test lab when reviewing new products. Michael also reviews routers and networking products for TechHive and PCWorld.