In Apple's latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the company is saving space in its compact designs by doing away with a number of the less-used I/O options, including optical drives and some ports like Ethernet and FireWire. Instead of building them into the systems, Apple is promoting the use of its new high-throughput Thunderbolt technology by offering optional Thunderbolt adapters for the missing I/O ports that people may need.
Thunderbolt is a new high-throughput extension of the system's video and PCI-express buses, which means it can host a number of different controllers to expand the system's capabilities. Options for this include not only basic adapters for missing ports, but also the capability to host external PCI-express card enclosures and combined I/O hubs that can serve as docking stations for portable systems.
Apple's Thunderbolt display offers such docking capabilities as it contains a number of USB, FireWire, Ethernet, Display, and Audio ports all attached via one Thunderbolt connection, but a number of people who purchase Apple's new systems may wish to add either USB or FireWire capability without needing a full display. At its keynote announcement of the new systems, Apple mentioned it would provide separate Thunderbolt adapters for both gigabit Ethernet and FireWire to accommodate these needs.
Initially onlyas the company was still working on the FireWire adapters. Today Apple has made the FireWire adapters available in its Apple online store. The unit allows a single FireWire 800 connection (which can be expanded using daisy-chaining devices or using a FireWire hub) that supplies 7-watts of power to attached devices, and costs the same $29 as its Ethernet counterpart.
While geared toward systems that were shipped without these ports, both adapters can be used to expand the connectivity options on any Mac that has a Thunderbolt connection.