Matrox has announced the release of its DS1 docking solution for Thunderbolt-equipped Mac systems, which comes in either a DVI or an HDMI option, and otherwise provides Ethernet, USB 2.0, and USB 3.0, as well as additional audio ports to Macs.
Thunderbolt is Apple's next-generation I/O technology that is built to be a long-lasting, multi-purpose port for its Mac lineup. The port offers a massive 10Gbps throughput and combines the protocols for both Displayport and PCI-express, allowing for not only external monitors but also a vast number of expansion possibilities, far beyond the capability of USB or FireWire alone.
This technology's capabilities have been promising, but at its initial release there were relatively few Thunderbolt options, with the first wave of devices being storage options. Being an extension of the PCI-express bus, however, makes Thunderbolt far more capable than a peripheral attachment system, with one option being a convenient docking port, where laptops can be connected to a hub that contains USB, video out, data I/O like USB and FireWire, and Ethernet ports, among others that can be added to a standard desktop system via PCI-express cards.
So far the only option that provides this connectivity has been Apple's Thunderbolt display; however, this device is costly at $999 and has a built in LED monitor, a feature that many people do not need.
To tackle the demand for such a device without a built-in monitor, companies like Belkin and Matrox have been developing similar Thunderbolt docks that can be used with monitor devices of your own choosing. The Belkin Express Dock is slated for release in January of 2013, but today Matrox has jumped the gun and made its DS1 dock available for purchase.
The DS1 offers a Gigabit Ethernet port, one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, and audio I/O. The device is priced at $249.
Unfortunately, when compared to the Belkin Express Dock's features, the DS1 does come up a little short. For one, it does not include additional Thunderbolt ports so it will need to be the last device in the Thunderbolt daisy chain. Additionally, it is missing a few useful options such as FireWire connectivity and additional USB 3.0 ports. USB 3.0 is backward-compatible with USB 2.0, so including only one such port along with two USB 2.0 ports is a bit limiting. In comparison, the Belkin solution will offer three USB 3.0 ports.
The last issue with the Matrox DS1 is that it comes in two flavors: DVI or HDMI. The built-in display adapter is useful to have, but unfortunately is the only option that either model gives you for connecting a display device. Conversely, the Belkin solution offers an additional Thunderbolt port with no built-in adapters, so while you will need to supply your own display adapter, with this approach you can not only add DVI and HDMI, but use VGA adapters as well.
These differences may not matter for your needs, so if you have a DVI or HDMI display and do not use FireWire devices (or have FireWire built into your Mac), then the DS1 will be a relatively cheap and feasible option to get your Mac docked away.
Both the DS1 and the Belkin solutions will require you to provide your own Thunderbolt cable.