Today, peripheral vendor Sonnet announced the Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter, which will enable Thunderbolt-equipped Apple Macintosh computers to use a variety of ExpressCard peripherals. The Echo is a compact adapter about the size of an iPhone, but the price may leave some potential customers in shock when it arrives in October of 2011.
You might also want to read Apple’s Thunderbolt Display Shows the Future and The First Thunderbolt Peripherals On Display At NAB Show
Introducing the Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter
The Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter (which I’ll call the “Echo” for now) is one more step in fulfilling the promise of Thunderbolt. Because it carries to full PCI Express lanes, Thunderbolt enables compact computers like the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini, and iMac full speed connectivity with a variety of peripherals.
Although the first announced Thunderbolt peripherals were storage devices, a new wave of non-storage products is beginning to appear. Sonnet’s new Echo adapter follows a number of announced PCI Express card cages. The Echo likely shares much of the same electrical engineering, since ExpressCard peripherals also use PCI Express, but a USB controller would be needed as well to support ExpressCard.
The Echo is a fairly simple device with a single Thunderbolt port on the back and a single ExpressCard slot in the front. This is actually something of a limitation, since the Echo must be at the end of any Thunderbolt daisychain, a position typically occupied by a DisplayPort monitor. But the Echo is clearly intended for portable computers, and environment unlikely to contain such a display.
Thunderbolt is a fairly expensive technology at this point. Consider that Apple decided to go with a cheaper one lane controller chip in the new MacBook Air, for example. Peripheral makers warned me at NAB that early Thunderbolt peripherals would be on the pricey side, and they were right!
Sonnet’s list price for the Echo ExpressedCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter is $149.95. And it requires the purchase of Apple’s $49 Thunderbolt cable as well! So buyers will be out almost $200 before they even purchase a USB 3.0, eSATA, or P2 card reader!
Audio/video production professionals probably won’t bat an eye at this price, but it locks out home users and enthusiasts like myself. It is disappointing that the price is so high, but Sonnet is not to blame. Thunderbolt is a new technology and the chips are reportedly quite expensive still.
The Sonnet Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter demonstrates the power of Thunderbolt to bring flexible, high-performance connectivity to compact computers. But we are still in the first generation of devices like this, and it will be a while before prices drop out of the stratosphere. I would love to test an Echo, and would welcome a demonstration unit (hint, hint Sonnet!)