It seems that hardware vendors are finally answering the call of Mac users seeking to use Thunderbolt as a generic interface for expansion cards. Last week, Magma, best known for its line of PCI express expansion chassis, announced a three board Thunderbolt version, the ExpressBox 3T. Although the company has not yet released timing and pricing, they are signing up prospective customers on their website.
Magma ExpressBox 3T
The Magma ExpressBox 3T will house three PCI express (PCIe) cards and should be compatible with any 2011—vintage Apple Macintosh computer, including the MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, and Mac Mini. It is intended for high-end users seeking to utilize specialized video capture, media transcoding, audio processing, or connectivity cards. Although no details are provided, Magma’s ExpressBox 3T imagery shows multilane, full-length, and full height cards for illustration.
Although Thunderbolt is fast, is nowhere near as fast as the internal expansion slots found on a Mac Pro or desktop or server PC. All the I/O from cards used in the ExpressBox will have to share a single 10 Gb PCI express lane. While this is certainly preferable to USB or FireWire, it’s not quite desktop performance. Single card solutions already announced by Sonnet and Village Instruments are less affected by this Thunderbolt bottleneck, but a multi-card device containing a Fibre Channel controller, graphics board, and video codec might start pushing the limits.
Expect the ExpressBox 3T to be priced for the professional market. Considering that the single slot ExpressBox1 sells for $829, the ExpressBox 3T will likely come in over $1,000. This puts it out of reach for most home enthusiast users, but Apple wielding professionals will have no trouble justifying the expense for their multimedia workstations.
Although the Magma ExpressBox 3T isn’t a general purpose device, is yet another indicator of the flexibility and capabilities of Apple’s and Intel’s Thunderbolt technology. The fact that companies like Magma, Village Instruments, and Sonnet can deliver this type of capability suggests great things on the horizon for a broader range of Thunderbolt users.