StarTech Unveils Dual-Display Thunderbolt 2 Docking Station with 12 Portsby Anton Shilov on February 12, 2016 6:15 PM EST
Modern laptops are getting thinner with every generation and it becomes increasingly harder for PC makers to integrate multiple ports into them. Nonetheless, end-users still need to connect their external monitors, external storage, various peripherals, LAN, audio equipment and so on to their notebooks. Fortunately, there is the Thunderbolt technology that has plenty of bandwidth and which can be used to connect many devices to a PC at the same time. However, good docking stations with multiple ports are hard to find.
StarTech this week introduced its new docking station for notebooks equipped with Thunderbolt 2 ports, which can hook up to 12 different devices, including displays, storage, audio and LAN, to a single TB2 connector. The device costs $347.99, which is not really affordable, but it offers a comprehensive set of ports that is not available on other docks (at least, according to ThunderboltTechnology.net web-site) and which significantly expands capabilities of any TB2-equipped laptop.
The StarTech Thunderbolt 2 Dual-Monitor Docking Station for Laptops (TB2DOCK4K2DP) is based on the Intel DSL5520 (Falcon Ridge) quad-channel Thunderbolt 2 controller that can transfer data at 20 Gbps while simultaneously driving a single 4K (3840x2160) monitor or two QHD (2560x1440) monitors. The docking station can connect to two displays with up to 3840x2160 and 3440x1440 resolutions using DisplayPort and Thunderbolt connectors (ot just two DisplayPorts), essentially adding dual-monitor capability to any PC with a TB2 connector.
The Thunderbolt 2 Dual-Monitor Docking Station features two Thunderbolt 2 ports, two DisplayPort outputs, four USB 3.0 type-A ports (including one Fast-Charge port) driven by the Fresco Logic FL1100EX controller, one eSATA connector featuring the the ASMedia ASM1061 controller, one Gigabit LAN port enabled by the Intel WGI210AT chip, two 3.5 mm mini-jacks (TI PCM2912A) as well as one SPDIF optical Toslink audio output (CMedia CM6500). From the architectural standpoint, the StarTech Thunderbolt 2 docking station is a huge PCI Express-based expansion module with hot-plug capability. One USB 3.0 port can be used for charging smartphones or other devices compatible with the USB Battery Charging 1.2 specification (delivery of up to 7.5W of power) even when the dock itself is not connected to a PC.
Since the vast majority of Thunderbolt 2-enabled systems are Apple MacBook laptops, the docking station unsurprisingly comes in aluminum casin to match design of Apple's notebooks. The first MacBook with Thunderbolt 2 was unveiled in late 2013 and by now tens of millions of laptops featuring the interface have been shipped. The existing MacBook user base is also likely why StarTech is releasing a TB2 dock now, even after the recent release of Thunderbolt 3 technology (which offers higher bandwidth and compatibility with USB 3.1). A TB3 dock would be incompatible with the sizable existing base of TB2 users due to the port change (and no adapters are currently available) and meanwhile the number of TB3 systems in the field is still low as adoption of the TB3 by laptop vendors and users is only beginnng.
The 12-port Thunderbolt 2 docking station is available from StarTech today for $347.99. According to StarTech's press release, the device will also be available from CDW, Amazon.com, Newegg.com, PC Connection, and Insight and will be distributed internationally by Ingram Micro, SYNNEX, Tech Data, D&H and ASI. The package includes the device itself, one copper Thunderbolt cable, one 72W power adapter, four power cords as well as a manual.
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ABR - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - linkFinally, the ability to connect two monitors to a docking station, about 5 years late, but hey! But why display port, not HDMI, especially since the two daisied thunderbolt ports could presumably already handle DP output?
pixelstuff - Sunday, February 14, 2016 - linkMaybe HDMI is more expensive to license?
DanaGoyette - Friday, February 19, 2016 - linkWhy would you cripple a device by offering ONLY HDMI, when DisplayPort can drive everything else including HDMI? You can't really use HDMI to drive a 4k LCD at 60Hz, or drive a 2560x1440 LCD at 144Hz.
Also, using the chaining output for a monitor isn't enough -- what if I want to use more than one DisplayPort monitor?
danjw - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - linkWhy Thunderbolt 2 now? Startech is a bit behind the curve here, with Thunderbolt 3 already available and the Alpine Ridge controller cheaper.
benzosaurus - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - linkProbably because there currently exist TB3->TB2 adapters (or at least an adapter, also made by StarTech I believe), but not the other way around. And for the very vast majority of things, it doesn't really matter.
m2inor - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - linkWhile the Thunderbolt 3 spec describes a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 converter, none are shipping, nor are any docks. Yes, there are several Thunderbolt 3 laptops and computers shipping today, no devices are as yet. Looks like there is still lots of work yet to be done on the device and cable side.
Thunderbolt 3 cables will come in 2 flavors: passive cables with Type-C connectors on each end, good for speeds up to 20 Gbps, and active cables with Type-C connectors on each end required for 40 Gbps speeds. The Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 conversion is an active cable. Ideally, that converter should be bi-directional, but this may be difficult.
As for the Startech Dock, it looks god, but will likely not do any better than the docks already available at a lower price. Getting a dock to work with all the possible devices is a big task. Surely, it is certified, but I expect many potential compatibility issues.
USB 3.1 Gen 2 potentially could take out a lot of Thunderbolt 3 promise, as it is sufficient for most people's uses connecting a hard drive or SSD drive. Today's Thunderbolt 3 implementations are really limited to connecting USB devices only for the time being. Recall that Thunderbolt 3 implementations today also support USB 3.1 gen 2 devices due to the capabilities of the Intel Alpine Ridge chipset.
Thunderbolt 3 ports do have one attractive capability that will be useful for USB and Thunderbolt devices: 15w of power guaranteed. This is probably the single most "good thing" to say for this Type-C port.
Who knows, someday Apple may actually eventually ship computers and laptops equipped with Thunderbolt 3 ports. Until then, it will be slow going.
Lerianis - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - linkWhat compatibility issues? With USB 1 - 3.1, if it fits into the port, it works!
Same thing for Thunderbolt from what I have seen.
bill44 - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - linkStill looking for a reason to get exited about TB.
If I take DP (which I can get already, and soon be v1.3, that even TB v.1.3 will not support) out of the equation, what are we left with?
Storage? Would be nice to have an external enclosure with 1x M.2 (or 2x M.2 in RAID mode) in it that supports PCIe 3.0 x 4, but no such thing exist. All external TB storage boxes support max. SSD speeds (~560MB/s) (Key B) or in RAID mode <1K MB/s (which is the same if you use USB 3.1 Gen2). 1x M.2 (key M i.e. PCIe3.0x4) should be able to saturate USB3.1 Gen2, or provide full speed over TB 3.1 if the correct bridge chip be available. But it's not the case. As such, what are we left with?
I'm not a gamer, but love to have fast external storage solution. If Intel can squeeze DP v1.3 with FreeSync and HDMI 2.0a (alt modes) into TB v1.3 and chip vendors can create proper M.2 keyM PCI2 3.0x4 to TB chipsets, then YES I would be interested.
Osamede - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - linkKinda lost me on the sale at "Startech".....
kaidenshi - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - linkWhy? Out of all the gadget brands on Amazon and Newegg, Startech and Anker have been consistently good. I've had one Startech item arrive DOA in the past few years I've been buying them, and their reviews show them to be a solid if not phenomenal brand. They are the Rosewill of the gadget space; good enough, cheap enough, diverse enough.