The Thunderbolt interface has opened the door for a variety of new accessories, and Matrox' DS1 docking station exemplifies the standard's versatility. The DS1 is geared for Apple's notebook computers, pairing either HDMI or DVI output with additional ports for USB 3.0/2.0, Gigabit Ethernet and audio input/output. In our full review, we try out the HDMI dock's full range of connection options.
The DS1 is a bit smaller than a brick, wrapping the internal components in an aluminum shell with ports on the front and back. The design complements Apple's aluminum hardware, with a bead-blasted matte finish and rounded edges.
Matrox chose to locate the Thunderbolt port on the front of the dock, alongside the single USB 3.0 port, while the rest of the connections are placed on the backside. We found this to be a logical layout, making an easy job of detaching the Thunderbolt cable and a portable USB device when taking the notebook on the road. The dock is designed to be left on a desk, and the backside ports help avoid unnecessary clutter.
We were surprised to that the DS1 does not provide dual Thunderbolt ports, necessary for daisy-chain operation with other Thunderbolt gear. Luckily, the Retina MacBooks have two Thunderbolt ports and many Thunderbolt accessories also provide two ports, enabling the DS1 to be put at the end of a chain.
The video outputs serve as the focal point of the docks, providing an option for connecting displays that do not directly support Thunderbolt. Our review covers the HDMI variant, and we have not tried out the DVI alternative.
We had no problems connecting a 15-inch, Late 2011 MacBook Pro to an external display via HDMI, with 1920x1080 resolution. Unfortunately the dock limits display resolution to 1920x1080, even though many monitors support higher resolutions, such as 2560x1440, over an HDMI connection. The DVI model is similarly restricted, limited to single-link operation with resolution capped at 1920x1200.
The latest MacBooks support USB 3.0, however many of the first models with Thunderbolt connections are limited to USB 2.0. The DS1 helps overcome this limitation, as the frontside port supports USB 3.0 even on MacBooks without such capabilities. Some users may be disappointed to find that the backside USB ports are limited to USB 2.0.
The audio input and output are welcome features, particularly if a user typically connects an external speaker system or microphone to their notebook whenever they use it with a display. For simplicity, however, the audio signal is still carried over HDMI for displays that have integrated speakers.
Gigabit Ethernet is another nice touch, further reducing the need to buy a dedicated Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter. The only glaring omission is FireWire, a common standard that is not included in the port layout of Retina MacBooks or MacBook Airs.
As a versatile Thunderbolt dock, the DS1 is hard to beat. Matrox also appears to be one of the first companies to bring its dock to market, and the $249 price point seems like a fair price for the range of features.
The closest competition appears to be Belkin's Thunderbolt Express dock, however the two products are geared for different uses. Matrox brings a display adapter but sacrifices FireWire, Thunderbolt passthrough and USB 3.0 support for the two rear ports. Belkin's $399 dock, which hasn't shipped yet, lacks any display adapter but adds a second Thunderbolt connection, USB 3.0 support for all three ports, and a FireWire connection.