Thunderbolt’s potential is pretty much unused but most people who have the port on their laptop. But a new accessory might give users a chance to upgrade their MacBooks. The ViDock from Village Instruments sells three external desktop graphics card docks that connect to your MacBook via the new Thunderbolt port. The docks are like enclosures many of us have used for an external hard drive, but it fits a desktop PCI Express graphics card instead.
Why would anyone want an external graphics card for their MacBook? If you are a serious gamer, no MacBook offers the same power you can get from the latest greatest PCI Express desktop graphics card. Also, today’s powerful graphics cards quickly become next year’s budget card when compared to the newest cards shipped. Upgrading this year’s best MacBook graphics card is impossible when NVIDIA or ATI push out newer mobile graphics chips.
Second, for those who just bought a MacBook Air, the processor might be enough for doing mid-level video editing, however the integrated graphics processor will be a bottleneck. Adding an external graphics card could provide enough power to make the computer useful for editing complex video projects.
Mac Mini buyers might like the lower cost of the Mini but find the graphics chip constraining. Adding this accessory solves that problem without having to buy an expensive Mac Pro. Finally, if PC makers ever jump on the Thunderbolt bandwagon, this solution will give users an upgrade path.
This solution won’t travel well so plan to use it at home or in the office. The case looks like a very large external 3.5″ hard drive enclosure or optical drive enclosure. It adds a USB hub for connecting a keyboard, mouse or other devices making it more than just a graphics add-on. Village Instruments claims it works best with Windows 7, but Macs are the only Thunderbolt enabled notebook computers at this time. It does work with OS X, but the company doesn’t specify what limitations there are, if any, when used on a Mac.
There are three models depending on the power and size of your PCI Express graphics card:
- ViDock 3 – useful for cards that need up to 75 watts of power and up to 240mm long
- ViDock 4 – up to 150 watts and 315mm long
- ViDock 4 Plus – up to 225 watts and 315mm long
You will have to assemble the do-it-yourself kit so you supply the card. A high-end PCI-Express graphics card will cost $300-$400 or more while you can purchase less powerful cards for a more modest price. The docks themselves are $199 for the ViDock 3, $239 for the 4 and $279 for the 4 Plus at Village Instruments. Add $15, $20 or $25 respectively for shipping to anywhere in the world.
Should you bother? If you have a recent computer with a Thunderbolt port and integrated graphics, this solution might add some power enabling you to do some hard core gaming. Video editors will likely already have a powerful enough system, but if you don’t, this is one way to upgrade without replacing your computer that you just bought this year. People with very specialized needs who have to have dedicated graphics while at home or the office, but don’t need it on the go, will be able to use one of these docks.