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ViDock External Thunderbolt PCI Expansion Chassis and Hub in Development


Current generation ViDock

VillageTronic has started work on a Thunderbolt version of its ViDock PCI expansion chassis that allows laptop owners to use PCI Express graphics cards on their computers. They lay out the following usage scenario:

Imagine using your thin and light laptop PC during the day on the job, at school, or at the local café then arriving home, or dorm room, plugging it into your ViDock and firing up your latest PC game on a large format monitor. Just plug in one cable into your laptop PC and you instantly have a powerful 3D workstation with a big display, a big keyboard and your pointing device of choice. You are ready for gaming, video transcoding, photoshop, 3D design, watching full 1080p HD movies, and more!
The ViDock presently interfaces through laptops using an ExpressCard slot, but we've heard that development has started on a Thunderbolt compatible version. ExpressCard slots are a rarity on Apple's laptops, presently only available on the 17" MacBook Pro. By offering a Thunderbolt version of this expansion chassis, even 11" MacBook Air customers could theoretically drive an external graphics card.

Villiagetronic originally posted a feeler for such a device on their Facebook page, promising to pursue development if there was enough interest. They've also discussed the possibility of adding USB ports, Ethernet and other ports to the expansion dock. Separately, we've heard the chassis itself will adopt an aluminum "Mac" look, unlike the presently shipping ViDocks (pictured above).

Sony had previously introduced a similar but proprietary dock system for their upcoming ultra-thin 13" notebook. It's no surprise that companies are starting to work on similar solutions for the broader market, and Villiagetronic isn't alone with a similar Sonnet device also having been announced.

Top Rated Comments

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43 months ago

" ... Imagine using your thin and light laptop PC during the day on the job, at school, or at the local café then arriving home, or dorm room, plugging it into your ViDock and firing up your latest PC game on a large format monitor. Just plug in one cable into your laptop PC and you instantly have a powerful 3D workstation with a big display, a big keyboard and your pointing device of choice. You are ready for gaming, video transcoding, photoshop, 3D design, watching full 1080p HD movies, and more! ..."


Yeah .. imagine that Thunderbolt naysayers ... Can USB 3.0 do that? :D
Rating: 4 Votes
43 months ago

...if the drivers for Lion exist, which they probably won't. Also depending on the power supply the true high-end graphics cards might not get enough juice.


I'd imagine anything like this would have to come with its own power supply to be viable in the first place, so I wouldn't worry.

P.S. So now you people understand why some of us see a bright future for thunderbolt. Buy yourself a low-end mac mini, then get yourself one of these babies, and presto! A gaming PC. All we need now is for AMD/NVidia to start provide their own drivers, then we'd be all set. I wonder if NDIS could be ported to Mac OS?
Rating: 4 Votes
43 months ago

Thats a cool idea. Wouldn't surprise me if Apple themselves have played around with the idea too.


would love to see this on thunderbolt displays. it would actually influence me to buy one.


Think of the new Apple Thunderbolt Display if Apple put a monster GPU in the display and when you dock your MacBook Air it turbo charges it with a beautiful display and ports already there! This sounds like a logical progression for mobile computing coexisting with power users! :cool:
Rating: 4 Votes
43 months ago

Exactly. Didn't this idea get discussed and sunk a few weeks ago? Apparently TB doesn't provide enough bandwidth for a top end graphics chip.

However, could it work if the graphics chip only needs to send its output directly on to the display? I don't know about the electronics necessary here at all - pure speculation on my part.

Do you normally go: Processor>Graphics chips>Processor>Graphics chips>Display?

Or just: Processor (data) >Graphics (draw)>Display?


Apparently lots of people talk a lot without knowing much what they are talking about. While high end graphics cards can use 16 PCI lanes instead of the four the Thunderbolt provides, that doesn't mean they actually improve performance. PCI lanes are only used for sending textures and commands to the graphics card. Giving the graphics card plenty of video RAM avoids having to resend textures, and Thunderbolt is still tons faster than the hard drive that these textures are read from. And you don't send _that_ many commands to the graphics card, especially with physics on the card. And what makes a high end card really high end is the amount of pixelshader code that it can run, and that is completely on the card and doesn't go over Thunderbolt at all.

And the normal case is that a graphics card sends data directly to the display. So an external card could have a DVI or HDMI adapter, or Displayport, or even Thunderbolt so that you can attach two displays, but not connected back to the main computer. It basically works exactly the same as any old graphics card that you buy and put into a MacPro or a desktop PC.
Rating: 4 Votes
43 months ago

The Sonnets come with 150W or 75W power supplies. The Radeon HD 6970 requires about 360W (http://www.guru3d.com/article/radeon-6950-6970-review/11). So, as I said- the high end graphics cards will still be out of reach unless they decide to stick a rather large PSU on the back of those things.

Of course, not everyone will need the best of the best. I imagine for most people the bay PSU will suffice for whatever they want to put in it.


That is the wattage the whole system is using, not the power consumption of the GPU (it can't really be measured separately). 6970 has TDP of 250W while the Sonnet and ViDock provide up to 225W (150W PSU + 75W PCIe).
Rating: 3 Votes
43 months ago

I'd imagine anything like this would have to come with its own power supply to be viable in the first place, so I wouldn't worry.


The current ViDocks come in 3 configs to handle the power

ViDock 3 is designed for graphics cards that consume up to 75W of power and get all of their power needs from the PCI Express connector. It can accommodate cards up to 240mm long, which is a bit longer than the PCI Express Standard “half length” cards.

ViDock 4 is designed for those higher performance graphics cards that require up to 150W of power and use a 6 pin power connector to supplement the power supplied by the PCI Express connector. It will accommodate cards that are up to 316mm long, which is the PCI Express “full length” specification.

ViDock 4 Plus adds a second 2 x 3 pin power connector to accommodate graphics cards that require up to 225W.

Rating: 2 Votes
43 months ago

not enough bandwith in thunderbolt yet. Thunderbolt = 4x PCIe. Modern video cards use 16x PCIe.


Please see the multiple posts in this thread disputing this fact. Its annoying when people spread information that is not correct. To summarize, modern GPUs support 16x but do not utilize that potential bandwidth except for the highest end cards. Even then, 4x is enough to get over 90% of the potential out of the highest GPUs so this implementation could greatly benefit those who are willing to pay for the option.
Rating: 2 Votes
43 months ago

Shame thunderbolt isn't fast enough to support full-speed PCIe cards, otherwise it'd be a lot more interesting.


Exactly. Didn't this idea get discussed and sunk a few weeks ago? Apparently TB doesn't provide enough bandwidth for a top end graphics chip.

However, could it work if the graphics chip only needs to send its output directly on to the display? I don't know about the electronics necessary here at all - pure speculation on my part.

Do you normally go: Processor>Graphics chips>Processor>Graphics chips>Display?

Or just: Processor (data) >Graphics (draw)>Display?
Rating: 2 Votes
43 months ago
Some are saying this kind of device is useless and it is just as cost-effective to build a PC. This reasoning is fairly sound, but it neglects a few important factors. First, some of us do not want a large PC (and even Micro ATX is large compared to a laptop) weighting us down. I don't spend a lot of time in front of a computer at home. While I am there, I like to have things neat and clean and quiet; this is impossible with a large PC desktop. I've dealt with those for years and gaming on them is great. However, they too become dated and require updating.

Second, it's not necessarily cheaper to build a new PC than to buy this external GPU case. Version 4 is roughly $250-$300. A respectable graphics card might be another $200. That puts us at about $500 (unless, like myself, you have a spare GPU lying around, making this a much better deal). A decent PC will cost about $900 and that's not including a monitor if you need it. So, you're not having to lay as much down for this unit when you already have the MBP (Air, etc) to plug into it.

There are definitely downsides to this product, not least of all the lack of Mac drivers for all the various cards out there (though Boot Camp may be a respectable alternative). Then there's the Thunderbolt support to consider. If I could plug this product in and my Mac recognised it instantly, then we'd be on to something. However, it doesn't seem like it would be one of those products that Apple would include native drivers for in its next OS install (disc, download, USB stick). However, the promise is great and anything is better than the Intel HD 3000 in this 13" MBP.

I just wonder what happens when you plug it into your computer. It only supports an external monitor. Does that mean your MBP (Air, iMac, etc) monitor just goes black while this is plugged in? Can you just close your Mac while it's being used in this way? Anyway...I'm still excited about this news and after a few reviews start rolling out if this thing is ever developed, I'll jump on the chance to purchase this. I will then be able to avoid the purchase of an XBOX 360, which I was considering to replace the PC I just dismantled and took to the dump. Do I really need any more excuses to waste my time? Perhaps. What a shame people keep coming up with cool s***. I gotta stop spending money, as I have an engagement ring to budget for! =P
Rating: 2 Votes
43 months ago
As I said before: Thunderbolt is going to destroy a good portion of the MacPro market. With this event, I won't buy another MacPro in the future. iMacs will be fine, or even Mac Minis in a few years as the processors step up more and more.
Rating: 1 Votes

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