Intel’s Thunderbolt interconnect has a lot of potential for notebooks, whose increasingly slimmer profiles limit not only the number of expansion ports that can be squeezed into the chassis, but also what sort of hardware can be tucked under the hood. For me, the biggest draw is the promise of external graphics modules. We’ve seen a couple of prototypes of MSI’s GUS, which allows Thunderbolt-equipped notebooks to leverage the horsepower of standard desktop graphics cards over a single Thunderbolt cable. We’ve also heard that the GUS isn’t popular with at least one graphics chip maker. That may explain why the prototypes, which have been working in all the demos we’ve seen, haven’t spawned actual products.
There may be an alternative thanks to Magma, a San Diego-based company that’s offering a Thunderbolt-equipped PCI Express expansion box. The ExpressBox 3T features three PCIe slots: dual x8s and a single x4. Only one of the x8 slots can accept x16 cards, but dual-slot coolers would block the second x8 slot, anyway.
The ExpressBox comes with its own cooling fan and 250W power supply. There are no auxiliary PCIe power connectors inside, but a pair of four-pin Molex connectors are available to provide additional power. Adapters should take care of the rest. Of course, the ExpressBox isn’t designed for gamers. Magma is pushing it as a solution for video capture cards, audio processing, and wicked-fast PCIe storage.
If you want to give the ExpressBox a shot with a PC graphics card, brace yourself. The device costs a whopping $979—and that’s without the required Thunderbolt cable. At least the thing has two Thunderbolt ports, which allows it to be daisy chained with other devices. Thanks to Xbit Labs for the tip.