Why does no one manufacture a Thunderbolt hub?
July 30, 2014 8:41 AM   Subscribe

For the life of me I can't figure out why there isn't a hardware manufacturer making a Thunderbolt hub available for purchase.

I totally understand the initial reasons why a Thunderbolt hub is not yet a thing. First, it's a somewhat new technology, so hardware is likely to take a while to be produced. Second, it's a much more complex interface than USB, etc. Third, a lot of Thunderbolt devices have two ports, thus allowing for daisy-chaining.

But what about all those Thunderbolt devices that don't have two ports? I have a LaCie 1TB external HDD, and a BlackMagic Design UltraStudio Express which each have only one port. My 15" MacBook Pro (with Retina) has only two Thunderbolt ports. So, if I want to use both of these devices, I can't use anything else that requires a Thunderbolt port. For instance, Thunderbolt/Firewire or Thunderbolt/Ethernet adapter, or another device with a single Thunderbolt port.

There are a myriad of docks available that would sort of help me out. I can only find ones that have one or two Thunderbolt ports, usually an Ethernet port, and sometimes a FireWire port. This helps, but still doesn't do me any good if I need to purchase more devices that feature only a single Thunderbolt port. If I was just looking to split Thunderbolt for two mini display port outputs, that would be easy. But that won't work with devices that require high transfer speeds, like video capture devices, or external HDD/SDD being used for video editing, etc.

Why doesn't anyone make a box that has all the hardware (and I would suppose software as well) to handle multiple (4 or more) thunderbolt interfaces? Portable (small) would be nice, even if it requires an external power supply.

posted by LoRichTimes to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm fairly sure that Thunderbolt just doesn't support this (except in some weird hacky ways), but I can't find definitive proof of that.
posted by katrielalex at 8:59 AM on July 30, 2014

As you've seen, devices (clients) will only have either two ports with one being a passthrough or will be dead-end devices. Computers (hosts) can have a maximum of two ports per controller.

This is a limitation of the controller architecture.

Your best bet is to get one of the docks that also has the ports you want to convert to (Gig-E, Firewire 800, USB3) and connect your LaCie to the USB3 port and the Ultrastudio to the passthrough TB port.

Or, use your onboard USB3 for the LaCie. Unless you are using a really fast SSD in that enclosure, you won't bump up against the SATA throughput limit, so you won't bump up against the USB3 throughput limit either.

The Belkin Thunderbolt Dock is probably the best dock for the money - $199 gets you two TB ports, Gig-E, three USB3 and Firewire 800.

Apple Thunderbolt displays have all of these ports broken out and have a passthrough TB.

The dock or display aren't a portable answer, but keeping storage on USB3 will help quite a bit, I think.
posted by tomierna at 10:01 AM on July 30, 2014

Response by poster: Yeah, my research turned up the same answers katrielalex and tomierna provided. I appreciate the confirmation of my analysis. I agree on the Belkin option, it seems to be the best. Thanks, pals!

Henge also has a pretty slick looking dock with three ports. However, they are listed as "video" ports, so I'm not sure if they're full Thunderbolt compatible, or just mini display port.

Maybe what I ought to do is look at building my own box with multiple host controllers. This will probably be difficult, but I'm always up for some fun. Maybe a kickstarter campaign will follow, haha.

posted by LoRichTimes at 10:21 AM on July 30, 2014

I have the Belkin dock and it's great.
posted by reddot at 10:41 AM on July 30, 2014

The Henge dock is almost certainly just Mini-DP.

Making a multi-host-controller box probably isn't feasible as a "hub" - TB is ostensibly PCI-E over a different physical layer.

I suppose you could potentially use one of the TB to PCI-e cages and multiple thunderbolt cards, but now you're talking about $600 to end up with a 1:3 ratio.
posted by tomierna at 10:44 AM on July 30, 2014

In contrast to something like USB, where multiple devices sharing a hub was designed in from beginning, Thunderbolt is based on PCI Express, which is a standard that originally connected graphics boards, hard drive controllers, etc. inside a computer. It's a minor technological miracle that it can be multiplexed over a cable at all, even if you just have devices connected end to end. Given the small market I wouldn't be holding my breath. USB was designed from the beginning for a boatload of devices at relatively slow data rates, and has relatively high overhead because of it. USB is kind of like a traffic light on your local roads, Thunderbolt is like race cars merging on the track.
posted by wnissen at 10:51 AM on July 30, 2014

Response by poster: Very true, wnissen. What I'm hoping for is a software/host controller combination that gets us something similar to the 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports on a Mac Pro. I realize this is a different beast, but surely we can get there eventually. Perhaps bridging the two TB ports on a MacBook Pro into another device with 6 ports or similar? Again, just ideas...would be nice...make life a bit easier.
posted by LoRichTimes at 11:30 AM on July 30, 2014

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