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Summary:

The new Echo Thunderbolt to ExpressCard/34 adapter from Sonnet allows you to plug in ExpressCard/34 accessories and then use them via your Mac’s Thunderbolt port. When it arrives in October, it’ll be a way for users to connect Thunderbolt-equipped Macs to USB 3.0 drives and more.

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I’ve got two Macs with Thunderbolt ports, and I’ve got the $50 cable, but that’s about where things end when it comes to my being able to take advantage of Intel’s latest high-speed, low latency input/output connection tech. But thanks to a newly announced product, Thunderbolt is about to get a lot more useful, and should even work with the wide array of existing USB 3.0 hard drives and accessories.

The product in question is the Echo Thunderbolt to ExpressCard/34 adapter from Sonnet, which allows you to plug in ExpressCard/34 accessories and then use them via your Mac’s Thunderbolt port. ExpressCard/34 is a connection standard that’s only available built-in on 17-inch MacBook Pros, and allows you to plug in various adapters, like USB or FireWire hubs, memory card readers, modems, eSATA and USB 3.0 port add-ons.

So far, we’ve yet to see too many Thunderbolt accessories go into production, or at least ones that cost less than $1,000. There’s the Pegasus RAID array available through the Apple online store, which is admittedly a good deal for that kind of hardware, but it’s a little pricey for ordinary users. And Apple also recently introduced Thunderbolt Cinema Displays, but that’s also something that might appeal more to professional customers.

With the Echo ExpressCard/34 adapter, anyone will be able to use drives that support USB 3.0 or SATA high-speed transfer technology with their Macs, as well as add FireWire, Ethernet or memory card reader ports to computers that don’t have them, like the MacBook Air. The adapter will admittedly be a bit bulky, and its $150 cost is just the starting point, since you’ll have to buy the appropriate ExpressCard/34 adapter as well as any drives or accessories you want to use with your Mac, but it still puts things in a much more affordable range than the current crop of available Thunderbolt-powered add-ons.

The Echo is available for pre-order, and ships in October. It’s definitely one way to make your computer’s Thunderbolt more useful, but would you rather wait until more direct solutions appear? Let us know in the comments.

  1. A minor point here — my late 2008 MBP 5,1 15″ also has an ExpressCard/34 slot.

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