Thunderbolt! I’ve been waiting patiently for someone to announce a rollout of front or back-panel Thunderbolt headers and ports on motherboards for some time. Thunderbolt is a very flexible connection standard, allowing for two displays and five other devices to be daisy-chained on one cable system. Three competing motherboards have been launched in the weeks before Computex with Thunderbolt ports on their back panels: ASUS’ P8Z77-V Premium, Intel’s DZ77RE-75K and MSI’s Z77A-GD80. All of them enable the kind of setup that Anandtech shows below, all running off of one cable and a wireless mouse and keyboard.
But the spotlight is on ASUS for now and they have a few things to share, starting with their open support for Thunderbolt and moving on to something I’ve always wanted to see – a phoneblet! Confused? Hit the jump to see more.
The P8Z77-V Premium comes with all the bells and whistles you can imagine. Its a full-sized ATX board with support for four graphics cards in PCI-Express 16x slots, a 32GB mSATA SSD for drive caching, nine SATA ports and a full complement of USB 3.0 headers, dual ethernet ports, Displayport, HDMI and Thunderbolt. The board should retail at a RRP of $450 (approx R3800) when it arrives on our shores. While the P8Z77-V Premium will be the only ASUS board available with Thunderbolt for now, there’s a cheaper, $300-ish P8Z77V-Pro/Thunderbolt on the cards, which will also include the connection on the back panel and chop out the SSD and one PCI-Express 16x slot.
Thunderbolt enables the kinds of simplicity Apple users have enjoyed (bugs and all) for the last year and a bit, most notably the Cinema Thunderbolt 27″ Display. Picture using your Windows Ultrabook with a TB connection on two displays using TB along with a wireless keyboard and mouse, two NAS drives and an Ethernet connection. You disconnect the cable connecting the laptop to the setup and put it in your bag. On the way to work (if you ride a train or something where you’re not the driver) you work on your whatever some more, saving it before packing the Ultrabook back into the bag for when you’re walking to work. You get into the office, plug in your Ultrabook to your TB-packing monitor at work, again with a wireless keyboard and mouse and another Ethernet connection and you continue life as normal. With a Thunderbolt-connected Nvidia Quadro GPU for accelerating your Photoshop efforts.
Its seriously convenient to have everything work on one cable, instead of only having to choose Dell, HP, or Lenovo laptops with their overpriced desktop docks. I’ve always maintained that consumers (not us NAG readers, because we’re more than just average consumers!) always favour convenience and ease of setup over something that might be cheaper but takes a bit more fiddling.
Moving right along, ASUS has another product in the pipeline – the ThunderboltEX PCI-Express card. Since Thunderbolt is a 10Gb/s bidirectional connection, it needs to have four PCI Express lanes for the add-on card to ensure that it runs at full speed. The ThunderboltEX features a single Displayport and a Thunderbolt port. The card will run on any motherboard which provides a working TB header on the board. However, without a Displayport signal, the connection cannot allow two displays on a single TB cable, thereby limiting the card’s usefulness with a motherboard that doesn’t have on-board Displayport.
The ThunderboltEX is the standard card, with the EX/Dual sporting two Thunderbolt ports with an additional Displayport to support up to two monitors on the second chain. While there will be other Thunderbolt add-in cards to choose from, its likely that the EX is going to be one of the few that offer the option to add displays to the chain as well. The ThunderboltEX is aimed at owners of the P8Z77-V Deluxe, P8Z77-V, P8Z77-V LE, P8H77-V, Sabertooth Z77, P8Z77-V Pro, P8Z77-V LE Plus, P8-Z77-V LK, P8H77-M Pro and Maximus V Gene motherboards.
And for ASUS Padfone owners (not that anyone has one right now) who were planning on using their phones connected to the compatible tablet and keyboard docks, here’s something that might simplify your life a little more. More and more people are turning to smartphones for work purposes and the Padfone and Motorola Atrix at least enabled power users to get halfway there. The Transformer Prime family notwithstanding, the Padfone might be your weapon of choice thanks to a new monitor dock.
I like the idea already. The monitor is a 24-inch LED-backlit affair and features a dock for the phone at the bottom. It serves up HDMI, VGA and DVI connectors as well as four USB 3.0 ports. The keyboard and mouse you see are Bluetooth-connected and are optional extras. What’s really interesting is that the monitor can also be used as a regular monitor, suggesting that it can switch on the fly to the Padfone. The dock also charges the phone, keeping battery life nice and high for power users. Oh, it also sits at 1920 x 1200 resolution. I sense a wave of people who never owned the Samsung T260 about to queue up to buy this one anyway. If you’re not following me, its incredibly hard to find a cheapish monitor with a vertical length longer than 1080 pixels. While most content is in the default 16:9 ratio, 16:10 is a lot better and allows screens with higher clarity thanks to the extra pixels crammed into it.
That’s all for now folks, although ASUS has a few more interesting announcements to cover, including a Transformer that is going to be the envy of many. Stay tuned!
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