• Review: Matrox DS1 Thunderbolt Dock with HDMI


    When it first launched the promise of Thunderbolt was that you'd be able to hook a bunch of peripherals, including hard drives, a keyboard and mouse and your screen, up to your laptop with a single cable. Two years on however, there are a scant few options for actually doing so.The Matrox DS1 is definitely one of the more promising options out there so I thought I'd take a look.

    Matrox have a history of making graphics products for laptop users. Probably their most popular consumer offering is the Dual and TripleHead2Go series of Graphics Expansion Modules, which allow a laptop with a single VGA, DVI or DisplayPort output to power multiple screens. The Dual and TripleHead2Go series have always had excellent build quality and the DS1 is no exception.

    The dock itself is quite hefty and made of what feels like a slightly thicker aluminium than the current crop of Macs. It sits quite solidly on the desk and, thanks to it's weight and non-slip feet, doesn't move around all that much when you're connect or disconnecting cables.

    In the box you get the DS1 itself and a universal power supply with multiple international socket adapters. What you don't get, however, is a Thunderbolt cable, which is a little disappointing but not unusual as most Thunderbolt peripherals require you to BYO cable. Still, for the price it would be nice not to have to spend an extra $50 on a cable.

    Speaking of price, you can pick the DS1 up for between $320 and $380 depending on where you look, which puts it in the same price bracket as the Belkin Thunderbolt Express dock. It's a pricey peripheral but is still far cheaper than buying yourself a Thunderbolt display.

    On the front of the unit there's an indicator light (which lights up red when disconnected, and green when connected), an upstream Thunderbolt port for connection to your Thunderbolt enabled Mac, and a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port.

    Round the back there's a single HDMI or DVI port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, a 3.5mm mic and headphone port and the power socket.

    It would've been nice to get a few more USB 3.0 ports round the back as well as a FireWire 800 port, optical audio port and one or two more Thunderbolt ports to daisy chain other devices. The lack of additional Thunderbolt ports will mean that, for the few of you out there who actually have multiple Thunderbolt devices, the DS1 will have to be the very last in the chain.

    The single HDMI or single-link DVI port means that this really is a single monitor solution, which would be fine for people who want to connect their MacBook Pro or Air to a monitor, keyboard, mouse and some speakers. I, on the other hand, am addicted to multiple monitors...my current desktop has three 21.5" monitors hooked up to it. What I would really love is a version of the DS1 (maybe called the DS2 or DS3) that included a Matrox Dual or TripleHead2Go so I could hook 2 or 3 of those screens up to my MacBook Pro when I'm working from home. I realise that I'm part of a very niche market here and that it would increase the cost of the unit significantly...but a guy can dream

    I tested the DS1 with a 2011 Mac Mini, 2011 15" MacBook Pro, an Apple Thunderbolt cable, a USB aluminium Apple keyboard, a USB Logitech mouse, a 21.5" Benq screen with HDMI in and a set of basic Logitech stereo speakers.

    Unfortunately, I don't have any USB 3.0 devices or a mic with a 3.5mm connection, so I wasn't able to fully test the front USB 3.0 port or the 3.5mm mic port.

    I tested it with the Mac Mini initially, and then for the next two weeks with the MacBook Pro. During the two weeks I spent a couple of days working from home as well as spending a couple of hours each night following up on emails and other after hours work. I also hooked the MacBook Pro up to my trusty old 32" Sony Bravia via the DS1 to watch a couple of movies.

    The DS1 connected to both the Mac Mini and the MacBook Pro flawlessly with the single cable and was by far one of the most convenient home office setups I've had for a long while.

    Viewing content in 1080p on the Benq screen was indistinguishable from viewing the same content through a mini-displayport to HDMI adapter. The video quality was just as good when connected to the Bravia. Audio via HDMI and the 3.5mm stereo jack were equally good, when listening to music, podcasts or watching a movie. Network performance was also indistinguishable form using the internal Gigabit Ethernet adapter on both the Mac Mini and the MacBook Pro.

    All in all I was quite impressed with the Matrox DS1. It did everything it promised to do, performed admirably and made working from home a much more convenient affair. I'd recommend it more so to MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro owners looking for a convenient way to hook up their home or office setup to their laptop, as I feel it's a bit too pricey to justify duplicating the ports on a regular MacBook Pro or Mac mini.

    By day Alec is a Cisco certified network engineer who deploys IP Telephony infrastructure from his trusty 2011 unibody MacBook Pro. By night he's an amateur technology pundit with an addiction to mobile phones who plays far too many video games. You can normally find him lurking on the forums (formerly thatfilthyspringbok), follow him on Twitter, Google+ or on his blog, Inane Geekery.

    His opinions are all his own and do not reflect those of MacTalk or his employer.
  • Dropdown