tb dock 1 Intel is planning docking solution for next years Ultrabooks using Thunderbolt

According to information that has reached VR-Zone, Intel has big plans when it comes to Ultrabooks and the first major step forward from the fairly unimpressive machines we've seen so far is the addition of support for docking stations. This being Intel doing things the Intel way the company will rely on its Thunderbolt technology as well as an additional dock connector, at least if the company can sell its plans to the notebook manufacturers.

According to information that has reached VR-Zone, Intel has big plans when it comes to Ultrabooks and the first major step forward from the fairly unimpressive machines we've seen so far is the addition of support for docking stations. This being Intel doing things the Intel way the company will rely on its Thunderbolt technology as well as an additional dock connector, at least if the company can sell its plans to the notebook manufacturers.

The current crop of Ultrabooks are in our opinion fairly uninspiring with most models targeting poorly educated consumers. Not only do they offer worse performance than your average notebook, but on average the battery life is as bad as or worse than a similar notebook with a 35W CPU. Sure, you get a slim and lightweight notebook, but that's really it and it's not as if most Ultrabooks are cheap at that.

With its move towards docking solutions we have a feeling that Intel is eyeing the corporate market space where performance quite often is second to many other features that are required. We're somewhat disappointed with Intel's approach here though as the company had a chance to standardize things, but instead chose not to. There's nothing worse than having to buy custom made accessories, especially notebook docking solutions or port replicators, as most of them are almost guaranteed to not work with your next notebook as then technology has progressed too far.

tb dock 1 Intel is planning docking solution for next years Ultrabooks using Thunderbolt

In simple terms, Intel is suggesting that the notebook makers should fit a rather large dock connector plus a mini DisplayPort connector side by side to make it easy to attach a dock or a port replicator via either a cable or a side mounted latch mechanism of some kind. It doesn't exactly look like a user friendly connector and considering that Intel expects to run several different interfaces down the same cable, it looks like a serious design problem waiting to happen.

Due to Intel's own inflexible technology, the on board Ethernet controller has to have direct access to the Ethernet port on the dock as otherwise technologies such as Intel's vPro and Microsoft's Connected Standby won't work. Then you have to deliver power through the same cable to power the notebook through the dock and let's not forget the Thunderbolt data. Intel is even suggesting that notebook makers can pipe things like audio and just about anything else they want through the dock connector to save cost, although this is apparently not the ideal solution.

tb dock 2 Intel is planning docking solution for next years Ultrabooks using Thunderbolt

As Thunderbolt is a combination of PCI Express signalling and DisplayPort, Intel has some suggestions as to what kind of ports the dock should feature, but this is pretty much open to the notebook manufacturer. Some suggestions include a mini DisplayPort connector, HDMI via DP++, a D-sub connector via USB, a built in USB controller that will connect to USB ports and audio, eSATA via a PCI Express based SATA controller and just about anything else you can think of that needs PCI Express connectivity. Intel is also suggestion that daisy chaining Thunderbolt devices onto the dock could be a possibility, but this does a we know depend on which Thunderbolt chip is being used and will likely increase the cost of the dock by a fair margin.

This solution is meant to be the quickest and simplest way to create a Thunderbolt dock according to Intel as it uses a certified port for Thunderbolt. However, the company isn't dismissing the idea of custom dock connectors, sort of what we've already seen from Sony, although optical connectivity doesn't seem to be part of Intel's suggested route to achieve this. This kind of solution would require certification to make sure the Thunderbolt signalling remains within spec, so it's not the most likely solution.

So what about USB 3.0 docks? Well, it really seems like Intel has given USB 3.0 the thumbs down, as at least according to the details we've seen, Intel is calling USB 3.0 a poor option for docking stations when it comes to adding features such as display interfaces and for tunnelling certain protocols through it. Considering the already much wider update of USB 3.0, we can't but wonder what Intel was thinking, but then again, the company is most likely trying to sell its expensive Thunderbolt chips rather than having third parties have a slice of the action. It's fair to say that USB 3.0 has some limitations compared to Thunderbolt, but it's likely to be a much more affordable route to go down and we can see this being the far more popular option for docking stations as not only will you be able to buy third party solutions of which some are already in the market, but we'd expect the cost difference to make up for just about all of the benefits that a Thunderbolt dock can offer.