A Modern Docking Station

James Galbraith at Macword, in his review of Apple’s 27-inch Thunderbolt Display:

For owners of the 2011 MacBook Air, the Thunderbolt Display is a fantastic way to get iMac-like features while still being able to walk away with one of the lightest laptops available. If your Mac has Thunderbolt, FireWire 800, and gigabit ethernet, the case for buying the comparatively inflexible Thunderbolt display is a little less interesting.

This setup is very attractive to me, but it isn’t new. Thomas Brand at Egg Freckles points this out:

The Thunderbolt Display is Apple’s first attempt at a laptop dock since the DuoDock was discontinued in July of 95. With it you can leave all of your peripherals at home and reconnect them to your laptop at the end of the day with a single cable. A Thunderbolt Display is more than an outstanding high-resolution monitor, it will change the way you use your computer.

The PowerBook Duo line was Apple’s first round of sub-notebook computers. From 1992 to 1997, Apple released seven models, starting with the Duo 210. It’s specs were hard to believe for 1992:

  • 4.1 pounds
  • 10.9 × 8.5 inches
  • 1.4" thick

The lineup included color (!!) screens on the 270c, 280c and 2300c. The 2300c was also the only PowerPC model — the previous versions were all powered by Motorola 68030 or 68LC040 processors. As such, the 2300c can run up anything from System 7.5.2 to Mac OS 9.1. It also was the last machine from Apple to be built using the Snow White design language.

Versatile little guy, that one was.

Like the first MacBook Air, the Duos lacked most normal ports. Apple included a 156-pin Processor Direct Slot port, giving access to the machines’ processor and data busses.

That slot gave birth to the Duo Docking Stations.

Apple sold three docking solutions for the Duos.

The first — the “Duo Dock” — was the most ambitious. It included a CRT with a slot underneath for the notebook to slide into. When docked, the notebook could be used on AC power, and gained a floppy drives and expansion slots of a second hard drive, more VRAM, an optional FPU and two NuBus expansion slots.

In short, the Duo Dock took a tiny notebook computer and turned it into a screamer of a desktop computer.

Apple was pretty proud of this, as this ad shows:

The Mini Dock allowed users to use the Duo’s internal display and battery, but added connections for ADB, Ethernet and more. The Mini Dock did not include NuBus expansion slots, however.

The Micro Dock was kind of boring compared to the other two. It was a breakout box that created additional ports for users, including SCSI, ADB, Ethernet and video ports. They were cheap, but popular.

Clearly, Thunderbolt is today’s equivalent in many ways. Lots of peripherals can be driven by its single port — even external GPUs are possible with it, as Thunderbolt is basically PCI Express over a cable.

With its new display, Apple has created a desktop setup that a user can simply drop a MacBook Air into and keep working. While it isn’t as crazy as the Duo Docks — or the iMac-like docking station rumored back in 2010, in many ways, it’s the same thing. With Thunderbolt adding optical support next year, things are just looking better and better for notebook users looking for a desktop-class expereince.