The MacBook Airs are lovely machines, but they lack ports. You get USB 2.0, SD (on the 13″) and headphones, and ThunderBolt. No FireWire, no Ethernet, no eSATA. In other words, no fast connectivity, except for Thunderbolt.
Apple’s $29 Ethernet adapter is only 100Base-T, not Gigabit; Belkin has a $45 Gigabit adapter, but it’s limited by the USB 2.0 port speed (which still makes it about twice as fast as Apple’s adapter).
Thunderbolt is screaming fast, but there has been very little in the way of peripherals which can use it. Apple’s 27″ Display does, and it will give you FireWire and USB ports, but it costs $1,000, and it’s a little big if all you want is to be able to attach a FireWire drive.
Fortunately, Thunderbolt products are starting to emerge. LaCie now has a line of speedy, though pricey, Thunderbolt drives, which they are pitching in particular to video professionals, who can now get desktop-class speed while on the road.
Belkin has announced their Thunderbolt Express dock, shipping in September for $299, which will give you all those missing ports: Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, HDMI, and more USB 2.0 ports. (Too bad they couldn’t get USB 3 in that.)
If you can’t wait until then, another option exists for attaching drives. Sonnet has their $149 Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter, which converts your Thunderbolt port into an ExpressCard/34 slot like that found on the MacBook Pro 17″. Into the ExpressCard slot that you can insert their FireWire 800 or eSATA ExpressCards.
No matter what you buy, you’ll also need at least one Thunderbolt cable…and only Apple makes them, for $49. They’re “smart cables,” meaning it’s not just a bunch of wires…there’s chips in there.
Thunderbolt ain’t cheap, but at least it’s starting to become useful. For MacBook Air owners in particular, it promises some of the connection capabilities of their larger siblings.