Sonnet has unveiled one of the industry's first Thunderbolt 3 expansion chassis that supports up to three full-length add-in-boards with a PCIe 3.0 interface. The three-slot Echo III Desktop is designed for professionals from different areas, so it can house a graphics card, a high-end SSD, an accelerator for audio or video workloads, or a 10GbE network card.
Modern laptops and all-in-one PCs can pack general-purpose CPU power sufficient not only for productivity and entertainment tasks but also for professional applications, too. What these PCs do not offer are expansion slots for cards required for professional workloads. Meanwhile, they do have Thunderbolt 3 ports and therefore can work with an external expansion chassis. The vast majority of these types of chassis have been designed for one or two cards that may be good enough for gamers, but might not be sufficient for DCC (digital content creation) professionals.
Sonnet's Echo III Desktop chassis largely changes the game here: it can house up to three full-height full-length (FHFL) add-in-cards that consume no more than 400W of power together. The box has one mechanical PCIe 3.0 x16 (x8 electrical) slot, one mechanical x8 (x8 electrical) slot, and one mechanical x8 (x4 electrical) slot.
To ensure that the cards operate with consistent performance and do not overheat, the chassis is equipped with two Noctua NF-R8 redux-1800 fans producing up to 17.1 dbA of noise. The box has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one for input and another for daisy-chaining an extra TB3 device or a display.
Based on one of the manufacturer's images, the Sonnet Echo III Desktop uses a single Thunderbolt 3 controller. By contrast, some other eGFX TB3 chassis equipped with multiple additional controllers (e.g., SATA, Ethernet, USB) that sit on a PCIe bus use two TB3 controllers, with one acting as a router for the traffic generated by the GPU and other ASICs.
Being aimed at professionals, Sonnet tested the Echo III Desktop with a host of professional-grade AIBs, including audio cards, 10GbE adapters, Fibre Channel cards, FireWire cards, graphics boards (up to AMD Radeon Pro WX7100 or Nvidia Quadro Pro RTX 4000), SAS/SATA adapters, SSDs, signal acquisition cards, video capture & processing cards, and even PCIe extenders. Obviously, all these cards will have to sit on a 40 Gbps (up to 2750 MB/s) connection, which may be a constraint for some workloads.
Sonnet's Echo III Desktop will be available shortly. Since this is a solution for professionals, it is priced at $799.99 (according to Hermitage Akihabara), which is well out of reach for most consumers and gamers.