How to use a PCI-e Card with your MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt

Think outside the Box with PCIe Expansions

Use a RAID card to Setup up RAID 5 RAID 6 and RAID 10 Stepping away from the subject of Storage and Backups, another decision you may have to make will be whether to invest your budget into a high-end Desktop setup or a more fluid, portable operation. Traditionally the problem has always been that portable operations via a Macbook, Laptop or Tablet are plagued by Hardware limitations. Not now though. With innovations in Thunderbolt and PCI Express Expansion technology, you can now install Upgrades and Hardware intended for Desktop setups in a highly portable PCIE expansion chassis. Need 4GB Graphics Card power in your Mac book – no problem. Large channelled Sound card – easy peasy.

However, with so many companies offering you varieties of PCIe expansions, it’s easy to get lost between compatibles and suitabilities. Lets take a closer look at each manufacturers below and what’s the best of the best they have to offer.

First up, Sonnect Technologies – The Apple Recommended Choice.

Sonnet Echo Express SE II
Thunderbolt2 Expansion Chassis
2x Half-Length PCIe
Sonnet Echo Express III-D
Thunderbolt2 Expansion Chassis
3x Full-Length PCIe2 slots 

Sonnet Echo Express SEL
Thunderbolt2 Bundle
Expansion Chassis + Presto 10GbE

PCIe Expansions for those on a tight Budget

Next, For those looking at expanding, but on a tighter budget – or they just want more bang for their buck, we have Netstor Technology. Whilst not as well known as Sonnet, they have been pioneering the PCIe Expansion market for a number of years with their early ‘TurboBox’ unique SAS range, available in both Desktop and MacBook / Laptop versions. Their latest products have been fully harnessing the Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt2 market. Definitely a contender in the PCE-Express stakes. Take a look at the pick of the litter below:

NetStor Thunderbolt2
PCIe Expansion
Up to 3x PCI-Express v3.0 slots

+ 4x 2.5″ HDD Bay
NetStor NA221A-NB
ePCIe Expansion
Notebook Package
TurboBox Mini

(Inc. ExpressCard34 Card + Cable)

NetStor PCIe
Expansion Tower
TurboBox GPU
6x PCI-Express-v3.0
(Inc. PCI-Express-x16 Card & Cable)

PCIe Expansion devices from Akitio and

Last, lets take a look at the two lesser known companies of the Bunch – Akitio and  StarTech. Both have been around for a long time in a multitude of fields within Data storage, but have only recently decided to enter the PCIe market. Don’t be put off by their relatively thinner product range in PCI-E circles though, both come with high reviews and highly adaptable products. Both are Mac (OSx) and Windows compatible. Take a look below and see what we think stands out.

PCI Express Full Length
AKiTiO 2xTB2
ThunderBolt2 PCIe Box
1x PCI-Express-v2.0-x16

4 Slot PCI Expansion System

Pro Tip – PCI-Express cards comes in a variety of speeds and physical sizes. Always check that the expansion you are considering can accommodate the card you have in mind. Look at:

1. Speed – Is it x4, x8, x16? Make sure you buy a PCIE expansion that can accommodate your Card’s speed level Such as The Netstor NA211TB which supports all the way upto 16x.

2. Profile – Think of this as the Width. If your PCI-E card is not Low Profile, make sure the expansion can house it correctly – the reverse is also true.

3. Height – Whether your card is Half Height or Full Height is also an important consideration. Particularly if you plan on housing more than one card in your expansion. Some units will either house 2 Half-Height or 1 Full-Height…not both!


2 thoughts on “How to use a PCI-e Card with your MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt

  1. Hi, I have an Imac running bootcamp. I’m trying to use a pcie firewire card with it because I’ve tried thunderbolt to firewire adapter but it didn’t work. Do you think my setup is compatible with any of those external thunderbolt2 PCIE box?

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