A Closer Look At Apple’s New Thunderbolt Technology
Along with the introduction of Apple’s new line of MacBook Pro’s, they revealed a new technology they call Thunderbolt that promises up to 10 gigabits per second (Gb/s) data transfer speeds between your Mac and other peripherals. With this unique cable you will be able to transfer about 60% of an iTunes HD movie in 1 second at its maximum speed. Although there are 10 Gb/s networking modules available, you won’t see them in many home products yet.
Thunderbolt is the rebranded Intel technology formerly codenamed “Light Peak” and is brought to consumers as a result of a collaboration between Intel and Apple and is the newest high speed I/O protocol.
The cable used to connect from your MacBook Pro, and other future Mac models, to your peripherals looks identical to the MiniDisplay Port that has been on Macs since 2008. The difference is now, instead of only supporting displays, the port can also support external hard drives, video projectors, and other devices not yet on the market.
History of the Thunderbolt
Intel announced Thunderbolt at their Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in 2009 on a system that was displaying two 1080p HD video streams at once over optical cables (hence the “light” in Light Peak), that used modified USB connectors. Intel intended it to replace the many different cables, especially video cables, on the market and that it would be in PCs by 2010. The cables were initially designed to bundle optical and copper wiring together, pairing the speed of light with the electrical conductivity of copper, to provide a low-latency, high-speed connection that provides power for devices.
More About the Technology
Thunderbolt combines the existing fundamental technologies of PCI Express bandwidth and Mini DisplayPort connectors to provide two-channel 10 Gb/s bandwidth upstream and downstream per port, double that of USB 3.0, over copper wire cables with optical cables in future designs. You will be able to daisy-chain up to seven devices together, anything from high-resolution displays to cameras, scanners, and data storage devices, all without a hub, because Thunderbolt controllers will be able to transmit video and data signals are the same time over the same cable.
A “power-only” copper cable will carry up to 10 watts of power at up to 3 meters and optical cables will be able to carry signals at what Intel says will be “tens of meters.” Since Thunderbolt uses existing technology, it’s designed to work seamlessly with your operating system. A Thunderbolt device will work as either a PCI Express or DisplayPort device on a non-Thunderbolt system, which solves the problem of port-sharing. If you accidentally plug a Thunderbolt device into a regular Mini DisplayPort, it should work, provided the device isn’t relying on power through that port. You can also use the wide variety of DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA adapters so your older displays will work with it as well.
With Thunderbolt’s ability to handle extremely high bandwidth transfers, it’s perfectly suited for carrying high-definition audio as well as video, making it a viable competitor to both HDMI and FireWire, as its functionality serves both of their functions. Intel also claims that Thunderbolt is a complement to USB 3.0, as opposed to being a replacement. It isn’t clear if Apple is going to phase FireWire out of its products in the future, but Thunderbolt seems like a logical step forward because it’s designed to accomplish the same thing and is 12 as fast, and its Mini DisplayPorts consume very little space.
Thunderbolt essentially brings PCI Express connectivity out through Mini DisplayPorts, but it’s not designed for every home user just yet. Instead, it’s aimed at the professional and workstation market segment, especially those who are editing high-definition audio and video.