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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thunderbolt: Next gen port arrives

As the usage of High Definition content is becoming more common in our daily lives, transferring files between each other has started to take more time on the current USB 2.0 ports.

Apple and Intel has now released Thunderbolt which is set to compete with USB 3.0 and DisplayPort and may become the future for our computers.


So, you have heard about the newly refreshed line up of Apple MacBook Pro. Hence, you should already know that these new laptops come with a new I/O port called Thunderbolt. Previously codenamed by its developer asLight Peak, this new I/O technology was developed by Intel; together with some help from Apple which pretty much explained why the new MacBook Pro are the first ever product to feature it.

But then, what exactly is the purpose of Thunderbolt? In essence, it is a full-duplex dual-channel high speed link that supports both data (PCI Express) and video (DisplayPort) connections, and capable of transferring data at the speed of 10Gbps per channel. Just to describe how fast that is, Intel claimed that users are able to transfer 10 to 20GB of data - a typical size of full-length full HD 1080p movie – in less than 30 seconds; way faster than the existing USB 3.0, 1394 Firewire and eSATA standard. Thunderbolt also supports daisy chaining with up to 7 devices at the same time.

Another interesting fact about the new Thunderbolt standard is that it offers low-latency, high-accuracy synchronization time of 8ns within connected devices. This capability should be very useful to media professionals out there especially media creators who will be able to do real-time processing on multiple devices at the same time as the frames will be pretty much synchronized throughout all devices. It also compatible with existing DisplayPort-based displays so that current owners don’t have to replace their current monitors. As for many of us who depends on DVI or HDMI, there is nothing that adapters cannot do.
As for physical connectors, Thunderbolt supports both electrical and optical cable although for electrical cable, it is limited to 3 meters long. That being said, Thunderbolt electrical cable is also able to provide up to 10W to bus-powered devices.

Moving on, now it is time for the golden question: how fast will Thunderbolt-based devices pop into the market? Well, judging from the current adoption rate of DisplayPort and USB3.0, I personally don’t think it will take off in an instant. Thunderbolt’s high speed data transfer is clearly an advantage here, so one can expect that the first wave of Thunderbolt-based products are meant for users  such as mentioned earlier, media professionals, that can take advantage of the amazingly fast transfer speed. It already has a good start since the Apple MacBook Pro is also one of the products that are commonly associated with media creation.

So, the impact of Thunderbolt will not be seen instantly but rather later on; when manufacturers have started to pick it up and make it available to users everywhere. For the time being, if you would like to learn more about Thunderbolt, check out its official website at www.intel.com.


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