Intel’s Thunderbolt to Strike at Media Transfer

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Intel’s Thunderbolt connection technology, announced Thursday, will help consumers with one of their biggest digital problems: transferring huge media files in minutes as opposed to hours. It will also give Intel chips a home inside a variety of connected devices. For consumers, it means transferring an entire iTunes library won’t take all night (instead it would take a few minutes), and backups are a speedy dream.

For the device world, Thunderbolt, which was code-named LightPeak, raises many more questions, such as what its emergence means for USB 3.0 as a transfer technology. Could it replace the array of ports already in use, such as HDMI or USB 2.0? The connection technology combines both the PCI Express and Display Port protocols and provides bidirectional speeds of up to 10 Gbps: many magnitudes faster than most wired networks in the home today. In a story on Thunderbolt yesterday, Darrell looked at the technology and predicted:

Getting people to use new port standards isn’t easy, however. USB is firmly entrenched, and even its successor, USB 3.0, hasn’t made much headway yet. But I think Apple has very ambitious long-term plans for Thunderbolt, because in theory at least, the Light Peak-based standard could eliminate the need for port differentiation altogether. …. Imagine a future where every port running down the side of your MacBook is the same, and all of your devices can connect to any one of them in order to perform their intended function, including data drives, external displays and even your power adapter. It seems utopian, but Light Peak offers the potential to make that future a reality, and with Apple’s ever-growing market share (and influence), it’s in a better position than ever to help usher that future in.

Intel worked with Apple to develop the technology, and it arrives first in new MacBook Pro laptops that debuted Thursday. Thunderbolt requires a piece of Intel silicon to work, which could help the chipmaker move deeper into connected devices such as set-top boxes and storage drives that would likely contain these chips. For some people, the quality of a high-performance wired transfer technology will overcome the convenience of wireless option. But even in a wireless world, people can’t beat wired connections for sheer capacity and speed. Having a fast interconnect that offers simplicity and speed makes sense for Apple, and likely the industry.

Plus, as intelligence moves from the CPU to the network, having a chip play a key role in a high performance networking technology could help Intel. In both our homes and in our data centers, networking is becoming the bottleneck. With a Thunderbolt cable, Intel hopes to solve that.

Below are the technical details for those who want that sort of thing:

  • Dual-channel 10 Gbps per port
  • Bi-directional
  • Dual-protocol (PCI Express* and DisplayPort*)
  • Compatible with existing DisplayPort devices
  • Daisy-chained devices
  • Electrical or optical cables
  • Low latency with highly accurate time synchronization
  • Uses native protocol software drivers
  • Power over cable for bus-powered devices

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