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First Look: Inside Apple's fast new Thunderbolt port on MacBook Pros

post #1 of 161
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Apple has introduced the first implementation of Intel's new Thunderbolt technology for high speed communications, aimed at providing a very fast new data connection for mobile professionals.

Intel confirmed in a press release that Thunderbolt, "formerly codenamed 'Light Peak,'" is an "Intel-developed technology" that is "coming to market through a technical collaboration with Apple, and is available first on Apple's new line of MacBook Pro laptop computers."

The new specification accommodates faster, simpler connections between devices, acting as a next generation FireWire but with speeds of up to 10Gbps, which Intel points out is fast enough to transfer a full length, HD movie in less than 30 seconds or to backup an MP3 collection large enough to play nonstop for a year in just ten minutes.

That's 12 times faster than FireWire 800, and 20 times faster than USB 2.0. It's even twice as fast as Intel's USB 3.0 specification, which Apple hasn't adopted yet. Unlike just an upgrade to USB, however, Thunderbolt delivers the ability to daisy-chain multiple devices without using a hub.

New MacBook Pros support six devices, such as one display and five separate peripherals, turning the professional notebooks into flexible, high powered workstations for video editors and other professionals just as Apple gets ready to release its new edition of Final Cut Pro.

Already a standard interconnect

And rather than being an entirely new specification and port type, Thunderbolt's speed is based on Intel's PCI Express, a high speed serial interface typically exposed in desktop PCs as motherboard expansion slots (such as the Mac Pro, which features three x16 slots), but also appearing as Mini PCI Express cards (which is how Apple provides AirPort WiFi card support in the Mac Pro, iMac and its notebooks).

Apple's Thunderbolt pairs the PCI Express standard for a high speed interconnect with the existing Mini DisplayPort, using the same physical connection, adding a very high speed path for data without adding yet another port.

DisplayPort itself continues to support existing DisplayPort monitors as well as DVI/HDMI and VGA video output. But when connected to new Thunderbolt devices, it can support very high speed data transfers to devices such as RAID arrays.



FireWire smarts + USB economy

The specification also supports electrical power for bus-powered devices, and streams data in both directions with dual channel 10 GBPS speeds. Essentially, Thunderbolt is like a fast new FireWire but it's based upon Intel's PCI Express, which is already widely used as a peripheral controller.

This makes it both familiar and cheaper to support by drive and other device manufacturers. Further, Intel already includes PCI Express support in its mobile and desktop chipsets, so it's easy to add to new systems.

What's really new about Thunderbolt is Intel's switching technology that manages both high speed DisplayPort signals and high speed PCI Express signals on the same wire, something that the company is now building into a standard controller that will make the new Thunderbolt cabling system easy and affordable to adopt.

Bob Mansfield, Apple's senior vice president of Mac Hardware Engineering, said "we're thrilled to collaborate with Intel to bring the groundbreaking Thunderbolt technology to Mac users. With ultra-fast transfer speeds, support for high-resolution displays and compatibility with existing I/O technologies, Thunderbolt is a breakthrough for the entire industry and we think developers are going to have a blast with it."

Fast, cheap and flexible

Apple originally developed FireWire in the early 90s as a peer-to-peer high speed serial replacement for parallel SCSI, with the intention of delivering both fast disk access and streaming audio and video data. Intel later developed USB as a low speed serial peripheral standard.

Apple helped broaden adoption of USB by implementing it as the only serial port on the original iMac. However, Intel's release of USB 2.0 brought it into competition with FireWire on the low end, disrupting the adoption of FireWire with a port capable of fast enough basic external disk access, but incapable of supporting the point-to-point features of FireWire and susceptible to contention among devices that slow the entire bus.

While USB continued to become cheaper and ubiquitous, FireWire remained more expensive because devices that use it require more expensive and sophisticated controllers. Other standards for faster disk access have appeared, including External SATA, which Apple hasn't ever implemented.

By adding Thunderbolt to its MacBook Pros and other systems, Mac users will gain a new leap in disk access speeds and be able to connect to ultrafast new audio or video-centric break out boxes for professional use. The new standard should also be simple to implement at low cost.

Additionally, the PCI Express design of Thunderbolt makes it straightforward to add FireWire or USB interfaces to a device that is connected via Thunderbolt, eventually enabling Apple to drop other connectors from its equipment while still allowing users to continue to use their existing equipment.
post #2 of 161
It'll be interesting to see if this catches on, or if it'll just involve people buying a bunch of hubs, displayport-USB, -firewire and -miniUSB cables to be able to use it.

eSata never really caught on, and firewire has been basically mac-only for it's entire existence (besides video- and some audio-professionals).

USB3 has, in some ways, a lot more going for it because people can plug all of their existing USB peripherals directly into it without really thinking, while lightpeak will require everyone shelling out for all sorts of new cables. While the promise of a single cable is great, in practice it'll be quite a few years before it approaches being widespread.

Am I the only one who finds it odd that Apple and Intel would launch this without a single peripheral on the market that uses it yet? The intel video had a bunch of "coming soon" products in their demos, but didn't mention when they'd be released. Are Lacie/WD/Seagate et al reluctant enough about the tech that they couldn't co-ordinate some sort of launch at the same time?

And what's with the Thunderbolt moniker?

post #3 of 161
How dare Apple adopt a new, unproven technology!

Name one time in which they've succeeded in adopting (or eschewing) a new (or old) technology.

Heed the words of Henry Ford, which I hear is imprinted on a marble slab on the ground in the foyer of Apple HQ: "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse."
post #4 of 161
I wonder how long it'll be before OWC has an external enclosure with a Thundebolt interface?
post #5 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob55 View Post

I wonder how long it'll be before OWC has an external enclosure with a Thundebolt interface?

I'd expect to see it in April.
post #6 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by macinthe408 View Post

Name one time in which they've succeeded in adopting (or eschewing) a new (or old) technology."

That's easy. USB [Intel's, BTW] in the original iMac. It was not mainstream at the time.
post #7 of 161
While the theoretical peak of the new connection seems pretty amazing, what will real world performance be since we are still limited to SATA and eSATA disks whose speeds are far under its capabilities? I know that moving forward, the "One Wire" philosophy will be a player with Apple, but where will the new speed come from?

@Superbass: As far as the chicken/egg thing, basically you could probably look at Apple's rollout of USB. Intel had built it as a peripheral bus, and no one was using it 'til Apple canned their ADB and moved to it. May be a similar thing here, I reckon time will tell.
post #8 of 161
I'm curious how many displays a Thunderbolt connections can support in something like the new MBP. Will we be able to daisy chain two, three, four? I tend to keep my laptop and desktops separate, because of a four monitor system. Although there are methods to do this with the laptop, none are that great or that effortless. If Thunderbolt can be a plug it and forget kind of thing for four monitors, one laptop to rule them all might be something I'd get to.
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post #9 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Superbass View Post

It'll be interesting to see if this catches on, or if it'll just involve people buying a bunch of hubs, displayport-USB, -firewire and -miniUSB cables to be able to use it.

I would have liked to see Intel get more industry players onboard before release. If Dell and HP and ACER and ASUS and other announce support in all or most of their 2011 products it will catch on like wildfire. If they stear clear, so will the add on companies and it will be wind up like firewire 800.
post #10 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Superbass View Post

It'll be interesting to see if this catches on, or if it'll just involve people buying a bunch of hubs, displayport-USB, -firewire and -miniUSB cables to be able to use it.

eSata never really caught on, and firewire has been basically mac-only for it's entire existence (besides video- and some audio-professionals).

USB3 has, in some ways, a lot more going for it because people can plug all of their existing USB peripherals directly into it without really thinking, while lightpeak will require everyone shelling out for all sorts of new cables. While the promise of a single cable is great, in practice it'll be quite a few years before it approaches being widespread.

Am I the only one who finds it odd that Apple and Intel would launch this without a single peripheral on the market that uses it yet? The intel video had a bunch of "coming soon" products in their demos, but didn't mention when they'd be released. Are Lacie/WD/Seagate et al reluctant enough about the tech that they couldn't co-ordinate some sort of launch at the same time?

And what's with the Thunderbolt moniker?


Very interesting indeed. However, I think that it will catch on and MUCH faster than you suggest. I think this is essential technology for the future of Apple. This allows for a mobile computer to have ONE port. That is all. This includes power, data, display, everything.
post #11 of 161
2012 MacBook Pro & Air models will ship with only 1 port > Thunderbolt will allow thinner/cleaner Macs. Mark my words.
post #12 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Superbass View Post

It'll be interesting to see if this catches on, or if it'll just involve people buying a bunch of hubs, displayport-USB, -firewire and -miniUSB cables to be able to use it.

eSata never really caught on, and firewire has been basically mac-only for it's entire existence (besides video- and some audio-professionals).

USB3 has, in some ways, a lot more going for it because people can plug all of their existing USB peripherals directly into it without really thinking, while lightpeak will require everyone shelling out for all sorts of new cables. While the promise of a single cable is great, in practice it'll be quite a few years before it approaches being widespread.

Am I the only one who finds it odd that Apple and Intel would launch this without a single peripheral on the market that uses it yet? The intel video had a bunch of "coming soon" products in their demos, but didn't mention when they'd be released. Are Lacie/WD/Seagate et al reluctant enough about the tech that they couldn't co-ordinate some sort of launch at the same time?

And what's with the Thunderbolt moniker?


What's the problem?
All Apple did was add some features to it's standard "Video Out" port that it has been using on all Macs for quite a while now.
post #13 of 161
The lightning bolt icon is a bit decieving. Someone looking at it for the first time will assume that it must be the port for the power cord.
post #14 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Superbass View Post

It'll be interesting to see if this catches on, or if it'll just involve people buying a bunch of hubs, displayport-USB, -firewire and -miniUSB cables to be able to use it.

eSata never really caught on, and firewire has been basically mac-only for it's entire existence (besides video- and some audio-professionals).

USB3 has, in some ways, a lot more going for it because people can plug all of their existing USB peripherals directly into it without really thinking, while lightpeak will require everyone shelling out for all sorts of new cables. While the promise of a single cable is great, in practice it'll be quite a few years before it approaches being widespread.

Am I the only one who finds it odd that Apple and Intel would launch this without a single peripheral on the market that uses it yet? The intel video had a bunch of "coming soon" products in their demos, but didn't mention when they'd be released. Are Lacie/WD/Seagate et al reluctant enough about the tech that they couldn't co-ordinate some sort of launch at the same time?

And what's with the Thunderbolt moniker?


I can't wait for a Thunderbold board for my Mac Pro. I keep moving tom newer standards, and they all have offered better performance, easier set-up and better reliability.

Thunderbolt is Intel's name for this technology. Why they changed it from Light Peak, I don't know.

There are several manufacturers who have already announced RAID cases for this, so we'll see them very soon, if not already.
post #15 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Intel confirmed in a press release that Thunderbolt, "formerly codenamed 'Light Peak,'" is an "Intel-developed technology" that is "coming to market through a technical collaboration with Apple, and is available first on Apple's new line of MacBook Pro laptop computers."

The PR about lightpeak was all about an optical serial technology that scales to 100Gbps. It's not obvious how this maps onto an extension of PCI express. Will there be an optical version that also includes electrical connections for bus power, etc?

And since they use the displayport connector, it seems like there is some scope for confusion if a non-display device is connected to an old displayport.
post #16 of 161
when will bestbuy have the new macbook pros in stockk??
post #17 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by midlomuncher View Post

2012 MacBook Pro & Air models will ship with only 1 port > Thunderbolt will allow thinner/cleaner Macs. Mark my words.

Won't happen in 2012. You still need USB to sync your current iPhone

But it will happen eventually.
post #18 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by hatunike View Post

Very interesting indeed. However, I think that it will catch on and MUCH faster than you suggest. I think this is essential technology for the future of Apple. This allows for a mobile computer to have ONE port. That is all. This includes power, data, display, everything.

It only carries power for low draw peripherals, you will still need a powercord for the laptop itself. Also, unless this becomes an essential technology to the PC makers and the general public it will be marginal at best. Apple lacks the market power to make a new port successful on their own, no matter how important they think it is. Intel's ability to market this is going to be the make or break, Apple is nothing more than a proof of concept that might make the rest of the industry more comfortable buying in.
post #19 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by NasserAE View Post

Won't happen in 2012. You still need USB to sync your current iPhone

But it will happen eventually.

Easy. Thunderbolt to USB adaptor or embedded cord.

From Apple:
PCI Express is the technology that links all the high-performance components in a Mac. And its built into Thunderbolt. Which means you can connect external devices like RAID arrays and video capture solutions directly to MacBook Pro and get PCI Express performance. Thats a first for notebooks. Thunderbolt also provides 10 watts of power to peripherals, so you can tackle workstation-class projects on the go. With PCI Express technology, you can use existing USB and FireWire peripherals even connect to Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks using simple adapters.
post #20 of 161
Here's a link to a MacNN (actually the page is from their sister pub) article about this with some more info, including the names of companies producing TB RAID's for this. No doubt we'll see more shortly afterwards.

http://www.electronista.com/articles...d.unusual.cpu/
post #21 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by frugality View Post

The lightning bolt icon is a bit decieving. Someone looking at it for the first time will assume that it must be the port for the power cord.

Until they realize that the Magsafe power port connector doesn't fit in the Thunderbolt port.
post #22 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by NormM View Post

The PR about lightpeak was all about an optical serial technology that scales to 100Gbps. It's not obvious how this maps onto an extension of PCI express. Will there be an optical version that also includes electrical connections for bus power, etc?

Yes, there will be. Copper was used for the first implementation because of cost. But second generation devices will use optical. Power is part of the standard.
post #23 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by AIaddict View Post

I would have liked to see Intel get more industry players onboard before release.

I agree with you, but Apple was probably worried that another PC maker would debut the tech first, and Apple wants to be seen as the leader of the pack.

Just my shot in the dark.
post #24 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by mzaslove View Post

I'm curious how many displays a Thunderbolt connections can support in something like the new MBP. Will we be able to daisy chain two, three, four? I tend to keep my laptop and desktops separate, because of a four monitor system. Although there are methods to do this with the laptop, none are that great or that effortless. If Thunderbolt can be a plug it and forget kind of thing for four monitors, one laptop to rule them all might be something I'd get to.

Likely one. Intel says one (or two), with no explanation for when the (or two) is applicable. The great limitation is that Thunderbolt currently only supports Displayport 1.1a, which doesn't really allow for daisy-chaining of displays (the new 6000-series GPUs support DP 1.2, which does, but to no utility).

Are there even any displays with support for daisy-chaining in the market today?
post #25 of 161
I'm thinking that Thunderbolt could have wider application beyond mere peripheral interconnect. It's bus level. It's possible to connect any machine that require computer control to a Mac, making the Mac its controller. Of course, the puzzle for this is still incomplete. And it doesn't necessarily have to be a Mac. Potentially, any PC will do. The bus level I/O aspect got me thinking...
post #26 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

...Copper was used for the first implementation because of cost. But second generation devices will use optical. Power is part of the standard.

I believe using copper in the initial implementation is a bad idea...because now vendors are going to build a bunch of devices assuming copper...not compatible with future "optical" versions...seems dumb.
post #27 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by mzaslove View Post

I'm curious how many displays a Thunderbolt connections can support in something like the new MBP. Will we be able to daisy chain two, three, four? I tend to keep my laptop and desktops separate, because of a four monitor system. Although there are methods to do this with the laptop, none are that great or that effortless. If Thunderbolt can be a plug it and forget kind of thing for four monitors, one laptop to rule them all might be something I'd get to.

Some things I'd like to see:

1) Ability to, optionally, use any pc like an iMac with Thunderbolt as an additional display only (instead of a connected computer with a display)

2) Ability to include iPads as:
---- connected computer
---- connected display
---- connected control surface for Aperture, FCP, etc

3) An ARM-Based device similar to an AppleTV 2 that could be used as:
---- A standalone Home Server/Time Machine (with connected HDDs)
---- An intermediary to Cloud Server/Time Machine
---- A component of a Blade Server for enterprise and SMB

The ability to interface iPads (and other iDevices) as above, would be a very strong competitive advantage for home, prosumer, SMB and enterprise

It is interesting to note that a single Thunderbolt connection will act similar to the 2 Fibre Channel ports on the discontinued XServe hardware and support 5 times the data transfer (in both directions concurrently)

http://support.apple.com/kb/TA27033?...ale=en_US#faq2

I think an ARM-based Blade Server with Thunderbolt would be a natural as a small, inexpensive, low-power (read green and inexpensive to operate) server for Audio and Video editing -- especially if/when it is supported by the New (coming soon) Final Cut Server.

....ssssssccccccccchhhhhhhhh

waiting for the other shoe to fall

.
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post #28 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by midlomuncher View Post

2012 MacBook Pro & Air models will ship with only 1 port > Thunderbolt will allow thinner/cleaner Macs. Mark my words.

That's a brilliant idea. hopefully the port is small enough to fit on an iphone or Ipod/ipad. How many peripheralsare you using these dasy anyways.

Mice/Keyboards have been replaced with bluetooth version.

Wireless networking have replaced ethernet ports. and to some extent externat storage ports.

Apple may introduce a completely portless iMac/iPad for schools one day.
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post #29 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Superbass View Post

Am I the only one who finds it odd that Apple and Intel would launch this without a single peripheral on the market that uses it yet? The intel video had a bunch of "coming soon" products in their demos, but didn't mention when they'd be released. Are Lacie/WD/Seagate et al reluctant enough about the tech that they couldn't co-ordinate some sort of launch at the same time?

Still waiting for airplay speakers... I'm not surprised at all coming from apple.
post #30 of 161
So by the sounds of it, this connector is simply integrating the PCI Express controller with DisplayPort, which means AMD could theoretically implement this into their own chipsets going forward. If so, that means the entire industry can move to standardize all peripherals on all machines onto a single port. No more USB, no more firewire, no more vga/dvi/hdmi.. heck, you won't even need CAT 5 ethernet cables anymore.

This is a pretty big deal. The only way Intel can screw this up is by putting ridiculous licensing fees to implement it, but if its based on PCI Express and DisplayPort, how can they?
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post #31 of 161
Hey, what happened to Intel's press conference about Thunderbolt which was supposed to start at 10 am pacific time?

I'd rather see Thunderbolt in action instead of reading about it. Is nobody streaming it or reporting on it?
post #32 of 161
Good ol Inte.

TYPO in the graphic much?
post #33 of 161
How many people are going to attempt to plug the power cable into the port marked with the Lightning Bolt?
post #34 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by AIaddict View Post

I would have liked to see Intel get more industry players onboard before release. If Dell and HP and ACER and ASUS and other announce support in all or most of their 2011 products it will catch on like wildfire. If they stear clear, so will the add on companies and it will be wind up like firewire 800.

The fact that Intel made Thunderbolt, and that Intel will include Thunderbolt standard with millions of motherboards it ships each year, gives it a good chance of wide-spread adoption. Firewire started and ended with Apple.

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post #35 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by NasserAE View Post

Won't happen in 2012. You still need USB to sync your current iPhone

But it will happen eventually.

Maybe not that far away...

Have a look at this at about 2:10

http://www.9to5mac.com/53459/a-good-...eakthunderbolt
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post #36 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by fishstick_kitty View Post

I believe using copper in the initial implementation is a bad idea...because now vendors are going to build a bunch of devices assuming copper...not compatible with future "optical" versions...seems dumb.

I don't see a problem with it. I believe that there will be backward and forward compatibility. If it was this or wait another year, this is better.

We don't see Intel rushing to support USB 3 on their mobo's, so support for that is still, after all this time, very thin. It looks as though they will be much more interested in this, as it will scale much better.

But we have to remember that all standards we've seen over the years have done this. It's the only way to get new tech in place.
post #37 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post

Some things I'd like to see:

1) Ability to, optionally, use any pc like an iMac with Thunderbolt as an additional display only (instead of a connected computer with a display)

2) Ability to include iPads as:
---- connected computer
---- connected display
---- connected control surface for Aperture, FCP, etc

3) An ARM-Based device similar to an AppleTV 2 that could be used as:
---- A standalone Home Server/Time Machine (with connected HDDs)
---- An intermediary to Cloud Server/Time Machine
---- A component of a Blade Server for enterprise and SMB

The ability to interface iPads (and other iDevices) as above, would be a very strong competitive advantage for home, prosumer, SMB and enterprise

It is interesting to note that a single Thunderbolt connection will act similar to the 2 Fibre Channel ports on the discontinued XServe hardware and support 5 times the data transfer (in both directions concurrently)

http://support.apple.com/kb/TA27033?...ale=en_US#faq2

I think an ARM-based Blade Server with Thunderbolt would be a natural as a small, inexpensive, low-power (read green and inexpensive to operate) server for Audio and Video editing -- especially if/when it is supported by the New (coming soon) Final Cut Server.

....ssssssccccccccchhhhhhhhh

waiting for the other shoe to fall

.

While I don't think we'll see an Apple blade server, one reason they withdrew their servers (though it's interesting that 10.7 will include both client and server), I do think that much of what you wrote here will come true in one way or another.
post #38 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zandros View Post

Likely one. Intel says one (or two), with no explanation for when the (or two) is applicable. The great limitation is that Thunderbolt currently only supports Displayport 1.1a, which doesn't really allow for daisy-chaining of displays (the new 6000-series GPUs support DP 1.2, which does, but to no utility).

Thanks. Wasn't sure. No doubt that will evolve, or someone will make a "graphics" hub.
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post #39 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

Hey, what happened to Intel's press conference about Thunderbolt which was supposed to start at 10 am pacific time?

I'd rather see Thunderbolt in action instead of reading about it. Is nobody streaming it or reporting on it?

I was looking for that too. I'm trying to find more info on the port, but all that comes up is info about the new MBP intro with Thunderbolt. I was hoping for more updated info about specs, such as power, cable length, etc. Apple gives none of that in their spec page right now, though I haven't checked support.
post #40 of 161
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

I was hoping for more updated info about specs, such as power, cable length, etc.

I can help you with one of those. The port gives 10 watts of power, which is twice as much as USB 3.0. I read that on engadget, they already have a 15" review unit.
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