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Intel confirms current Thunderbolt Macs will support next-gen optical cables

post #1 of 17
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Chipmaker Intel has confirmed that Apple's current lineup of Thunderbolt-equipped Macs will support fiber optic Thunderbolt cables when they arrive next year.

Intel spokesman Dave Salvator indicated to Macworld that the current generation of MacBook Pros, iMacs, MacBook Airs and Mac Minis will be compatible with the upcoming cables. The company's original specification for the technology, which was codenamed Light Peak, was to use optical cables to reach speeds of 100 Gbps.

But, when the interconnect was unveiled in February, the chipmaker revealed that the technology would first use copper cables at speeds of 10 Gbps.

According to Salvator, circuitry will ensure compatibility of next-generation Thunderbolt cables with existing ports. Current Thunderbolt cables feature internal firmware and transceiver chips on each end. Optical cables could be longer, up to tens of meters in length, as opposed to the three-meter limit currently imposed on copper Thunderbolt cables.

However, Intel's spokesperson did not specifically mention whether the optical cables set to arrive next year will be faster than current cables. It's also not immediately clear whether the Thunderbolt chips in current Macs would be able to take advantage of optical cables with higher throughput.

Currently Apple is the only computer maker to offer Thunderbolt-equipped machines. But, Acer and Asus have promised to ship Thunderbolt-capable Windows PCs in the first half of 2012.



Thunderbolt peripherals that take advantage of faster optical cables may take some time to arrive, as Intel has warned that fiber optic technology will be substantially more expensive. Adoption will depend on consumers' speed requirements "versus how much they would be willing to pay," Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, said during an interview at the Intel Developer Forum. According to Perlmutter, adoption could take years because of the cost limitations.

A range of products built to make use of Thunderbolt have slowly reached the market. In June, Pegasus released Thunderbolt-based RAID storage options starting at $999. Apple's Thunderbolt Display began shipping earlier this month. Last week, LaCie launched its Little Big Disk Thunderbolt hard drives, which start at $399.95 for 1TB.

post #2 of 17
In other words we don't know what the maximum transfer rate of the ports would be with optical cables. I suspect that the only advantage will be the ability to use a longer cable.
post #3 of 17
Great news for digital editors. Well, as soon as FCPro X is up to speed
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post #4 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

In other words we don't know what the maximum transfer rate of the ports would be with optical cables. I suspect that the only advantage will be the ability to use a longer cable.

Good catch. My understanding was the ports were to be upgraded when optical was ready not just the cable but I could be wrong. Perhaps the article is worded ambiguously. It will be a pisser if only later macs, as in still to come, support it
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post #5 of 17
The data transfer speed is only limited by the capacity of the Thunderbolt chip/controller circuitry, as to what it can handle...the cables may handle much faster speeds, but you may need a Generation 2 Thunderbolt-equipped machine or card to be able to take full advantage of the faster throughput speeds, I don't know yet...
post #6 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

In other words we don't know what the maximum transfer rate of the ports would be with optical cables. I suspect that the only advantage will be the ability to use a longer cable.

Daaaaammmmnnn yooooouuu.......

No but seriously I was thinking sort of the same thing (but didn't get a comment up quite as fast). Wouldn't there still be a bandwidth limitation on the chip end? How long before higher bandwidth chips actually make their way into macs? We have no way of knowing how expensive higher bandwidth chips will be at this point which could be a big factor in whether or not Apple will implement them early on. I'm also wondering what the cost in cabling would be and if there will be any improvements in attaching multiple devices. Right now it's basically a single device kind of port (thunderbolt display isn't an option for everyone). Higher bandwidth would be excellent on laptops that only get a single port, especially if display resolutions continue to increase.
post #7 of 17
This was announced a little bit more than a year ago. Apple was working with intel to produce a lightning fast way to transfer data. I am glad its finally here. I would like to get the PCIe card to upgrade my Mac Pro 8 Core.
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post #8 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by WardC View Post

The data transfer speed is only limited by the capacity of the Thunderbolt chip/controller circuitry, as to what it can handle...the cables may handle much faster speeds, but you may need a Generation 2 Thunderbolt-equipped machine or card to be able to take full advantage of the faster throughput speeds, I don't know yet...

Last 4 words sums up this thread perfectly:-)
post #9 of 17
So THAT's why the cables are so expensive and have powerful connector-chips built-in.

The thing they're not saying is that current Tbolt cards are still only 4 or 2 lane PCI-e, it would take more lanes to increase the throughput.
post #10 of 17
Optical cabling "only" offering longer lengths was about what I expected for the shorter term. That optical meant faster was probably an unfortunate conflation, it probably isn't so simple as that. I doubt they'd be holding back on the specs if the existing chips could actually go faster just by dropping in an optical cable.
post #11 of 17
Current generation TB optical cables are ONLY about cable length.

They could be made of copper, optical fiber, unicorn hair, fairy dust or plain old coat hanger, you wouldn't know because you'll still plug the same connector with an integrated chip to the same hole in your computer with the same controller behind.

Sooo stop day dreaming about theoretical speed dropped by intel during the early prototypes and enjoy the already available and truly astounding speed of current generation Thunderbolt.

USB3.0 is essentially about connecting faster thumb drive. Thunderbolt is extending your computer beyond its shell (see Anand review of Thunderbolt display and his vision that is this a disruptive technology).
post #12 of 17
If ThunderBolt is currently the speed of PCIe, then to get faster, not only would you need optical cable, you would also need a faster main bus speed on the motherboard. We haven't heard anything yet about a faster bus speed have we?
post #13 of 17
The optical transceivers will be within the cable itself, and for the existing ports the bandwidth of the port will be limited to the bandwidth the controller chip inside the Mac/Peripheral achieves - i.e., no faster than the current copper cables. The only advantage will be cable length. However when coupled with future faster controllers, the cable may be able to have a higher bandwidth in addition to the longer cable lengths.

I bet these cables will be $100 each, potentially per metre.
post #14 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by jellybelly View Post

If ThunderBolt is currently the speed of PCIe, then to get faster, not only would you need optical cable, you would also need a faster main bus speed on the motherboard. We haven't heard anything yet about a faster bus speed have we?

Thunderbolt is currently implemented by tunnelling a PCIe 2 x4 channel. Using PCIe x8 or x16 is an obvious option for faster Thunderbolt controllers.

In addition a doubling of bandwidth can occur when PCIe 3 replaces PCIe 2.

Ultimately a future server Thunderbolt connection could be tunnelling a PCIe 3 x16 connection with a bandwidth 8x higher than current Thunderbolt. I bet the Thunderbolt controller chip wouldn't be cheap though.
post #15 of 17
As everyone has been saying, the cable is only one link in the chain. And, of course, you're always limited by the slowest link -- be it the controller chip, the bus(ses) the data needs to travel over, physical limitations of the device which is connected (eg. hard drive read/write speed), etc.

That said, it's nice to remove one limitation so that you can then focus on removing the others.
 
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post #16 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

In other words we don't know what the maximum transfer rate of the ports would be with optical cables. I suspect that the only advantage will be the ability to use a longer cable.

I think you're absolutely right. This article is essentially making this up. The purpose of being able to use fibre optic in many things is about distance/cable length. The throughput will be down to the controller. I doubt these first generation controllers will simply increase the throughput when an optical cable is present. When Intel specified 100Gbps they meant that's its future potential. They didn't mean that right from the beginning that's going to be possible.
post #17 of 17
This will be like USB 2 devices running on USB 1, the latter won't magically become faster, its just backwards compatible.
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