Intel details Thunderbolt, says Apple has full year head start

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
At a press conference earlier this morning, Intel offered additional information about its new Thunderbolt interconnect technology being pioneered by Apple in its latest batch of MacBook Pros, noting Apple will have a year long head start in deploying the technology.



As described in the First Look, the new specification pairs PCI Express with DisplayPort signaling in a collaboration with Apple. The PCI Express protocol was used because it's flexible and widely compatible with various types of I/O devices.



"You can extend the backbone of your computer to distributed devices that are connected to it," Intel representatives said, "and to the OS it looks like they're connected to the computer."



Based on work to develop an ultrafast new optical port originally named Light Peak, Intel's efforts to make the new low latency ("8 nanosecond accuracy time sync across 7 devices" for very little delay between operations), low overhead (hits much closer to the theoretical max than previous port specifications because of less background chat), high speed signaling standard was initially held back by the higher cost of optical cabling.



To reduce the cost, Intel collaborated with Apple to pair the technology with DisplayPort to deliver a single copper connection that was high performance and yet still economical.



By pairing the new interconnect with Mini DisplayPort (which Apple developed but has openly released as part of the DisplayPort specification), Thunderbolt should also help drive adoption of the Mini DisplayPort connector as well, which so far has largely been limited to Apple's own equipment. Other DisplayPort monitors from companies like Dell use a "full sized" connector that looks similar to USB, but which serves no value other than being larger.



The new standard is not backwardly compatible with USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt ports can't be added to existing PCs via an expansion card; Intel says the only way to have it is to buy a system or logic board that incorporates the new Thunderbolt controller chip. That's because the Thunderbolt chip needs direct access to both the system's video and PCI Express architecture.



PC makers are expected to begin adding Thunderbolt to their machines next spring, giving Apple a year to trailblaze the technology among high end users before it trickles down into the mainstream. Apple has partnered with Intel in the past to debut its new CPUs on Macs for a brief period, while the debut of DisplayPort (which is not an Intel standard) took a longer period to roll out.



PC makers and Microsoft were both slow to provide initial, enthusiastic support for USB, leaving it to Apple to kick-start widespread adoption. They rolled out USB 2.0 faster than Apple, and many now support USB 3.0 and eSATA, neither of which Apple has included on its machines.







Third party support



Thunderbolt supports two channels of 10Gbps (equivalent to about 1280MBps) transfers in both directions, simultaneously. Intel demonstrated actual throughputs of up to 6.25Gbps (800MBps) using prototype consumer products. There's very little overhead, Intel notes, compared to USB 3.0, which promises 5Gbps but can only possibly deliver throughput of about 3Gbps.



Very fast SATA interfaces are limited to 6Gbps, meaning Thunderbolt is currently much faster than most consumer devices you could attach to it, indicating the actual throughputs are likely running into the limits of SATA rather than reflecting the overhead of Thunderbolt itself.



Intel demonstrated Thunderbolt's daisy-chain feature attaching a MacBook Pro to a fast RAID, which then connected to a standard DisplayPort 1.1 monitor, performing high speed data transfers of multiple 1080p videos from a prototype Promise RAID device while delivering very high resolution 2K video to the display over the same cable.



Existing displays will work as long as they are the last device in the chain (because they don't have additional daisy-chain ports, and because they don't know how to pass through Thunderbolt if they did), so new monitors are not required. Hard drives and even video cameras are expected to supply two ports to enable chaining devices together like this.



Existing electrical copper cables can carry Thunderbolt signals for about 3 meters (about 10 feet) between devices, and carry 10 watts of power. In the future, fiber optic cables will be available to extend signals to "tens of meters." A purely optical cable won't deliver electrical power. Intel describes Thunderbolt as "a symmetric architecture that supports flexible topologies (star, tree, daisy chaining, etc.) and enables peer-to-peer communication (via software) between devices."







Third party support



The new port is already being supported by disk makers Promise and LaCie, with a voice of support from Western Digital (although not any products yet). Among media device makers, Aja, Apogee, Avid, Blackmagic, and Universal Audio have all announced support as well.



LaCie demonstrated a "Little Big Disk" RAID device built using two Intel SSD drive configured into a RAID 0 stripe set. The drive (or multiple units) is capable of being powered by the Thunderbolt bus as well, reducing the need for additional power bricks. LaCie hasn't yet released a price or availability date for the new drive.



The company described Thunderbolt as allowing a notebook system to interface via a desktop workstation system via Thunderbolt, and then share all of the desktop's ports with the connected machine via the Thunderbolt interconnect. This will allow "thinner and lighter laptops, expandable through Thunderbolt technology and its miniature connector designed for mobile applications, without sacrificing I/O performance."



Docking stations were also listed among the potential applications for the new interconnect, with Intel noting that Thunderbolt can "extend to reach other I/O technologies by using adapters that use widely available PCI Express controllers. It's simple to create a Gigabit Ethernet, or FireWire, or eSATA adapters using existing device PCI Express drivers."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 133
    There goes adoption.



    How could they be stupid enough to make this thing of beauty into another FireWire?!



    Can't be added? Yeah fricking right. How long before someone makes a PCIe Thunderbolt card for Mac Pros? I don't care if those don't do video–that's why my graphics card exists–I just want the transfer speed.
  • Reply 2 of 133
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,179member
    A full YEAR??? Holy shit. They've essentially killed the technology. Congrats.



    Noone gives a shit if its exclusive if there are no, or hardly any compatible peripherals. It needs to be adopted NOW- in a year, USB 3.0 will probably have a massive headstart over this, as its incorporated into most windows machines. How utterly idiotic. Intel could have secured this as the future standard by incorporating it on all/most of its chipsets. Who's gonna incorporate compatibility for this in their peripherals when theres such a tiny percentile of potential users?
  • Reply 2 of 133
    herbapouherbapou Posts: 2,222member
    That is very very *BAD*



    I was going wow the minidisplay port is going to get popular, then boom, exclusivity until 2012. WTF they want to make sure it doesnt work or what?



    Apple "control-freak" attitude is going to kill the company some day.
  • Reply 4 of 133
    Forget about copper. Where's the fiber?
  • Reply 5 of 133
    .... they REALLY get it wrong.



    What a profoundly "head up ass" move.
  • Reply 6 of 133
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    Forget about copper. Where's the fiber?



    Fiber's 100Gbps and no power.

    Copper's 10Gbps and power.



    They'll both have their uses.
  • Reply 7 of 133
    When can I use Thunderbolt for my LAN at home (or work)?



    Screw Cat5 cables, I want dual 10GB+ channels to every device in my house!
  • Reply 8 of 133
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    At a press conference earlier this morning, Intel offered additional information about its new Thunderbolt interconnect technology being pioneered by Apple in its latest batch of MacBook Pros, noting Apple will have a year long head start in deploying the technology.



    Amazing that some posters think this is bad news for Apple! Oh, that's right; we get lots of PC fanatics that post here....



    \
  • Reply 9 of 133
    Well if the iPad 2 has a Thunderbolt port, I imagine that we will be seeing quite a few peripherals being designed for it.



    Zoom is doomed.



    Happy Birthday Steve.
  • Reply 10 of 133
    Um... this is bad reporting. "One year head start" != exclusive. The difference is this: if it was the latter, I couldn't ask Intel for the support this year even if I paid them. The former just says that Apple had all the design documents before any other manufacturer did, but if they can hurry up with new products, Intel would be happy to let them release them.
  • Reply 11 of 133
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Vatdoro View Post


    When can I use Thunderbolt for my LAN at home (or work)?

    Screw Cat5 cables, I want dual 10GB+ channels to every device in my house!



    Then you'll have to wait for the fiber implementations. Current Thunderbolt is 10 feet. Fiber Thunderbolt will be 100 meters and 100Gbps, but no power.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sacto Joe View Post


    Amazing that some posters think this is bad news for Apple! Oh, that's right; we get lots of PC fanatics that post here....



    We also get Apple fanatics who cheered the rise of FireWire and wept at its death. The same thing is happening here.
  • Reply 12 of 133
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sacto Joe View Post


    Amazing that some posters think this is bad news for Apple! Oh, that's right; we get lots of PC fanatics that post here....



    \



    I want every device I purchase to have the new standard and the more computers that have it the faster it will become the new standard
  • Reply 13 of 133
    newbeenewbee Posts: 2,055member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    Forget about copper. Where's the fiber?



    As has been reported previously (in a lot of tech sites) fiber optic use (for the time being) is not cost effective .... thus the initial roll out being copper ..... not that you won't find something wrong with this strategy. ....
  • Reply 14 of 133
    jd_in_sbjd_in_sb Posts: 1,490member
    The title says this is exclusive to Apple until 2012. This is false. Anyone can release Thunderbolt tomorrow if they wanted to.
  • Reply 15 of 133
    I am happy to see I am not the only person who thinks this exclusivity idea is B.S. Does Apple WANT to kill off or at least SIGNIFICANTLY slow down the adoption of this new tech? Does Apple REALLY believe that people are going to switch to Apple hardware just for the privilege to use Thunderbolt/Light Peak?



    Does anyone else just shake their heads when reading more and more about the dunderhead moves Apple is making as of late? I swear they are taking lessons from the Microsoft playbook!!!



    Idiots.
  • Reply 16 of 133
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sacto Joe View Post


    Amazing that some posters think this is bad news for Apple! Oh, that's right; we get lots of PC fanatics that post here....



    \



    Your thinking process is flawed. If Apple had applied this mentality to the iPod and not released PC support, it would have NEVER have taken off as it did. Simple fact...we "PC fanatics" outnumber you "Mac fanatics"....therefore if you want a tech to blossom you should provide it to the widest audience as possible. Makes sense, right?
  • Reply 17 of 133
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,691member
    Smart move by Apple.



    Thunderbolt is a completely different beast than USB 3.0. Intel has been working on it for a long time and it's not going to disappear.



    I don't think that this is the first time that Apple has been given first dibs on an Intel product. I don't care what's included on other machines. I only care about what's included on Macs. If somebody wants to use Thunderbolt right now then they only have one choice, buy a new mac laptop. Otherwise, they can wait.



    If you wish to be on the cutting edge of things then that costs pesos.
  • Reply 18 of 133
    I didn't see any other companies join Intel in developing this technology. Apple has every right to first dibs on Thunderbolt.
  • Reply 19 of 133
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post


    A full YEAR??? Holy shit. They've essentially killed the technology. Congrats.



    Noone gives a shit if its exclusive if there are no, or hardly any compatible peripherals. It needs to be adopted NOW- in a year, USB 3.0 will probably have a massive headstart over this, as its incorporated into most windows machines. How utterly idiotic. Intel could have secured this as the future standard by incorporating it on all/most of its chipsets. Who's gonna incorporate compatibility for this in their peripherals when theres such a tiny percentile of potential users?



    Thunderbolt can do USB 3.0, Firewire and more using adapters (they will come soon). USB 3.0 is dead. Has no support from Intel or the fastest growing pc company.
  • Reply 20 of 133
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post


    ... Who's gonna incorporate compatibility for this in their peripherals when theres such a tiny percentile of potential users?



    25% of the consumer computer market (the "top" expensive 25%), is not "a tiny percentile of computer users."
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