With promises of searing transfer speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second – in both directions – Intel’s Light Peak (or Thunderbolt as it is now called) was always going to attract attention, and the computing giant has gone into some more detail about the technology following its launch yesterday.
The new MacBook Pros from Apple are the first devices to come to market sporting a Thunderbolt port. Intel has not been quick to come to market with this technology (it was first announced in mid-2009) and even now the technology which was to be based on fibre optics, comes to market with a copper cord and a maximum speed of 10Gbps. Don’t get us wrong, 10Gbps transfer rates are pretty spectacular but why espouse the benefits of light and then keep us in the dark.
Following Apple’s launch yesterday, Intel has been giving us some more details about the technology and how it works. The Thunderbolt port looks for all the world like the Mini DisplayPort it replaced on the Macs. As you can see from the image above, Thunderbolt consists of a brand-new chip, and a cord, which allows devices to pipe two data streams simultaneously – in both directions – over a single cable primarily using PCI Express x4 for data and DisplayPort for video. Intel has said that while the Thunderbolt chip will be required to use the technology, it can be used with non-Intel chipsets. The technology allows for up to three metre long cables (limited due to the copper), but since the technology also supports daisy-chaining this could be less of an issue.
So what of the new-born USB 3.0? Intel has revealed that it supports this standard: “Intel fully supports USB 3 and plans to integrate it in the future," the company's Jason Ziller told Engadget. Whether this happens because USB 3.0 has taken the market by storm, or vice versa, we will have to wait and see. Intel has also said the Thunderbolt will be backwards and forward compatible depending on the cable used. Intel also promised to roll out the fiibre optic technology soon, with it faster speeds.
For now we will be looking for PC and peripheral manufacturers announcing Thunderbolt-compatible devices in the coming weeks and months with LaCie and Promise the only companies declaring their intentions so far.