February 25, 2011

Intel Unveils Thunderbolt Technology

Intel on Thursday announced its new high-speed PC connection technology that will bring together high-speed data transfer and high-definition display on to a single cable.

Thunderbolt technology promises transfer speeds twice as fast as USB 3.0. Running at 10 Gbps, Intel boasts the new technology can transfer a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds.

Thunderbolt's technology will be delivered via two protocols: PCI Express and DisplayPort. PSI Express has the flexibility to connect to almost any type of device, and DisplayPort can drive greater than 1080p resolution displays and up to eight channels of audio simultaneously. Thunderbolt is compatible with existing DisplayPort displays and adapters.

The technology is being brought to market through a technical collaboration with Apple, and will be available first on Apple's new line of MacBook Pro laptop computers.

"We're thrilled to collaborate with Intel to bring the groundbreaking Thunderbolt technology to Mac users," said Bob Mansfield, Apple's senior vice president of Mac Hardware Engineering.

"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," said Mansfield.

Although Thunderbolt could reach ultra-fast speeds, it won't reach the theoretical maximum because Intel has opted to use copper wires rather than fiber-optic cables. Intel said it would gradually move to higher speeds over time.

Intel has been working on the technology for several years. It first announced the technology under the codename Light Peak in 2009.

While its top speed will be limited to 10 Gbps at launch, it will someday, theoretically, reach speeds of 100 Gbps.

The faster data transfer rates are likely to be welcomed by consumers who use HD video, said Sarah Rottman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research.

"This isn't an innovation that consumers have been asking for, but it's one they'll appreciate," Epps told BBC News.

The new technology also promises to reduce the number of cables needed connecting the computer. The single cable will be able to carry multiple signal types at the same time, enabling power, display and peripherals all in one.

Users at first, however, will most likely need to invest in special adaptors to connect their older devices to Thunderbolt sockets.

Apple, which will be Thunderbolt's first supporter, is expected to gradually make the transition to a single connector, according to Karen Haslam, editor of MacWorld UK.

"In the long run there will be no need for Apple to support these multiple formats with individual ports - existing products can run through an adaptor," Haslam told BBC News.

But not everyone is convinced that Thunderbolt will impress the computer world enough to make the transition.

Ian Chiu, editor of Everythingusb.com told the British news company that the cost of components could scare off some manufacturers. "I don't really know how Intel will make Thunderbolt appealing to all the other first-tier PC manufacturers," he said.

"HP, Sony, Dell, Acer, Asus make most of their money from the low-end and medium-end notebooks," said Chiu. "On the other hand, Apple's MacBook Pro line-up is targeted at the prosumers, professionals and other people who aren't so price conscious," he noted.

Thunderbolt technology is powered by an Intel controller chip, and uses a small connector suitable for mobile devices that will be included in products supporting the technology.

Several companies have announced Thunderbolt technology-based products, or plan to support the technology in their upcoming products. These companies include Aja, Apogee, Avid, Blackmagic, LaCie, Promise, and Western Digital.

Intel is working with the industry on a range of Thunderbolt technology-enabled products including computers, displays, storage devices, audio/video devices, cameras, docking stations and more.


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