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Thunderbolt – the new high-speed connection technology that will rule them all.. eventually

If you thought USB 3.0 was the future of connecting high-speed peripherals to your computer, then think again. Intel’s Thunderbolt I/O technology, formerly known as Light Peak, is now the new kid on the block and it is here to stay.

With the introduction of the newly announced MacBook Pro line-up yesterday, comes the first real-world implementation of the Intel Thunderbolt Technology. Basically, Thunderbolt is a faster and simpler way of plugging different devices to your system.

Where it started

The new technology isn’t really all that new. It was first announced in 2009 under the name “Light Peak” because it relied on an optical cable instead of a copper one to do the transfers. Back then, Intel showed off in practice how quick the technology was by transferring a full-length Blu-Ray HD movie from an external storage device to a PC in less than 30 seconds.

Sounds intriguing, right? And it gets even better because the Thunderbolt technology can transfer data as fast as 10Gbits/s, making it twice as fast as USB 3.0 (5Gbits/s) and 20 times faster than USB 2.0. The amount of power that this first official version of Thunderbolt will be carrying is about 10 watts, which compared to the 8 watts provided by Firewire 800 and the 5 watts carried by USB 3.0 is indeed high.

The great thing about the new I/O connection technology is that it manages to combine the support for PCI Express based data transfers and DisplayPort technology (used for connecting high resolution displays) in just one cable. This means that on the outside the Thunderbolt cable looks the same as the current generation mini-DisplayPort cables.

Thunderbolt has full-duplex support, which basically means that it transfers data in both directions (in and out) at the same time. And with the native PCI Express protocol support, it won’t be long until we see devices that could typically only be found as inner components, such as RAID arrays for example.

Where will we find it

According to Intel, Thunderbolt is mainly aimed at audiovisual professionals who need low latencies when dealing with large volumes of data. However, the company has announced that it’s already been working with companies like Aja, Apogee, Avid, LaCie, Promsie and Western Digital to develop products for the masses that would take advantage of the Thunderbolt standard.

The technology will not compete with USB 3.0, according to Intel. It will only compliment it and both platforms will coexist. In cases where their functions do overlap, like in external storage devices for example, different pricing and performance options are going to be offered to consumers.

Intel plans by the end of the decade to have the Thunderbolt standard support speeds of up to 100Gbit/s, by using optical technology, which currently is far too expensive and will start to be used only when it gets cheaper over time.

Source 1, Source 2

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