Intel reveals ‘Thunderbolt’ high-speed connection technology

24 Feb 2011

Intel today took the wraps off a new technology called Thunderbolt that runs at 10Gbps and will revolutionise display and transfer. Apple is the first customer to offer Thunderbolt technology, coming first on its new line of MacBook Pro laptops.

The vision for the blisteringly fast Thunderbolt technology – originally called Light Peak – is to move media faster, simplify connections between devices, and foster new and exciting ways to build and use PCs.

Combining high-speed data and HD video connections together onto a single cable is instrumental to achieving that vision, Intel said.

Thunderbolt technology delivers this via two communications methods, or protocols – PCI Express for data transfer and DisplayPort for displays.

PCI Express has the flexibility to connect to almost any type of device, and DisplayPort can drive greater than 1,080p resolution displays and up to eight channels of audio simultaneously.

Thunderbolt technology is compatible with existing DisplayPort displays and adapters. All Thunderbolt technology devices share a common connector, and lets individuals simply daisy-chain their devices one after another, connected by electrical or optical cables.

At 10Gbps, larger media files are transferred faster so there’s less time spent waiting to watch and edit videos. Data can be backed up and restored quicker, so there’s less waiting for archived content.

For mobile PC users, it means having a single connector on their ultra-thin laptop that extends their high-speed media and HD display capabilities at home or in the office. Thunderbolt technology is complementary to other I/O technologies that Intel continues to support.

The HD challenge for PCs

“Working with HD media is one of the most demanding things people do with their PCs,” said Mooly Eden, general manager, PC Client Group, Intel.

“With Thunderbolt technology, Intel has delivered innovative technology to help professionals and consumers work faster and more easily with their growing collection of media content, from music to HD movies. We’ve taken the vision of simple, fast transfer of content between PCs and devices, and made it a reality.”

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 currently plan to support Thunderbolt technology in upcoming products, including Aja, Apogee, Avid, Blackmagic, LaCie, Promise and Western Digital.

Intel said it 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.

“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,” Mansfield said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years