How Thunderbolt Could Become the Standard for Transferring
One of the most widely touted additions of Apple’s upgraded lineup of MacBook Pros is a new data transfer technology called Thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt will be similar to the USB and Firewire transfer technologies that are now common on computers, but it will be much faster. Thunderbolt technology was originally developed by Intel and called Light Peak while under development, but now known as Thunderbolt. The new MacBook Pros are the first consumer computers to use the new technology, but other manufacturers likely won’t be far behind.
So what is Thunderbolt? It’s a technology that combines high-speed data and HD video connection in a single cable, enabling users to move media between different devices much faster than ever before.
Light Peak technology can transfer a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds, back up a year of continuous MP3 playback in just over 10 minutes, and allows users to transfer documents and back up data with virtually no wait.
According to Apple, Thunderbolt “I/O technology lets you move data to and from peripherals up to 20 times faster than with USB 2.0, two times as fast as USB 3.0 and more than 12 times faster than with FireWire 800."
The hope is that eventually Thunderbolt's technology will reach speeds of 100Gbps, making it 10 times faster than current USB 3.0 speeds.
Thunderbolt technology works by sending data streams in both directions over one cable so that users are able to take advantage of the full bandwidth in both directions. This means that Thunderbolt can run multiple protocols at the same time over a single line, so that different types of data usually sent through separate cables can be combined into one stream.
Thunderbolt uses two methods to send information, PCI Express for data transfer and DisplayPort for displays.
PCI Express serves as a general purpose Input-Output, or I/O, interconnect for a wide variety of platforms. It is built directly into Thunderbolt, which means you can connect external devices to your computer and get PCI Express performance on a laptop even if it doesn’t have a dedicated PCI Express slot.
DisplayPort has the ability to drive greater than 1080p resolution displays and up to eight channels of audio simultaneously. DisplayPort technology is the video standard for high-resolution displays, and any Mini DisplayPort display can plug right into the Light Peak port. To connect a DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, or VGA display, users can simply use an existing adapter.
In addition, Thunderbolt works with electrical and optical cables.
So what does this mean for consumers?
All Thunderbolt technology devices share a common connector, so users will be able to daisy-chain their devices one after another. As the technology is adopted by other manufacturers, it could pave the way for lighter and thinner laptops .
In an interview with LaptopMag.com, Victor Krutul, director of the I/O optical team at Intel and a former head Light Peak engineer, described an example of Thunderbolt in action. By connecting a relatively weak laptop to a docking station that had a built-in powerful graphics processor using Thunderbolt, the laptop’s graphic processing capabilities were dramatically increased.
In the end, Thunderbolt has the ability to replace all other connectors on a computer, and if adopted industry- wide, has the ability to make other I/O devices obsolete.
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