Thunderbolt, previously known as Light Peak, is Intel’s new data standard that combines high-speed data and high-definition data in a single cable. It promises a theoretical maximum throughput of 10 gigabits per second (or 1.25 gigabytes/sec). Intel claims that at full speed, Thunderbolt can transfer a full HD movie in less than 30 seconds, assuming that you have a source that can serve data that quickly (RAID array, etc). What’s exciting, though, is this is both a Firewire/USB 3.0 replacement, and it supports greater than HD resolutions for displays. Apple is the first to market with the new line of MacBook Pros, but it is also available to other PC vendors.
10W of power to bus-powered devices--at least in the electrical version. That said, this is a high-end connection spec, designed to work alongside existing connector standards, like USB, not replace them.
Thunderbolt supports two protocols, PCI-Express and DisplayPort. Like Firewire, you can daisy chain devices, as well--so you can add more devices to your computer easily, with full bandwidth to all devices. There’s a Thunderbolt controller on each end of the connection. On the PC end, it’s connected to the PCI-Express bus, where it packages the native signals, sends them across the cable, and then another controller unpackages them on the far end. The Thunderbolt controller is fully DisplayPort compliant, so discrete graphics cards that are also DisplayPort compliant should be able to pipe video out to monitors using this technology. And, Thunderbolt is both physically and electrically compatible with existing DisplayPort monitors--however you’ll only be able to connect a DisplayPort panel to the end of the daisy chain.
Performance looks to be very impressive--two channels per port, 10Gbps per channel, and it’s bi-directional. In theory, you could transfer 40Gb/s at once. Intel showed a demo of one of the new 15-inch MacBook Pros pulling four uncompressed 1080p videos off of a Promise external RAID array and rendering them out to a current Cinema Display using Final Cut Pro. The demo seemed to peak at around 650MB/sec throughput, which is very impressive.
8ns accuracy time sync across 7 devices . This is great for audio solutions when you’re working with many different machines or devices at once. The cable is slim, with a small connector, designed to work with mobile and other small devices. With this kind of bandwidth available, you can get workstation-class disk I/O in a mobile machine by simply plugging your laptop into a storage array.
There aren’t any Thunderbolt devices available today, but they’ll be available in Q1. Western Digital, LaCie, and Promise are onboard to provide storage solutions. Aja, Apogee, Avid, BlackMagic, and Universal Audio are going to integrate Thunderbolt in their pro-level media creation products as well.