Thoughts on Apple/Intel Thunderbolt

Apple is weird when it comes to adopting new technologies. They were early with FireWire 800 and Mini DisplayPort, yet while competitors have been shipping laptops with Blu-ray drives for years Apple has oddly stayed out of that arena. Well, maybe not that odd with their strong anti-optical drive push and getting consumers to get their movie fix via iTunes (even though iTunes "HD" is nowhere near 50GB Blu-ray quality HD).

Apple Thunderbolt Macbook Pro

As you've no doubt heard by now, the latest refresh of Apple's MacBook Pro line incorporates a new technology — an implementation of Intel's codename Light Peak connection dubbed Thunderbolt.

Developed by Intel (under the code name Light Peak), and brought to market with technical collaboration from Apple. Thunderbolt technology is a new, high-speed, dual-protocol I/O technology designed for performance, simplicity, and flexibility.

In a nutshell it's a coalescence of PCI Express, DisplayPort and power into a low-latency copper connection (optical in future iterations) with throughput around 10 Gbps. The best part? Backwards-compatible with DisplayPort. Oh and you can daisy-chain them all together!

Take a look at Intel's Thunderbolt demo from the Intel Developer Forum. Impressive stuff.

Which makes me wonder about the future of USB 3.0.. Lots of USB 3.0 devices and motherboards already exist, yet Intel is pushing Thunderbolt pretty hard too. I am curious about Intel's big vision.

Update: According to Tidbits, Apple's version of Thunderbolt can support up to 20Gbps full-duplex.

While the Thunderbolt specification talks about 10 Gbps to and from a host, Apple’s version incorporates two channels over the same cable: one is apparently dedicated to DisplayPort for video, and the other for PCI Express data. This allows raw throughput up to 20 Gbps and reportedly a substantial fraction of that in true throughput in each direction.

Also, Thunderbolt supports Target Disk Mode (previously only FireWire only).