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. The high-speed data transfer technology is dual-channel, bi-directional, and dual-protocol (PCI Express and DisplayPort), and is compatible with existing DisplayPort devices.
Intel's Thunderbolt controllers interconnect a PC and other devices, transmitting and receiving packetized traffic for both PCIe and DisplayPort protocols. Thunderbolt technology works on data streams in both directions, at the same time, so users get the benefit of full bandwidth in both directions, over a single cable. With the two independent channels, a full 10G bit/sec of bandwidth can be provided for the first device, as well as additional downstream devices.
All Thunderbolt devices share a common connector, allowing users to daisy-chain devices one after another with interoperable cables. With Thunderbolt technology, users can have the thinnest and lightest laptops and connect to the extra power and performance of other devices when needed with a single cable.
Thunderbolt technology was specifically designed with professional audio and video applications in mind, where the inherently low latency and highly accurate time synchronization features play a crucial role.
With Thunderbolt-enabled products, video editing and sharing using Intel Quick Sync Video technology is faster and easier. Data transfers for backup, sharing, and editing are taccelerated using Thunderbolt products, significantly reducing times to complete these tasks. And Thunderbolt-enabled products are compatible with existing DisplayPort devices, so there is no need to purchase a new to take advantage of a Thunderbolt technology-enabled computer.
By tapping into the performance and protocols delivered over Thunderbolt technology, designers are free to innovate new PC products and configurations, no longer constrained to the boundaries of the chassis walls. Engineers can now design standalone performance expansion technologies commonly used in desktops and workstations, using existing native device drivers and interconnected by a single cable.
With the technology, expect thinner and lighter laptops, expandable through Thunderbolt technology and its miniature connector designed for mobile applications, without sacrificing I/O performance. Also, the devices can extend their reach other I/O technologies via adapters that use widely available PCI Express controllers.
Thunderbolt products require a controller chip supplied by Intel and a small connector that would be included in platforms supporting this technology. The Thunderbolt controller chip provides protocol switching capabilities to support the two protocols over a single cable. Intel is making its controller chip available to the industry, and is working with other component manufacturers to deliver the Thunderbolt connectors and cables.
Several innovative companies have announced Thunderbolt enabled products or plans to support Thunderbolt in upcoming products. These firms include Apple, Promise Technology, and LaCie. Intel also is working with the industry to enable a variety of Thunderbolt-enabled products, including computers, displays, high-speed data storage devices, audio/video devices, 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 is not alone in his praise. John Abt, CEO of AJA, noted that Thunderbolt enables the fastest and simplest I/O for connecting AJA's professional video capture and playback products to a laptop. And Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic, believes that the technology will revolutionize mobile media creation. "It's a game-changer and will accelerate our ability to build the highest quality video creation products that are affordable to everyone," he said.
Philippe Spruch, chairman and general manager of LaCie, agrees, calling Thunderbolt technology "a breakthrough in I/O technology that represents the future of mobile computing. Soon you will be able to carry all the power and functionality of desktop environments in compact devices."