An In Depth Look at Intelís Thunderbolt Technology

Author: SKYMTL
Date: February 24, 2011
Product Name: Intel Thunderbolt High Speed I/O
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Thunderbolt's Endless Possibilities

Intel has designed Thunderbolt as a way to simplify things in a market that is highly fragmented as numerous protocols all vie for the limelight. They have also worked on expanding upon nearly every aspect of current connector and cable technology. From connectivity to performance to ease of use, what we have here could be considered a melting pot of things consumers have been asking for.

Instead of designing a one-off connector to go along with their proprietary technology, Intel has decided to use a standard mini DisplayPort format for their Thunderbolt devices.

Itís important to note that a Thunderbolt-certified cable is needed to transmit I/O data such as drive information to and from the controller. However, a standard DisplayPort cable can be used if the connector is only hooked up to a monitor or HDTV.

In terms of outright file transfer potential, there really isnít a solution that comes close to the performance which Thunderbolt can achieve. Even the latest SATA 6G and USB 3.0 are simply left in Thunderboltís dust and to make matters every more interesting, Intel plans for speeds of up to 100 Gbps (12.5 GB/s) as this technology matures.

For the time being, both optical and copper connections are able to achieve the 10 Gbps speeds Intel has specified but the optical format will be able to transmit data over longer distances. Copper allows for support of bus-powered devices of up to 10W, has a maximum transmittal length of three meters and will be available immediately on any device supporting Thunderbolt.

According to our conversations with Intel, the optical version will be available later this year but naturally wonít feature any electrical current for powering external products.

Within the base specification for DisplayPort v1.2 there is a provision which allows for the daisy chaining of multiple displays onto one common interface. Intel has taken this to the next level by allowing for up to seven Thunderbolt-equipped devices to be strung together from a single port. Information packets can be transmitted alongside the HD audio and visual streams which DisplayPort natively handles.

The result (depending upon bandwidth requirements of course) can be a combination of up to two HD monitors and an additional five peripheral devices without having additional cable clutter coming from the back of your computer. Intel has also included other connection options such as hub-style star topologies and single cable tree layouts as well.

Since Thunderbolt is based off of a PCI-E protocol, several options can be created in order to offer a wide range of legacy support and additional compatibility. By using a PCI-E controller alongside Intelís Thunderbolt controller, adaptors for almost anything from Firewire to USB to eSATA are a possibility.

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