Intel Officially Launches Thunderbolt Interconnection Technology

Intel's Light Peak Becomes Thunderbolt, Apple First to Adopt the Tech

by Anton Shilov
02/24/2011 | 01:03 PM

Intel Corp. on Thursday formally unveiled a new input/output technology called Thunderbolt. Originally code-named Light Peak, the new technology provides up to 10Gb/s bandwidth and is able to drive ultra high definition displays as it uses Mini DisplayPort connector. However, given the fact that currently it requires a controller exclusively available from Intel, it does not have a lot of chances to become widespread quickly.


Thunderbolt technology supports two low-latency communications protocols - PCI Express for data transfer and DisplayPort for displays. 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 10Gb/s of bandwidth can be provided for the first device in the chain of the devices. All Thunderbolt technology devices share a common Mini DisplayPort connector.

Intel's Thunderbolt controllers interconnect a PC and other devices, transmitting and receiving packetized traffic for both PCIe and DisplayPort protocols. 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. The controllers need to be integrated into host personal computers (PCs) as well as into peripherals themselves. Given the fact that such controllers are hardly inexpensive, the adoption rate of the Thunderbolt will depend on the price of those chips.

"Working with HD media is one of the most demanding things people do with their PCs. With Thunderbolt technology, Intel has delivered innovative technology to help professionals and consumers work faster and more easily with their growing collection of media content, from music to HD movies. We've taken the vision of simple, fast transfer of content between PCs and devices, and made it a reality," said Mooly Eden, general manager of PC client group at Intel.

Initially Intel wanted Thunderbolt to utilize fiber optics cables, but in order make the technology less expensive, the initial version of the Thunderbolt will use traditional copper cables.

Several innovative companies have announced Thunderbolt enabled products, or plans to support Thunderbolt in upcoming products including Aja, Apogee, Avid, Blackmagic, LaCie, Promise, and Western Digital. Intel is working with the industry on a range of Thunderbolt technology-enabled products including computers, displays, storage devices, audio/video devices, cameras, docking stations and more.

"We are thrilled to collaborate with Intel to bring the groundbreaking Thunderbolt technology to Mac users. 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," said Bob Mansfield, Apple's senior vice president of Mac hardware engineering.