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Update: Intel's Thunderbolt gets off the ground

Agam Shah | Feb. 24, 2011
Intel's Thunderbolt interconnect technology, formerly called Light Peak, has emerged from the company's lab and will soon find its way into product, including Apple's new line of MacBook Pro laptops, Intel said Thursday.

But Intel is very happy with the current Thunderbolt implementations using electrical technology, and data transfers are very fast, Ziller said.

Thunderbolt could compete with connector technologies such as USB, Firewire and HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface), which link PCs to external storage, audio devices and displays. Laptops and devices with USB 3.0 ports started reaching store shelves last year and offer data transfer speeds up to 5 gigabits per second. Intel has held off support for USB 3.0 on its PC chipsets, which has been a topic of concern for PC makers, which have had to implement third-party controllers to add USB 3.0 ports to laptops.

Thunderbolt is complementary to USB 3.0, which is mainstream and widely supported on many devices, Ziller said. There are many USB storage devices already available, and Thunderbolt could be an alternative on price and performance in the future, Ziller said. Nevertheless, Intel will continue to support USB 3.0 and PCs could come with both USB and Thunderbolt ports.

Intel, however, has said that Thunderbolt will be complementary technology, and support many data transfer, networking and display protocols through a single, unified connection. Thunderbolt currently communicates with devices using PCI Express for data transfers and DisplayPort for displays, Intel said. All devices can connect to a PC using a single hub, reducing the need to have multiple connectors.

The bidirectional PCI Express and DisplayPort channels in the connectors can transfer data 10 gigabits per second in each direction, so theoretically users could be transferring 40 gigabits of data per second simultaneously, Ziller said.

Special Thunderbolt connectors and cables will be needed to connect devices, and Intel is working with component manufacturers to deliver those. Products with Thunderbolt would also need to have a controller chip supplied by Intel, which is being made available to the industry, Intel said.


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