Thunderbolt

We wrote about Thunderbolt when the new MBPs launched, and about the differences between when it existed as Intel's codename Light Peak like we used to know it and saw at IDF. Thunderbolt differs technically and in practice in a number of ways. The short version of the story is that Thunderbolt is Light Peak sans light in this initial form (electrical right now), uses the mini DisplayPort connector on the MBP, and is capable of two channels of full duplex 10 Gbps traffic, for a theoretical 20 Gbps up and down. Thunderbolt requires a controller on the host and peripheral, uses 4 PCIe lanes, and connects to Display Port internally on the MBP's discrete GPU. One of the interesting things is where those 4 lanes come from on the 2011 MacBook Pro.

Thunderbolt can supply 10 watts of power and support up to 7 devices, up to two of which can be DisplayPort 1.1a devices. Just PCIe and DisplayPort are tunneled over Thunderbolt links. However, you can connect a standard DisplayPort monitor to the jack on the MBP and use it natively as well.

Sandy Bridge brings 16 lanes of PCIe really purposed for running a GPU. Interestingly enough, the discrete GPU on the 2011 MBPs uses just 8 PCIe lanes:

So where do the remaining 8 lanes get used for? They're split into 2 x 4x ports, one of which is for Thunderbolt. It's surprising, but this configuration is totally supported. Originally I speculated that the other 4x lane was being used for another PCIe interface device in the MBP (the SDXC card reader and BCM7765 are both 1xPCIe devices), but it appears they're unused.


Intel's Thunderbolt controller

Thunderbolt launches with Apple, but isn't Apple exclusive. Intel reports that we just likely won't see adoption in the PC space until 2012. In addition, there's no per-port licensing fee or royalty for peripheral manufactuers wanting to use the port or controller, which are entirely Intel's. The controller is actually of appreciable size on the 2011 MBP:

Initially, Thunderbolt is electrical only, though the optical version of Thunderbolt is coming later this year. Optical cabling will be compatible with this electrical version through the use of electro-optical transceivers on the cable ends.

Bottom: 2011 MBP with Thunderbolt port, Top: 2010 MBP

We can't test and see whether Thunderbolt works or does anything right now, because there aren't any devices on the market with support. That said, Western Digital, LaCie, Promise, and other external storage manufacturers have stated that drives will arrive shortly, which we will surely take a look at. There are also rumors of various high end DSLRs shipping with Thunderbolt in the near future, though that's anyone's guess.

There's a field for Thunderbolt in system profiler, but even with a DisplayPort monitor attached, it shows nothing connected:

Interestingly enough, in Windows there's no trace of Thunderbolt at all. There aren't any unknown devices in the device manager, no device ID either. Hopefully Boot Camp drivers come along for Thunderbolt in Windows before devices start rolling out.

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  • ImSpartacus - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Apple doesn't do something unless they can do it 100%.

    They won't default to SSDs until they are on the logic board like the MBA. We'll probably see the disk drive go at the same time.

    Maybe Apple will continue to use hard drives for storage? That might be the reason we are still seeing 5400rpm drives. Apple doesn't want to upgrade everyone to 7200rpm drives only to have 5400rpm drives the next year, even only for storage.

    But who knows?
    Reply
  • Tros - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I imagine they'd go for the MBA-SSD and the larger platter-based storage, and just partition. But to do that smoothly, they need a better partitioning system (to keep it user friendly); ZFS. Reply
  • Nentor - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Apple doesn't do something unless they can do it grand (or make it seem grand).

    Why put in SSD standard if they are still a luxury? As long as the average pc user is not fully aware of what SSD are and what are the great benefits you can still demand premium for them as an upgrade for people that do want one.

    Just watch, when SSD are becoming the standard Apple will put put them in and market the hell out of it and make it fit the whole Apple image.
    Reply
  • dsumanik - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Dude, if your hdd is integrated into your mobo... Not only do have the disadvantage of not being able to upgrade to faster/larger capacity drives...

    If the disk fails you need to replace the whole board - $$$
    If something on the board fails, you lose all your data - facepalm
    Apple dictates the price of of the hdd, even when it's a yer old - $$$

    A simple, 2 screw user replaceable hdd is the elegant solution and always will be.

    Wake up peeps...

    They aren't supporting other drives because they want to sell you outdated technology at a higher price.... End of story.
    Reply
  • JasperJanssen - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    Dude, do you even have a vague clue what you are talking about?

    The MBA doesn't have an SSD soldered onto the mainboard, it has it on a standardised daughter card. And by standardised I don't mean standardised by Apple, although to be fair Apple is the main supplier of machines using it at the moment. It's a card not unlike minipci(e), and entirely swappable from one machine to a replacement. Also, Apple isn't the only one supplying these drives.

    It's entirely possible that other thing&light manufacturers will start using them, as it's a very useful form factor.
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    There is no dedicated GPU in the 13" MBP because there isn't room for it. Look at other notebooks in the same size and price class such as the Lenovo x220. Same situation, integrated GPU only. An dedicated GPU means bigger motherboard, which defeats the purpose of notebooks that are so small. Reply
  • Wieland - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Sandy Bridge laptops haven't been on the market very long. It's way too early to make a conclusion about what is and isn't possible in terms of size. That said, the Sony Vaio S is basically the exact same size, lower weight, lower price, and offers almost as much battery life, and it is configurable with two different versions of AMD Radeon Graphics (6470M, 6630M). The new Vaio Z will probably be even more impressive in this regard. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    The 13" MacBook Pro is a constant 0.95" thickness. The Vaio S ranges from 1.08" - 1.24" thick, a 14% to 31% difference. So the 13" MacBook Pro has significantly decreased internal volume which will definitely constrain how you lay out internal components and the thermal room on the machine impacting whether it's worthwhile to put in a discrete GPU. Reply
  • claytontullos - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Have you dealt with HP's tech support? It's like pulling teeth to get anything done.

    My ram in my Dv4 was bad, it would randomly cause windows to crash both in Vista and Windows 7. My ram failed memtest86 with over 4 million errors after a few minutes of testing... however my ram would pass HP's 5 second ram test with flying colors.

    HP's support first insisted I revert my laptop back to Vista and in any event would not service my laptop because the ram passed their "test."

    I will never buy another HP product.
    Reply
  • quiksilvr - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I won't judge a race based on the actions of few. At the same time, I won't judge a company just because one of their products didn't work that well for me. That's like saying I bought a 4 pack of Duracells and one of the batteries weren't working so now I buy Energizer.

    And to be fair, it isn't like HP made the RAM. If you were getting random crashes, you obviously didn't do anything and are clearly under warranty. Simply say "I turned it on and it keeps crashing" and they'll say "Okay here send it back" and 9/10 they will pay for shipping (depending on where you got it from).

    Now I'm not an HP fanboy (far from it, I own a Lenovo), but prior to that I owned a zd8000 for about 5 years with no problems. Does that mean that HP is utterly flawless and no one makes a product like them? No. But I know quality when I see one and I stand by what I said: The Envy 14 is probably one of the best laptops you can get. Hell, it's only $999 and it blows the MBP out of the park.
    Reply

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