One by one the barriers to mobile computing have been falling. In the early days you could move to a notebook but you'd give up a lot of CPU, GPU and I/O performance. SSDs really fixed the storage performance issue (2.5" hard drives are horrendously slow compared to their 3.5" counterparts), power gating and turbo boost helped address the CPU problem and I wouldn't be too surprised to see companies have another go at external GPU solutions for those who need the added graphics horsepower.

The idea of external GPUs brings up the current limitation we face in this mobile transition. Although being more mobile is great, we still want the best of both worlds: great performance when we're at a desk, and great battery life when mobile. Enabling the former is going to require new technologies as well as new high speed interfaces.

Intel has been at the forefront of many of the successful high bandwidth interfaces in the evolution of the PC industry. Will Thunderbolt be another feather in its cap? In February we got the first Thunderbolt enabled MacBook Pros and just last week Promise shipped the first Thunderbolt enabled storage device. It's time to put the two together.

Thunderbolt Recap

At the beginning of this year Intel, alongside Apple, finally introduced a productized version of the interface we'd previously only known as Light Peak. Given that the first instantiation of this interface used traditional copper wires and not an optical interface, Apple and Intel branded it Thunderbolt.


Thunderbolt Controller IC on 15" 2011 MacBook Pro - Courtesy iFixit 

The interface is royalty free, although Intel is the only company that makes Thunderbolt controller needed to support the interface. There's no word on the cost of the Thunderbolt controller. Thunderbolt isn't an Apple exclusive, however we won't see PCs ship with the high bandwidth copper interface until 2012 at the earliest.

Thunderbolt is a high speed, dual-channel serial interface. Each channel is good for up to 10Gbps of bi-directional bandwidth (20Gbps total) and with two channels a single Thunderbolt link is enough for 40Gbps of aggregate bandwidth.

Thunderbolt can carry both PCIe and DisplayPort signaling. Apple claims that one of the channels is used for DisplayPort while the other is used for PCIe. DisplayPort interface support extends to the connector, which is physically compatible with a standard mini-DisplayPort connector. DisplayPort support is key as it allows video to be carried in addition to data, potentially allowing for some interesting use as a single cable docking solution for notebooks.

In addition to carrying up to 40Gbps of total bandwidth, a single Thunderbolt cable can also deliver up to 10W of power to connected devices.

Each Thunderbolt port can drive up to 7 daisy chained devices, although all devices must share the 40Gbps (up/down) bandwidth to the host.

There's an obvious comparison to USB 3.0 which currently tops out at 5Gbps, however even it offers only 1/4 of the total available bandwidth of the Thunderbolt PCIe channel (not to mention its inability to carry DisplayPort).

The Pegasus: Hardware
POST A COMMENT

93 Comments

View All Comments

  • Spazweasel - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    $50 too much for a cable? Psshh. Children these days don't remember $75-100 SCSI-3 and UltraSCSI cables. These things are expensive for good reason.

    You want the highest performance, you pay to play. That's always been the case.
    Reply
  • tzhu07 - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    The phrase, "you get what you pay for" is generally true as a rule of thumb, but in the computer and consumer electronics industry, that has for the most part been untrue.

    Case in point: The high price of Monster cables having no performance advantage over the same type of cables one can find on newegg at a much lower price.

    Apple just has this technology cornered....for now.
    Reply
  • tzhu07 - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    Well, I should say untrue in the computer and consumer electronics cable market. Reply
  • darwinosx - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    The technology is Intel's not Apples. Intel determines the licensing fees. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    Yes, but like SCSI, Apple was its only mainstream delivery vehicle. Back in the 80's and 90's, SCSI interfaces were reserved for servers, ultra high end workstations, and Apple computers. They always push the bleeding edge, which is possibly the only thing I respect about Apple. Reply
  • Justin Case - Saturday, July 09, 2011 - link

    This has nothing to do with "pushing the bleeding edge". This has to do with giving Apple an "excuse" to remove USB ports from their iToys, thus locking out 3rd party accessory manufacturers (Thunderbolt is far too expensive to be competitive, unless you have a special deal like Apple has with Intel).

    The Mac hasn't been Apple's main focus for a long time; it's all about iOS and its ecosystem, now.
    Reply
  • haley2011 - Sunday, July 10, 2011 - link

    ok Reply
  • MySchizoBuddy - Sunday, July 10, 2011 - link

    doesn't the article specifically say that thunderbolt is free to license.
    Isn't Promise Pegasus a 3rd part manufacturer. Do you have any source claiming that Promise has a special deal with Apple.
    Sony has thunderbolt ports in it's laptop as well.
    Reply
  • Focher - Sunday, July 10, 2011 - link

    Besides that you give away your bias of anything from Apple, TB isn't an Apple technology. It's an Intel one. What I find ironic is the USB versus TB arguments. First, it's a false choice. Even Apple has offered both FireWire and USB ports for years on their machines. It's only recently that FireWire has started to be removed from models. There's no current indication that USB will be dropped by Apple. Second, in specific regards to USB 3.0 I don't see the argument versus TB device availability. Neither have much market penetration yet, so only time will tell how each of them will do - and both could do fine or both could fail. Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - link

    iOS devices are toys, but they already lack USB ports. They don't have any proper developer- or user-accessible I/O, so you think Apple's going to put Thunderbolt ports on them?

    NO. Apple has created a whole line of mobile devices that are ironically isolated from the world around them.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now