Thunderbolt initially launched in February when Apple updated the MacBook Pro, but since then the technology has been an Apple exclusive. The understanding was that Thunderbolt would be a universal high speed interface, but uptake outside the Apple ecosystem has been slow. There have been rumors that Thunderbolt would come to PCs in early 2012, but we haven’t seen any concrete evidence of this until today.

Expreview has leaked a slide from Intel’s motherboard roadmap that shows Thunderbolt support in the highest-end motherboard, the DZ77RE. Aside from Thunderbolt, the motherboard features two x16 PCIe slots (x8 if both are in use) with support for CrossFire and SLI, dual LAN interfaces, and it has overclocking capabilities. USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s support are absent on the slide, but that may simply be a lack of space in the roadmap box. The motherboard is based on the upcoming Z77 chipset that supports four USB 3.0 and two SATA 6Gb/s ports, so we expect to see these in DZ77RE as well.

Pricing is unavailable but according to the roadmap, the DZ77RE is positioned at the same level as the currently shipping DZ68BC and DX79SI, which are priced $220 and $280 respectively. Thus, we would estimate the retail price of DZ77RE to be around $250. Over $200 is definitely a premium price for a motherboard and it’s clear that DZ77RE is aimed at enthusiasts. Thunderbolt is also a high-end feature right now, so it might take a while to migrate into mainstream products.

The message that the price sends is definitely not pleasant. It looks like Thunderbolt will go the same way as FireWire: it’s faster than the more popular USB but the cost is too high for mass adaption, hence it will mainly be used by a small group of professionals and prosumers. Consumers simply won’t pay the hefty premium for one port, especially when similar connectivity can be achieved with USB 3.0 and DisplayPort in most cases. This is bad news in terms of Thunderbolt accessories as well. If the market is small, we will see less competition, which in turn leads to higher prices and fewer innovations (e.g. look at the pricing on some of the other Thunderbolt solutions). Thunderbolt has the potential to be used for almost anything, but it will need to hit competitive prices with alternative solutions if it's going to see widespread adoption. Of course, other motherboard manufacturers may include Thunderbolt in cheaper motherboards but we won’t know until such products are announced.

On the other hand, Thunderbolt is not that crucial in a desktop because you have other options for expansion. Most desktops have space for at least a few 3.5" drives and PCIe cards, so adding more storage is not a problem. There is also less need for a one-cable-for-everything style solution because it's unlikely that you will be moving your desktop around a lot. It's possible that Intel isn't including Thunderbolt in most of the motherboards due to the reasons above.

Laptops are a different case because expandability is very limited—you don't have the space for extra hard drives or PCIe cards. If you use external devices such as hard drives or monitors, you also don't want to have many cables connected to your laptop because unplugging and re-plugging them is a pain, especially if you need to do this on a daily basis. This is where Thunderbolt becomes useful.

Hopefully Intel's lineup is just the exception rather than the rule and Thunderbolt will make it into mainstream computers as well. Acer and ASUS have showed interest in Thunderbolt, so there's a good chance they will include Thunderbolt in their mainstream laptops (sub-$800).

Source: Expressview

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  • werfu - Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - link

    As thunderbolt is a PCI-e passthrough and that PCI-E is hotplug, I'm pretty sure we'll see cheap adapter come to the market soon. Reply
  • zorxd - Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - link

    Still, if it's not integrated in laptops it won't succeed, just like Firewire.

    It's cheaper to use eSATA for hard drives and HDMI/DVI/DisplayPort for displays. For just about anything else, USB2 is good enough.

    The only advantage of Thunderbolt is to make displays that include many features such as ethernet and USB with only one cable. Will it be enough? I don't think so, personally.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - link

    FireWire's downfall was the high cost of entry. It also didn't have Intel backing it the way Intel backed USB. Don't think that because TB was exclusive to Apple for a year that it's an Apple tech with high tariffs.

    No, I don't want eSATA to connect an external SSD/HDD. I want something that supplies power.

    I also like the fact the port for an external display has a secondary purpose for protocol agnostic data because the majority of notebook users do not use the video out for the life of their machine. Still, the USB-IF missed their chance to get TB integrated with the USB port interface which would have been better for them in the long run.
    Reply
  • SleepyFE - Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - link

    Some eSATA ports are a USB combo and therefore do have power.
    Also TB can reach higher speeds but unless you have you SSD in a PCIe it doesn't matter. SATA III can go up to 6Gb/s so it makes it a bottleneck. USB 3 on the other hand can make 5Gb/p which is close enough and you can plug a USB 2 device in it (and we all have those).
    My point is that USB is catching up to SATA regarding speed and that is enough to use it instead of TB. The only thing i don't like is the fact that boards still have both USB 2 and USB 3. FFS!!!! USB 3 is backwards compatible. Is it really cheaper to use a USB 2 controller PLUS a USB 3 controller instead of just USB 3?
    Reply
  • zorxd - Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - link

    All hard drives are SATA internally anyway. There are no TB (or USB, or Firewire) drives. Reply
  • SleepyFE - Thursday, January 05, 2012 - link

    Not all drives. You can get an SSD with PCIe plug, OCZ even made a hybrid drive with PCIe. Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, January 05, 2012 - link

    There is always SAS and IDE but in terms of today's mainstream HDs, you are right.

    Although, I remember that there were a few HDs with internal USB. They were used in external HDs and mainly to save the price of SATA>USB bridge. I know I'm just nitpicking :-)
    Reply
  • zorxd - Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - link

    you can have eSATAp, which is powered. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - link

    eSATAp is not an official standard and is not currently supported by either the USB or the SATA working groups, which doesn't make it an ideal competitor to Thunderbolt. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - link

    eSATA doesn't supply power. In a portable scenario it's much more convenient to connect a HDD using a single cable for both power and data. As more laptops switch to capacity limited SSDs I can see more people carrying around a portable HDD while on the go. I believe 3.5" HDDs often require more power than USB 3.0 can supply on a single plug, so Thunderbolt does has some advantages there. Reply

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