Cactus Ridge: Understanding the New, More Affordable Thunderbolt Controllerby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 12, 2012 10:32 AM EST
When we first published the details of Intel's 2012 line of Thunderbolt controllers we pointed out that the specs of the two new controllers seemed identical to those of the two outgoing controllers. To briefly recap, there are currently two Thunderbolt controllers in the market: Light Ridge and Eagle Ridge. The ultimate difference between the controllers is how many ports are supported (it's a bit more complicated than that but that's what it boils down to). Light Ridge supports 2, Eagle Ridge supports 1.
Any Thunderbolt device currently shipping or shipping before the end of Q1 will use either Light Ridge or Eagle Ridge. Both of these parts are priced somewhere in the $20 - $30 range.
Sometime in Q2 (not at the Ivy Bridge launch in April unfortunately) we'll see the introduction of one and two port Cactus Ridge controllers. From a feature standpoint these two will be identical to what we have today, the main difference is integration.
There are a number of external components you currently need to support Thunderbolt, especially if you want to enable DisplayPort video output in addition to data. Intel wouldn't be specific but it told me the only difference between Cactus Ridge and its predecessors is Cactus integrates more of these external components onto the die itself. The solution is still not fully integrated, but it is more integrated than the current solution. While this won't drive down the cost of the controller itself, it will reduce the cost of implementing Thunderbolt. Given Intel's history of wanting to integrate everything, it's pretty safe to assume that going forward we'll see a slow integration of all external components into the Thunderbolt controller.
So if you see a Thunderbolt device that you're interested in and it's launching during or before April of this year, it's likely based on Light/Eagle Ridge. Otherwise it's Cactus Ridge. The difference to you shouldn't be anything noticeable, but it should contribute to somewhat more affordable Thunderbolt devices.