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



View All Comments

  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, January 4, 2012 - link

    Is it thunderbolt or thunderbold? lol.

    I am waiting on some sort of reasonable single wire docking solution for a complete workstation with dual/ triple monitors. I have 5 figure purchase order waiting for the right solution. Sadly nothing delivers, not for a resonable price anyway. I define reasonable as:

    i5-2410M, 256GB SSD, and of course the docking solution (two of them actually) with the single wire interface.

    Is it really too much to ask to get that for $1000? I dont think so since I can buy the notebook for $550, and the SSD for $300, leaving $150 for a pair of docking solutions.
  • phatboye - Wednesday, January 4, 2012 - link

    As long as Thunderbolt remains a proprietary standard I will not be investing any of my money into it. Rumors have it that the PCI-sig plans on working on a extermal-PCI that will compete against Thunderbolt for this reason. If not USB 3 will hold me over for the next few years until something else comes along. Reply
  • jontech - Wednesday, January 4, 2012 - link

    That thing is a beast

    With my EPP I got for $1775 from Apple and there is nothing that comes close to it for that size and speed.

    Thunderbolt takes the need for laptops to have so much internal memory and places the onus on the external

    A shot in the arm for those of us who want speed and storage.

    USB 3.0 Cannot compete at this level, though its great for archive purposes.
  • chizow - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    Is it means Intel can finally stop dragging its feet with native USB 3.0 support. Its obvious Intel wanted to give their proprietary Thunderbolt a fighting chance by keeping USB 3.0 at arms length and off their chipsets, but thankfully, OEM board makers pushed adoption by using controllers from NEC and others to force Intel's hand.

    I hate what Intel is doing on the chipset/socket side of thing though, ever since P55 we have a long list of very incremental and minor updates just so Intel and their partners can sell new boards every year.
  • danjw - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    They can't really believe this interface will be successful at this price point? I just don't see how the development they put into this interface is ever going to pay off for them. Though, I believe they intend to use it at some point to communicate between chips. If this has any chance of being widely adopted, they need to work on getting the price down. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now