Everything you need to know about Thunderbolt
Posted: 1st May 2012
Last week Intel launched its new range of PC and laptop processors, which promise to be a major leap forward in power and performance for all computers, but especially thin and light notebooks.
One aspect of these new CPUs, dubbed ‘Ivy Bridge’, hasn’t been written about as often as others – they support Thunderbolt out of the box.
That statement alone may not mean much to you, but the chances are that within a couple of years you’ll have a house filled with Thunderbolt devices whether you like it or not.
So what is Thunderbolt? Developed by Intel under the codename Lightpeak, it’s a futuristic way of allowing components to communicate with each other that’s designed to replace certain interfaces available today. Thunderbolt is different to, say, USB or PCI Express because it is built to work over copper wires or tiny fibre optical trails – and it’s very, very fast.
It first appeared in Apple’s MacBook line of computers a year ago. Apple used Thunderbolt to combine a video-out connection and a peripherals bus into one port. In other words, you can plug a compatible monitor or an external hard drive into the Thunderbolt port on a MacBook Pro, or even both together via a hub.
The advantage of Thunderbolt, apart from the fact you can do more with one tiny connector than several large ones, is that data transfer is very fast and futureproof. It can transfer up to 10Gbps of data per channel – twice the speed of USB 3.0 – and current designs have two channels per port. The number of channels can be increased as and when peripherals require more bandwidth.
Right now, Thunderbolt peripherals are pretty much limited to expensive external hard drives and Apple’s own line of monitors – but as more laptops support Thunderbolt that will change and prices will come down.
What’s really exciting aren’t the faster hard drives and a new range of memory sticks, though. It’s the things you can do with Thunderbolt that you simply can’t do with something like USB.
Sony introduced a laptop last year, the Vaio Z, which combined all the thin and light characteristics of an Ultrabook with an external graphics card via Thunderbolt. In other words, when it’s in your bag it’s one of the lightest and most portable computers around, but plug in the graphics card on your desk and it becomes a gaming powerhouse.
Thunderbolt is still rare, but with Intel’s new chips it’ll become as common a sight on laptops as USB or HDMI. A whole new world of exciting and innovative peripherals will follow.
You might also like to read:
- Everything you need to know about Intel Ivy Bridge
- Intel reveals Windows 8 tablets
- Microsoft HomeOS looks forward to a digital home
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