What is Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt, the collaborative venture of Intel and Apple, was introduced today in the new line of Macbook Pro’s by Apple. Apparently the next big thing, it is quoted to be the most powerful, most flexible I/O technology in a personal computer.

This technology aims at replacing interconnects like FireWire, USB, and others with connections of up to 10 Gbps of full-duplex bandwidth per channel. Thunderbolt is based on the fundamental concept: create an incredibly fast input/output technology that just about anything can plug into. This line of thought has been incorporated by allowing multiple, high-performance, PCI Express and DisplayPort devices to attach to a computer through a single physical connector.

The two most fundamental types of I/O are: data and display(with formatted audio and video content). Thunderbolt maps PCIe and DisplayPort into a meta-protocol, and stands responsible for transmitting them over the same cable and controlling traffic-routing. The intelligent routing is done by implementing daisy chains and hot-plugging devices. It is an essentially obvious and intelligent move to use both these technologies.

According to Intel,

The choice of PCI Express was clear, providing for off-the-shelf controller use to attach to nearly any technology imaginable, and the choice of DisplayPort was equally clear for meeting the needs of the PC industry with capabilities like support for greater-than-highdefinition display resolutions, and support for up to 8 channels of high-definition audio.

Thunderbolt makes use of copper cables, which are actually two full-duplex channels capable of providing 10 Gbps bi-directional bandwidth. At 10 Gbps, Thunderbolt is much faster than most current I/O technologies. This speed is 20 times faster than the theoretical limit of USB 2.0, 12 times faster than FireWire 800, and twice as fast as USB3.

Thunderbolt cables may be electrical or optical, as both use the same connector. The de-merit of the electrical-only cable is that, it can span to connections of upto 3 metres in length and transfer upto 10W of power. The optical cables are however capable of much better performance. However still, the users can add high-performance features to their machines over a cable, daisy chaining one after another, up to a total of 7 devices, 1 or 2 of which may be high-resolution DisplayPort displays.

A Thunderbolt connector on a computer is capable of connecting with a cable to Thunderbolt products or to DisplayPort devices. Since the Thunderbolt connector is extremely small, it is ideal for thin systems and compact cables. An interoperability mode between host devices and DisplayPort products ensures compatibility with other DisplayPort devices; if a DisplayPort device is detected, a Thunderbolt controller will drive compatibility mode DisplayPort signals to that device. As such existing Mini DisplayPort-equipped monitors are already compatible and can be plugged in directly, and Mini DisplayPort adapters for VGA, DVI, or HDMI will also work.

The key features can be listed as follows:

  • Dual-channel 10Gbps per port
  • Bi-directional
  • Dual-protocol (PCI Express and DisplayPort)
  • Compatible with existing DisplayPort devices
  • Daisy-chained devices
  • Electrical or optical cables
  • Low latency with highly accurate time synchronization
  • Uses native protocol software drivers
  • Power over cable for bus-powered devices

In the words of Intel, Thunderbolt technology brings a new balance of performance, simplicity and flexibility to end users and product designers alike.

One thought on “What is Thunderbolt?”

  1. Well ever one is talking about thunderbolt as a name only.
    but tell us about what it is actually..!!Nice post 🙂

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