Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt on Mac

A little over a year ago I wrote about the speed of USB 3.0. Since then, I’ve seen several peripherals and computers equipped with USB 3.0, but none from Apple. Apple is famous for being a company that adopts new technologies before anyone else, but in the case of USB 3.0, there’s been nothing but silence from them.

Why Thunderbolt?

In true Apple-fashion, they didn’t adopt it because they were actually focused on the next next best thing. While USB 3.0 was just starting to gain momentum, Apple was working with Intel on an even better solution called Light Peak. Light Peak can transfer data at speeds up to 20Gbps (4-times faster than USB 3.0), and can also be dasiy-chained (doing away with the need for hubs).

The final version of Light Peak was announced a few weeks ago by Apple, and they chose to name it Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is slightly different from the initial promises of Light Peak, in that it only supports up to 10Gbps. The reason for this is because Apple reserves half of the bandwidth for monitors. That’s correct, you heard me right, Thunderbolt also supports monitors! The other main difference is that Thunderbolt uses copper instead of fiber. Other than that, it’s the same technology.

Thunderbolt Features

The performance enhancements that Thunderbolt brings to the Mac are actually quite exciting. Its features include:

  • The DisplayPort form factor (currently used for Apple displays).
  • Works with other connection standards, including USB, FireWire and ethernet (requires adapters).
  • Works with Apple Cinema Displays.
  • Provides 10 watts to power connected peripherals.
  • Can be daisy-chained, removing the need for hubs and switches.
  • Supports TargetDisk mode for Macs.

The only complaint for Thunderbolt is its lack of supporting peripherals. However, I expect for that to change dramatically before the end of 2011. With Thunderbolt, Apple has truly chosen the next next best thing. And with its introduction, they may have just killed off USB 3.0 before it even had a chance to be widely adopted.