updated 02:50 pm EST, Thu February 24, 2011
Intel says Apple leads Thunderbolt until 2012
Intel at its Thunderbolt preview event in San Francisco on Thursday said that Apple effectively had the technology to itself for the next year. The 10Gbps spec wasn't exclusive to Apple, but the semiconductor firm didn't expect other computer builders to have it until early 2012. It was up to them to decide when to leap in, Intel said.
Other companies won't get the developer kit for Thunderbolt until the spring, giving Apple at least several months' lead time. Hardware specifications will be tied to the kit and won't be published publicly, Intel said. Only Intel makes the needed controller chip.
Getting Thunderbolt first represents a major coup for Apple, which has had only a relative handful of unambiguous advantages in the Intel era. Most of its focus has been on getting special or early processors as well on improving on existing technology, such as long battery life or SSD integration. Thunderbolt may now give it a clear speed edge for any external storage, even trumping USB 3.0 and external SATA.
The venue gave Intel more of an opportunity to detail how Thunderbolt works and how it can work in the future. Daisy-chaining could involve a Cinema Display or other DisplayPort screen, but only if the device is the last on the chain. Both optical and electrical cables will work, but the features they allow vary wildly. The wired connection supplies the expected 10W of power but can only go up to three meters (9.8 feet) in length. Optical cables, since they only transmit light, don't supply power but can go up to "tens of meters," Intel said. Optical cables are due later in the year.
If needed, it can work for boot devices but needs a computer with appropriate firmware. It's not clear if the new MacBook Pros support booting from a Thunderbolt-equipped drive.
The technology only supports 10Gbps for now, but it already has scaling built in, according to Intel. Where a current Thunderbolt link is two lanes, it can work with as many as two lanes in each direction, scaling up to 20Gbps symmetrically or 40Gbps if all traffic flows in one direction.
While at the gathering, Intel took the opportunity to show Thunderbolt in action, streaming four 1080p, 10-bit encoded videos from a prototype Promise RAID drive attached to a MacBook Pro. The technique also showed very fast Final Cut Pro rendering while daisy-chained with the Promise drive, a prototype LaCie drive and a Cinema Display.