Thunderbolt – Apple’s next generation interface

By Darren Wallace.  

Publicly announced by Intel in 2009 (under the codename ‘Lightpeak’) and introduced into the Mac line up by Apple in early 2011, Thunderbolt is set to be the next generation interface of choice, especially for Professional Mac Users. Featuring the ability to send a video stream, network data and device data simultaneously, and up to theoretical speeds of 10 Gb/s per channel (with the standard implementation carrying 2 channels) you are looking at superior speeds over both USB and FireWire.

 

How does this compare with my existing devices?

To put it in a sheer speed perspective, USB 2.0 comes in at 480 Mbps, FireWire 800 at 800 Mbps, USB 3.0 at 5 Gbps, and one Thunderbolt channel at 10 Gbps. So to replace your existing kit with Thunderbolt interfaced kit would provide you with up to 20x speed increase on USB 2.0, up to 12x speed increase on FireWire 800, and even up to 4x faster then USB 3.0.

Do you really need these increased speeds? For the average basic home user, I would guess probably not. But for the professional Mac user, specialist or server this new interface will allow you to daisy chain up to two displays and up to 6 other devices (external Hard Drives, Video Capture cards etc). To top it off, Thunderbolt’s speed is faster then the speed of any of todays Hard Drives (in standard configuration) finally providing a way to access a Hard Drive without being slowed by the interface you are using. If anything, the Hard Drive speeds will be the slowest link in the chain! Additionally, mostly due to this ability to daisy chain devices, you can use one Thunderbolt connector as your sole connection to your Mac (barring the power lead of course!). Great examples of this are in Apple’s own Thunderbolt display, featuring 3 USB 2.0 sockets, 1 FireWire 800 socket, Ethernet networking and even another Thunderbolt port! Another example is the newly announced Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock, featuring the same ports as the Apple Thunderbolt Display but without the display.

 

Are there any devices out yet that will work with Thunderbolt?

Short answer:

Plenty already! – and more on the way. Almost the entire Mac line up now ships with a thunderbolt port. The last remaining Thunderbolt-less Mac (the Mac Pro) is due an upgrade in the next 3-4 months.

Additionally there are a number of external devices available that are compatible with thunderbolt including:

 

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