This week, both Asus and MSI launched the very first non-Mac motherboards featuring Intel's Thunderbolt technology. The Asus P8Z77-V Premium and later the P8Z77-V Pro/Thunderbolt are based on Intel Socket 1155 and the Intel Z77 Express chipset as does MSI's own Z77A-GD80 motherboard.
Thunderbolt will allow these boards to provide two-way bandwidth reaching up to 10 Gbps to Thunderbolt-compatible devices. The tech supports both PCI Express and DisplayPort on a single port, but there's a drawback: Thunderbolt is more expensive than USB 3.0, limiting its future growth for the time being.
Unnamed sources in the motherboard sector are claiming that Thunderbolt is expected to become one of the the key specifications that motherboard makers will be competing with in the second half of 2012. Yet given that Thunderbolt chips are only offered by Intel with quotes of around $20 to $25, this leaves non-Intel chipmakers unable to make a profit from Thunderbolt directly, thus creating adapter chips instead.
The wave of Thunderbolt desktops, motherboards and peripherals in the second half of 2012 has been expected for some time. Even Intel said that it's shooting for around 100 Thunderbolt-based peripherals by the end of the year.
Last month, Kirk Skaugen, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC Client Group, said the number of devices is expected to grow as Thunderbolt expands from Apple's Mac OS X universe over to Microsoft's Windows-based realm starting this summer.
"We have 21 Thunderbolt devices in things like storage and displays in the marketplace. We have a hundred targeted by the end of the year, and hundreds of Thunderbolt devices targeted by the middle or end of next year,” Skaugen said.
In March Intel spokesman Dave Salvator said that the company will finally release optical cables for Thunderbolt later this year. Unlike the current copper versions, these should provide more bandwidth and longer cable runs in the "tens of meters" although devices will need their own power supply at greater lengths. Running power over longer optical cable will cause a impedance-induced power drop and thus be impractical, he said.
UPDATE: Intel reminded us that there's also the DZ77RE-75K, the chipmaker's first Z77 chipset motherboard with Thunderbolt and optimized for the 2nd and 3rd generation Intel Core –K processors in the LGA1155 package. The DZ77RE-75K board features the Intel Visual BIOS, which enables performance tuning and overclocking of the CPU core, graphics and memory speeds with unlocked Core –K processors.