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Thunderbolt Will Become Key Motherboard Spec in 2H 2012

By - Source: DigiTimes | B 34 comments

Insiders predict the obvious: Thunderbolt will be a key competitive spec for motherboard manufacturers in 2H 2012.

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.

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Top Comments
  • 16 Hide
    bison88 , May 25, 2012 5:28 PM
    Meh, can it supersede USB in the market or will it go the route of FireWire with only a niche market. That's the ultimate question. Either way for a long time it'll be nothing more than a complimentary technology to USB until it has full market saturation.
  • 14 Hide
    segio526 , May 25, 2012 6:09 PM
    Meh. I barely use USB 3.0. I use it for my 2TB backup drive. I don't use it for anything else. That drive isn't saturating the 3.0 bus, so doubling it does nothing for me and won't for many years. Also, the cables will ALWAYS be more expensive than USB until they can (?) move the cable circuits into the device/controller. This may be short sighted of me, but I see no benefit for 90% (or more) of consumers.
  • 13 Hide
    shloader , May 25, 2012 6:31 PM
    Exactly. USB3 covers what we need in the desktop segment for now. Thunderbolt is more niche than necessary. bison88 is right. FireWire was relevant in PC space ten years ago because of Sony's early adoption on Digital 8 and DV devices. I think I had FireWire before I ever had USB2.0. Because of Mac popularity with Video Editing back then it was essential on that platform. FireWire costs a little more but that's something Apple and its customer base could hardly care about.

    Here we are in a similar situation. Apple is getting the jump on it and they don't care about a $25 chip considering their markup margins. It also makes more sense on their platform; it gives them more flexibility for aesthetic design aspects.

    However FireWire made immediate sense for Video transfer on PC and Mac at its introduction. Here's Thunderbolt. I've heard everything about how great it is and what it would be nice for. Now just what is Intel stressing that we need this for? Not a few years from now... I mean right now.
Other Comments
    Display all 34 comments.
  • 9 Hide
    jasonpwns , May 25, 2012 5:07 PM
    Not terribly shocking.
  • 0 Hide
    stingstang , May 25, 2012 5:08 PM
    Wouldn't the actual competitive spec be related to the cpu?
  • 4 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , May 25, 2012 5:21 PM
    *rolls eyes*

    Oh my, what higher education can accomplish these days...the obvious.
  • -2 Hide
    elcentral , May 25, 2012 5:27 PM
    hell yeah it will be, think of all the 1 beta product for the next 2 years you will miss out on. its still scars for the usb 3.0 options out there.
  • 16 Hide
    bison88 , May 25, 2012 5:28 PM
    Meh, can it supersede USB in the market or will it go the route of FireWire with only a niche market. That's the ultimate question. Either way for a long time it'll be nothing more than a complimentary technology to USB until it has full market saturation.
  • 14 Hide
    segio526 , May 25, 2012 6:09 PM
    Meh. I barely use USB 3.0. I use it for my 2TB backup drive. I don't use it for anything else. That drive isn't saturating the 3.0 bus, so doubling it does nothing for me and won't for many years. Also, the cables will ALWAYS be more expensive than USB until they can (?) move the cable circuits into the device/controller. This may be short sighted of me, but I see no benefit for 90% (or more) of consumers.
  • 13 Hide
    shloader , May 25, 2012 6:31 PM
    Exactly. USB3 covers what we need in the desktop segment for now. Thunderbolt is more niche than necessary. bison88 is right. FireWire was relevant in PC space ten years ago because of Sony's early adoption on Digital 8 and DV devices. I think I had FireWire before I ever had USB2.0. Because of Mac popularity with Video Editing back then it was essential on that platform. FireWire costs a little more but that's something Apple and its customer base could hardly care about.

    Here we are in a similar situation. Apple is getting the jump on it and they don't care about a $25 chip considering their markup margins. It also makes more sense on their platform; it gives them more flexibility for aesthetic design aspects.

    However FireWire made immediate sense for Video transfer on PC and Mac at its introduction. Here's Thunderbolt. I've heard everything about how great it is and what it would be nice for. Now just what is Intel stressing that we need this for? Not a few years from now... I mean right now.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , May 25, 2012 7:03 PM
    Thunderbolt will be a niche at best if it can convince audio/video interface makers to support it. Then it wili be as (un)succesful as Firewire was.

    If it can't do that, then there won't be many Thunderbolt devices, and it will pretty much be one of those things like SPDIF and 1394 that are on every motherboard, but nobody ever uses them.
  • 4 Hide
    andromeda , May 25, 2012 7:07 PM
    I like the potential of TB but until it can power devices that they flaunt like LED monitors then I don't really care. USB is far superior in this segment.

    I want TB devices that power media devices 1 plug for data and power until then I stick with what works
  • 11 Hide
    jackbling , May 25, 2012 7:14 PM
    the only thing that interest me about thunderbolt, is getting an external graphics card for laptops. aside form that, it seems like a waste of money on desktop systems.

  • 5 Hide
    oj88 , May 25, 2012 7:21 PM
    How can the 10-Gbps even be named Thunderbolt? USB 3.0 is 5-Gbps already, and its speed hasn't been fully exploited yet. I would rather wait for USB 4.0. Intel's move simply tries to make current PC systems obsolete soon so we will be forced to upgrade to the new platform. Does Rambus ring a bell here?
  • -5 Hide
    Anonymous , May 25, 2012 7:22 PM
    Sorry guys but USB3 is S-L-O-W. While it is rated high, in actual performance, it is pretty slow. Heck, you'll get better performance out of your eSATA 3Gbps than USB3 in the real world. The question is whether ThunderBolt is better than eSATA 6Gbps. Tests on Anand seem to indicate that it is, but at the price you pay, probably not worth it just yet. In a few years, it may be the defacto standard as it encapsulates all of the above technologies.
  • 5 Hide
    icrf , May 25, 2012 7:38 PM
    File another "meh" vote for me. For years I've had a file server/NAS over gigabit ethernet, and I haven't had any desire to use eSATA, USB3, or TB. I'd much rather someone put a gigabit ethernet port on a laptop than a thunderbolt port.
  • 0 Hide
    TeraMedia , May 25, 2012 7:44 PM
    I think @jackbling has the right idea. TB is too powerful for single devices. For a monitor, you can use VGA, DVI, HDMI or DP instead. For an input device, you can use USB 2.0. For a storage device or external GPU, you can use USB 3.0.

    Where TB will be able to shine is in its ability to replace the typical docking station for a laptop. Rather than either (a) a proprietary connector to a large desktop cartridge-like device, or (b) a lot of individual connections for Kbd / Mouse / Video / Network / (storage?) / power, the TB spec can facilitate the use of just one or two connectors for everything (the second being for power - too bad they didn't put a PoTB into the spec!). It might eventually plug straight into your monitor, which would actually be a desktop expansion device including USB 2.0 ports for Kbd / Mouse, a GbE network port, an external GPU (on the more expensive version...), and either an internal HDD or a USB 3.0 connection for an external drive.

    Personally, I've never been a big fan of docking stations. If there were something simple, small, light, PnP, hot-connectable, and cost-effective that I could use instead, I'd be much happier with the concept.

    I do wish they'd thought about power, though. They didn't think through what I consider to be the most likely application of this technology.
  • 5 Hide
    slicedtoad , May 25, 2012 8:19 PM
    I like the idea of an external GPU. Imagine a 17" laptop running with say intel 3000 integrated graphics that is fairly light. You can bring it to school or the office and to whatever work you need. Then you go home and plug it into a $300 GPU with it's own power and cooling and actually be able to play games on a laptop without spending a freaking fortune on a "mobile gpu".
  • 1 Hide
    TeraMedia , May 25, 2012 8:39 PM
    @slicedtoad: The external GPU capabilities might be somewhat limited by the TB connection BW and latency. The schematic I saw shows a PCIe-x4 connection to the TB peripheral chip. If it's 2.0 or higher (not clear whether it's PCIe 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0), and all of that BW is available to the GPU, you might get acceptable BW but still suffer from latency effects. If it's 1.0, a higher-end GPU such as 7800 series and up would be adversely impacted by a BW bottleneck.
  • 3 Hide
    captaincharisma , May 25, 2012 8:58 PM
    bison88Meh, can it supersede USB in the market or will it go the route of FireWire with only a niche market. That's the ultimate question. Either way for a long time it'll be nothing more than a complimentary technology to USB until it has full market saturation.


    its up to the companies to keep the products with this interface cheap like their USB products to make it viable. one example is only the value brand external HDD have USB interfaces while the pricier ones have either fire wire, eSATA or both.

    i have had 2 PC's so far that had firewire ports but never have had any products that used those ports
  • 0 Hide
    slicedtoad , May 25, 2012 9:50 PM
    TeraMedia@slicedtoad: The external GPU capabilities might be somewhat limited by the TB connection BW and latency. The schematic I saw shows a PCIe-x4 connection to the TB peripheral chip. If it's 2.0 or higher (not clear whether it's PCIe 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0), and all of that BW is available to the GPU, you might get acceptable BW but still suffer from latency effects. If it's 1.0, a higher-end GPU such as 7800 series and up would be adversely impacted by a BW bottleneck.

    You're likely right, but at least it's a step in the right direction. If it was fully optical, that would potentially reduce latency, right? The x4 limitation isn't huge for gaming. PCI 2.0 at x4 speed only limits the 78xx cards by at most 20%. The 680 and 670 suffer a bit more though.
    When you consider the prices of high end mobile GPUs though, even loosing a full 20% isn't horrible. The 580m costs around $700 and performs like a 6870. That's ridiculous.
  • 0 Hide
    jkflipflop98 , May 26, 2012 12:55 AM
    TeraMediaI think @jackbling has the right idea. TB is too powerful for single devices. For a monitor, you can use VGA, DVI, HDMI or DP instead. For an input device, you can use USB 2.0. For a storage device or external GPU, you can use USB 3.0.Where TB will be able to shine is in its ability to replace the typical docking station for a laptop. Rather than either (a) a proprietary connector to a large desktop cartridge-like device, or (b) a lot of individual connections for Kbd / Mouse / Video / Network / (storage?) / power, the TB spec can facilitate the use of just one or two connectors for everything (the second being for power - too bad they didn't put a PoTB into the spec!). It might eventually plug straight into your monitor, which would actually be a desktop expansion device including USB 2.0 ports for Kbd / Mouse, a GbE network port, an external GPU (on the more expensive version...), and either an internal HDD or a USB 3.0 connection for an external drive.Personally, I've never been a big fan of docking stations. If there were something simple, small, light, PnP, hot-connectable, and cost-effective that I could use instead, I'd be much happier with the concept.I do wish they'd thought about power, though. They didn't think through what I consider to be the most likely application of this technology.


    Look at the size of your power cord powering your monitor. Look at the size of a USB cable. Any thoughts come to mind?
  • 4 Hide
    SteelCity1981 , May 26, 2012 1:30 AM
    that's great and all but it doesn't have the long rep USB does in compatibility and that's where the market is your avg consumor want devices that are compatible with one another thunderbolt doesn't have that rep or the 100's of thousands of devices that support it.
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