Intel Working on Thunderbolt for Tablets, Phones

Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, told the IDG News Service during an interview at Computex that the company is working on a low-power version of Thunderbolt for tablets and smartphones. Whether it actually arrives on mobile devices will depend on how well WiGig is adopted by consumers.

"Do users want Thunderbolt or do they want WiGig? They might want both. We are working on both," Perlmutter said.

Intel is actually backing WiGig, a specification led by the Wireless Gigabit Alliance that's focused on transmitting data across short distances (such as a room). It can transfer data wirelessly at a rate up to 7 Gbps, faster than a standard wireless connection, using the 60 GHz spectrum. Devices supporting WiGig are slated to arrive next year, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is expected to eventually take the reins of WiGig development.

Currently smartphones and tablets only sport micro USB ports that connect to peripherals. USB 3.0 is just now starting to roll out, with the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity revealed at Computex being one of the first in the mobile arena to provide a full SuperSpeed port.

The adoption of Thunderbolt in desktops and laptops has been reportedly sluggish due to the popularity of the slower USB 3.0. Thunderbolt cables and peripherals haven't helped the adoption rate, as they're more expensive compared to USB 3.0 devices and cables. However Intel has reportedly doubled the speed of the Thunderbolt connect to 20 Gbps thanks to the release of optical cables.

In Thunderbolt's defense, the tech didn't actually begin to surface on non-Apple desktops until May 2012. It's a joint venture between Intel and Apple, and made its first appearance on the MacBook Pro in 2011. It uses the same connector as Mini DisplayPort, and combines PCI Express (PCIe) and DisplayPort (DP) into one serial signal alongside a DC connection for electric power which is transmitted over a single cable.

Thunderbolt is capable of up to 10 Gbps per channel in both directions, and up to seven compatible peripherals can be daisy chained through one Thunderbolt connector. Intel claims users can transfer a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds, and backup 1 year of continuous MP3 playback in just over 10 minutes.

"We'll see what's winning," Perlmutter said.

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  • The reason people aren't all going out and buying Thunderbolt everything is simply due to 3 factors:
    1) Manufacturers aren't putting it on all their devices
    2) There are so few peripherals that use it
    3) The products that do implement it cost a hefty premium compared to those that use USB 3.0
    Thunderbolt is amazing for high-speed external storage (SSD's and RAID arrays) but that is about it. USB 3.0 is fast enough for most users' needs and is reasonably priced, as well as being compatible with all of their USB 2.0 peripherals. The fact that Thunderbolt carries a DisplayPort signal is negated by the fact that very few displays offer DisplayPort inputs and those that do are far more expensive. Apple is the only company with a Thunderbolt display that offers additional functionality (3, USB 2.0, 1x Firewire 800, 1x GbE, webcam, speakers) and it costs $1000. Nobody else is even using this connector because it costs so much and isn't on any devices.
    Intel needs to drop the price of using Thunderbolt and make it accessible to more manufacturers if they want it to catch on. It's implementation of external PCIe has many possibilities but they're standing in their own way if they think people will just needlessly buy it if it has an Intel logo on it.
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  • Agree with WithoutWeakness. I also want to say I am more interested in Thunderbolt than WiGig because wireless N is pretty fast and I am hoping that we will be able to get an ultrabook laptop and connect via Thunderbolt to a separate box with discrete desktop graphics cards in there. Best of both worlds :D
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  • The highest end motherboards have thunderbolt compatibility and 802.11ac wifi, but that's about all I have seen.
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