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Paving The Way For High-Performance External I/O

Everything You Need To Know About Thunderbolt
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Despite a less-than-picturesque debut on the PC, Thunderbolt's raw performance is impressive. Boasting throughput close to 1 GB/s, ultra-speedy next-generation external storage solutions are now a reality. Much more than a simple enabler for big disks sitting outside of your machine, Thunderbolt also extends the PCIe bus beyond your motherboard, enabling innovation in some ways we've seen and others that will no doubt surprise us in the next year.

Perhaps its most glaring weakness, Thunderbolt is not well-suited to a value audience. Reminiscent of FireWire 800's debilitating premium, Seagate's Thunderbolt-based GoFlex adapter costs a staggering $190. In contrast, formerly-expensive FireWire 800 adapters hover in the $80 range and USB 3.0 adapters sell for a mere $30. You can thank the high price of Intel's Thunderbolt controllers for that, particularly since vendors don't include cables with their Thunderbolt-based devices. Plan on spending another $50 bucks just to make a connection between your new toy and motherboard.

Intel, however, says it's making a concerted effort to drive down costs with less expensive second-gen Thunderbolt controllers (Cactus Ridge and Port Ridge controllers), and it's providing subsidies for its technology partners to help cover costs.

Despite Thunderbolt’s technological sensibility and resulting performance advantages, enthusiasts should stick to their lower-cost storage controllers, SATA-based SSDs, and internal graphics cards. The number of applications we can think of that require Thunderbolt's capabilities is still tiny. You can achieve high-speed external storage using JBODs, and most folks don't find the limits of DVI cables to be all that constraining. Right now, Thunderbolt is a very niche technology on PC desktops, attractive to high-end audio and video professionals looking for a low-latency, high-bandwidth interface for moving large amounts of data quickly.

Thunderbolt is arguably more promising in the mobile space. We love our notebooks for their mobility. But they typically give up a lot in the way of performance and flexibility for those compact form factors. By externalizing PCI Express and DisplayPort, Thunderbolt has the potential to add fast storage, graphics upgrades, and nice big monitors to small computing devices that couldn't accommodate them before.

There's no doubt that Thunderbolt addresses many of the weaknesses plaguing today's external interfaces. And because of the standards on which Thunderbolt is based, the technology can do things outside of the chassis (be it a desktop or mobile form factor) that simply weren't possible before.

Display all 68 comments.
Top Comments
  • 22 Hide
    shoelessinsight , June 12, 2012 4:52 AM
    Active cables are more likely to have defects or break down over time. This, plus their high expense, is not going to go over well with most people.
  • 21 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 12, 2012 4:35 AM
    thunderbolt will fail after external PCIE standard is implemented
  • 19 Hide
    Pyree , June 12, 2012 4:23 AM
    I was really hoping to see some eGPU benchmark. Oh well, I guess I have to wait.
Other Comments
  • 19 Hide
    Pyree , June 12, 2012 4:23 AM
    I was really hoping to see some eGPU benchmark. Oh well, I guess I have to wait.
  • 21 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 12, 2012 4:35 AM
    thunderbolt will fail after external PCIE standard is implemented
  • 15 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 12, 2012 4:36 AM
    for more insight of thunderbolt fail and Intel's lying :

    http://semiaccurate.com/2012/06/06/intel-talks-about-thunderbolt/
  • 22 Hide
    shoelessinsight , June 12, 2012 4:52 AM
    Active cables are more likely to have defects or break down over time. This, plus their high expense, is not going to go over well with most people.
  • 5 Hide
    A Bad Day , June 12, 2012 5:39 AM
    Looks like I'm going to steer clear of Copperpeak for my future build.
  • 16 Hide
    GI_JONES , June 12, 2012 5:43 AM
    Cost is going to kill this.
  • 12 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 12, 2012 6:25 AM
    ^
    because "thunderbolt" sounds much sexier than "HDBaseT " ?

    and with apple, its all about the sexiness, not functionality/practicality.
  • -1 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , June 12, 2012 6:35 AM
    Prediction: We will see Thunderbolt available on SmartPhones. When we do, this port will be able to handle a monitor, external hard drives, speakers and many other USB devices through its Thunderbolt docking station. Obviously a SmartPhone won't need to be attached to a webcam. This will become the future desktop...that is, if it can run Crysis. LOL Had to add that in there. :) 
  • 3 Hide
    pepsimtl , June 12, 2012 7:02 AM
    I remenber scsi interface ,so expensive ,just the company (server) use it .
    and sata interface replace it.
    For me Thunderbolt is the same song
    I predict a sata 4 (12gb) or usb 4 ,soon
  • 13 Hide
    archange , June 12, 2012 7:21 AM
    Hot, expensive active cables cannot be anything else than niche.
  • 7 Hide
    emad_ramlawi , June 12, 2012 7:31 AM
    Technology for the rich ...

    i can wait a couple of minutes for files to be copied on USB 3.0 which is universal and open standard .

    thanks intel but ill pass
  • 4 Hide
    rex86 , June 12, 2012 7:43 AM
    I really hope that this is going to be another flop. USB3 is just fine for almost everything. I do agree that we need open external PCIe standard. We're already paying too much to Intel.
  • 6 Hide
    beetlejuicegr , June 12, 2012 9:46 AM
    Only thing usefull i can see right now is a laptop with intel/amd gpu using it to get access to high end external discrete gpu. All the other possibilities are not needed to be through thunderbolt.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 12, 2012 10:15 AM
    What is 125oF in real measurements?
  • 0 Hide
    chesteracorgi , June 12, 2012 12:29 PM
    Thunderbolt is a wonderful innovation and alternative, but hardly ready for prime-time. Even on the Mac platform there is a derth of devices that use thunderbolt. Will thunderbolt be USB or Firewire?
  • -2 Hide
    A Bad Day , June 12, 2012 1:22 PM
    emad_ramlawiTechnology for the rich ...i can wait a couple of minutes for files to be copied on USB 3.0 which is universal and open standard . thanks intel but ill pass


    And if USB 3.0 is too slow, then use two of them (flashdrives in RAID 0 anyone?).
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , June 12, 2012 1:38 PM
    I can't believe how narrow some other people comments are. This new standard is for high end users and later others as well once prices start to drop. USB3 eSata when you are working with files that are 10s of Gigs in size are just too slow. Thunderbolt is fast plus easy plug and play for so many future possibilities. There are already a number of hard drives, raids arrays, Displays and now expansion Link PCIe adapter from Mlogic. Already it's potential is becoming interesting.
  • 1 Hide
    josejones , June 12, 2012 2:04 PM
    What are the costs of these new Thunderbolt ports on new z77 motherboards and are they 3rd party?

    I was considering getting the new Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH for my new i7 build but, not because of the Thunderbolt ports, but rather, due to the alleged lower mobo temps, which I'm concerned about with our 85F (31C) indoor temps. I await a serious review. These new boards are supposed to be available by the end of June:

    Gigabyte's Hardcore Thunderbolt Demo with GA-Z77X-UP5 TH Motherboard
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deImUH8aUHQ

    Gigabyte Ultra Durable 5 at Computex, shows much lower temperatures
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLggGetNR14

    z77 Motherboard Discussion
    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/308058-30-motherboard-discussion
  • 1 Hide
    josejones , June 12, 2012 2:17 PM
    ^ "are they 3rd party?"

    of course not = Intel
  • 1 Hide
    rantoc , June 12, 2012 2:25 PM
    I don't see this tech taking off in the consumer sector any day soon, its to expensive compared to the alternatives and with active cables it ensures that it will remain so! Few have use of the extra bandwidth provided where an usb3 will remain more than sufficient for the masses and the equipment/cables remain cheap!
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