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Thunderbolt Heading to Windows PCs in 2012

Wednesday Intel said that Acer and Asustek Computer will launch Windows-based PCs next year featuring Intel's Thunderbolt high-speed interconnect technology. The company made this revelation at this year's Intel Developer Forum as Mooly Eden, Intel's general manager of the PC client group, demonstrated Thunderbolt in action on a PC during his keynote address.

Since its debut back in February, Thunderbolt has been an exclusively-licensed feature on Apple's Macintosh computers, offering transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps between compatible devices and their host computers (USB 3.0 offers up to 5 Gbps). However, the demonstration seen on-stage at IDF showed solid state drives connected to a Windows PC and transferring four uncompressed videos at 700 MB/s.

For now, Thunderbolt only supports the PCI Express and DisplayPort protocols. There's also a limited number of compatible peripherals available on the market thanks to Apple's previous exclusivity. That said, Intel stated that it plans to add Thunderbolt support in its chipset for the upcoming Ivy Bridge processors slated to arrive in desktops and laptops early next year. These will be used in Intel's ultrabook design, but currently it's unclear if Ivy Bridge-based models will actually sport Intel's Thunderbolt tech.

As previously reported, Thunderbolt -- which is viewed as an alternative to USB 3.0 -- was originally labeled Light Peak and designed to use fiber optics instead of the current copper wiring. But in order to reduce the cost for manufacturers and consumers, Intel resorted to using the cheaper copper wiring method (which actually works better than originally expected). In fact, Intel has now indicated that copper may be the wiring of choice for the foreseeable near future.

"[Fiber optics is] going to be way out," said Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, in an interview at the Intel Developer Forum. "At the end of the day it's all about how much speed people need versus how much they would be willing to pay. Copper will continue to improve, which happens. There have been many technologies that had been predicted dead 20 years ago that are still making good progress. We'll see."