I find it hard to believe that anyone interested in all things technological could have missed the announcement of Thunderbolt – the new high-speed, dual-protocol I/O developed by Intel and brought to market by Apple in their latest range of MacBook Pro portables. If you thought a thunderbolt was merely a meteorological phenomenon, you can read all about this new super-fast data transfer technology straight from the horses mouth here – alternatively, if you’d like to hear my thoughts on what it means for Mac users like you and I, do read on…
Since you opted to stick around, I’ll start by giving you a quick synopsis – essentially Thunderbolt is a next generation plug-and-play interconnection technology that uses the physical DisplayPort connector that you’re used to already, but merges both DisplayPort and PCI-Express protocols allowing high-speed, high-bandwidth data and display connections through a single cable.
So, to coin a phrase: can you see what it is yet? Thunderbolt is a very big deal. Why? Because it can transfer massive amounts of data simultaneously in both directions through such a small connector – full-duplex 10Gb per second per channel (with each Thunderbolt connector sporting 2 channels) – but perhaps more importantly because it is super easy to use, and backwards compatible with existing DisplayPort devices.
One tiny connector can now give you the sort of external peripheral connectivity that previously you only got inside your computer and has the potential to change the way we work, especially in the creative industry. The latest MacBook Pros released yesterday can now connect to high performance media storage, raid systems, audio and video capture devices and high-definition displays simultaneously through one cable, with no upstream/downstream bandwidth sharing.
Of course, power users will need to wait for such Thunderbolt peripherals to be released, but it’s only a matter of time before the likes of AVID, Apogee, Blackmagic, Lacie and MOTU release compatible products. For the average user, a Thunderbolt hard drive will offer significant performance benefits over a USB or Firewire device, transferring all those big HD movies files in a flash. Both professional and home user alike though will benefit from Thunderbolt’s simplicity, performance and flexibility.
Personally, I’ll look on the DisplayPort connector on my 15″ MacBook Pro with a little sadness now, but despite the other performance enhancements in the line, I don’t think it’s worth upgrading just yet. I am however looking forward to the spread of Thunderbolt technology through the rest of Apple’s product line up – I can see a revised Cinema Display range on the horizon which connects using just one plug (current trailing cable has both DisplayPort and USB plugs), perhaps with an enhanced hub on the back, and wouldn’t a MacPro with 2 (or more) Thunderbolt ports be nice?
For mobile power and performance the benefits of Thunderbolt are clear, but for static desktop solutions, just imagine how much more serene your multimedia studio would be if you could hide your MacPro tower in a cupboard and feed just one cable to the HD displays, video and audio I/O, RAID array and blu-ray burner on your desk?
Ah, the simple life. Coming soon to a desktop near me (and you).