Apple’s most recent update to their MacBook Pro lineup brought a very interesting update to the Mini DisplayPort. While it may be shaped the same, and function with HD and DisplayPort accessories, the port now has a lightning bolt next to it. This symbol is indicative of the new Thunderbolt technology place inside these powerful machines. This data port allows connection and use of high-speed Thunderbolt peripherals.

Worked on by Intel and Apple (engineered by Intel, introduced in the MacBooks) this is a new serial data interface is meant to function with all computer peripherals. Unlike previous ports, the Thunderbolt interface is capable of functioning with USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 or 800 devices (with the correct adapter). The creators of the Thunderbolt port wished to introduce a universal serial data interface, that could simultaneously carry uncompressed HD video. As a high-speed data transfer method, Thunderbolt sets the bar. Transferring data at up to 10 Gbps per-channel, the Thunderbolt interface is the fastest I/O for personal computers.

Designed under the codename “Light Peak”, the Thunderbolt port was intended to replay the wide array of I/O busses in use today (USB, FireWire, eSATA, SCSI, and even PCI Express). The concept behind the Thunderbolt technology was to slim down the necessary serial data interfaces to one all-around port. This idea was finally brought into reality with an adaptation of the Mini DisplayPort currently existing in Apple computers. Now (with the Thunderbolt interface upgrade), not only can this port drive displays, it is capable of using the PCI Express protocol to push data and HD video. It is meant to move data at high speeds, and simplify device connection. Like FireWire, Thunderbolt peripherals are daisy-chained (transfer data as well as video simultaneously).

Working with HD movies and music is one of the most taxing uses of CPU. Until recently, devices have been limited by connection speed. However, with its 10 Gbps transfers rate, Thunderbolt is intended to solve this problem. For professional and consumers, the Thunderbolt interface allows users to quickly transfers large collections of media. While devices are still in the development, this will soon have implications and be a mainstay of HD movies making, and Mac music studios.

At the moment there is a a bit lacking when it come to actual Thunderbolt peripherals. As the technology was so recently introduced, most companies are lucky to have begun development for the high speed serial interface. However, with ThunderBolt DisplayPort adapters it still functions with existing DVI and HDMI compatible monitors, and promises to be one of the fast I/O available for consumers. The next year should see the coming about of various Thunderbolt accessories and peripherals. It also provides Mac’s product line with a dedicate PCI slot (which has been in demand for some time now).

The Thunderbolt port is controlled by a new chip to the MacBook motherboard. The interfere uses 4 PCI Express circuits for data transfer, and the DisplayPort channel for video. The deceive is capable of simultaneously handling two data streams through a single port (in both directions).

With the removal of the ExpressCard/34 slot of their MacBook line, many pro users found Apple a little lacking when it came to integration with high-end video gear, and RAID hard drives. As the slot commonly has been used for adding additional I/O ports for laptops (such as USB 2.0 or 3.0 Superspeed, eSATA, FireWire, etc), Mac users found themselves at a slight disadvantage when it came to expandability. In their cooperative effort Apple and Intel planned to solve this problem with the Thunderbolt interface. Not only a high speed extension of the PCI I/O bus, but a fully function PCI Express card within the redesign Mini DisplayPort.

Currently, Thunderbolt cabling relies on copper wire, but Intel claims it will switch to optical down the line. Luckily for all of those who purchased current MacBooks with Thunderbolt, the later optical cabling should still function. The idea being the optical technology will be built into the cables themselves.

In theory the interface should function with any device that is PCI Express 2.0 compatible. This potentially means all USB 2.0, FireWire, and eSATA devices should function with the Thunderbolt port. It is capable of supply 10 watts or power to compatible computer accessories. It is unknown if USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt peripherals will function together properly, however, many users remain optimistic that an adapter will arise for USB 3.0 Superspeed to function with the Thunderbolt adapter.

It is important to remember that this technology is brand new. Unfortunately, most companies are still playing catchup with their introduction of gadgets compatible with Thunderbolt. However, with its high speed 10 Gbps I/O and versatility, the next year should see support for Thunderbolt added to many computers and accessories. Lacie (with the Little Big Disk) and Western Digital both have claimed to be releasing Thunderbolt hard disks in the near future; it is only a matter of time before most other provider follow suit.

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