Critical Mass

Introduced in early 2011 by Apple in conjunction with Intel, Thunderbolt™ is a technological marvel, a whole new direction for high-speed data transfer, monitoring and signal input/output. By the end of 2011, Apple was shipping Thunderbolt-enabled MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, Mac minis and iMacs—the entire lineup of Apple computers, with the exception of the Mac Pro towers. Several PC manufacturers have plans to introduce Thunderbolt-enabled PCs in 2012.

Apple Thunderbolt Displays

Contained within each Thunderbolt device are two different electronic pathways, DisplayPort and PCI Express. Thunderbolt devices require an Intel controller chip and a small connector included in the device. The connector doesn’t feature any sort of locking mechanism like a BNC connector has, but in most instances, the Thunderbolt device will be used in a post environment where the lack of a locking connection shouldn’t be a big factor.

LaCie Little Big Disks daisy-chained from a MacBook Pro to a monitor

FEATURES

• Multidata connection—Thunderbolt can run audio, video and data over the same cable at the same time.
• Dual-channel 10 Gbps per port—Thunderbolt allows you to use full bandwidth on two devices at once.
• Bidirectional—Thunderbolt provides two channels sending signals or receiving data.
• DisplayPort—Compatible with existing DisplayPort devices.
• Electrical or optical cables—Only copper cables are being offered in the first iteration, but Intel plans on offering fiber optic in the near future.
• Low latency—Even across up to seven Thunderbolt devices, the latency of the signal is eight nanoseconds.
• Uses native protocol software drivers—Thunderbolt uses common technology like DisplayPort and PCI Express, so no extra software is required.
• Power over cable for bus-powered devices—The Thunderbolt port provides 10 watts of power to plugged-in peripherals, enough to run small devices for short periods of time.

Thunderbolt takes what used to require a huge bundle of various different technologies, cables and connections and simplifies it down to a single, simple connection. On the surface, Thunderbolt seems to be an ideal solution for efficient transport of audio, video, timecode and monitoring.

The question is, based upon previous formats, will the Thunderbolt standard introduced by Apple, like FireWire, become a boutique standard, only used by Apple users.

THE THUNDERBOLT MARKETPLACE

The factor that held back the growth of Thunderbolt in 2011 seemed to be a distinct lack of peripherals. Only one or two hard-drive/storage devices with Thunderbolt shipped in 2011. So what does 2012 hold for the aspiring Thunderbolt user? Based upon introductions toward the end of 2011 and announcements from CES 2012, Thunderbolt seems poised to make significant inroads.

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