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Intel Thunderbolt: the new lightning fast technology for Mac and Windows

All kinds of data through a single, very fast cable

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Introduction

What began as an impressive technology demo in 2009, appeared two years later as a new connector on the 2011 edition of the Apple MacBook Pro. Now the same technology is arriving in the world of Windows. Intel's Thunderbolt technology will drastically reduce the number of cables between computers and their peripheral devices.

Let's go back to the year 2009. During his keynote address at the Intel Developer Forum, Dadi Perlmutter, one of Intel's bigwigs, demonstrated a new interface codenamed Light Peak. Intel indicated that it intends to use optical cables to transmit up to 10 Gigabit of data per second across distances of 100 metres.

The new standard is a bit cryptically described as "suitable for video, network and storage". Sony is immediately name-dropped as one of the parties that will take advantage of Light Peak in the future. The prototype controller Intel engineers had pieced together for the occasion was almost larger than the motherboard it had been mounted on, and had one interesting feature. Intel had used a modified USB connector for the connection, which of course created rumours that Intel was secretly demonstrating USB 4.0.

Those rumours were snuffed out the same week, when Intel made clear that Light Peak should be seen as a connection technology complementary to USB. A week after IDF 2009, the American site Engadget launched the rumour that it was actually Apple that was behind the concept, and not Intel. It was indeed the famous company from Cupertino that went to Intel with the idea of developing an interface that could replace existing connections in the PC such as USB, Firewire and HDMI. Apple's argument was that small, mobile devices simply don't have the space for three or four different connectors. At the time it was still a rumour, but with our 20/20 hindsight we can conclude that Engadget was well-informed indeed.

In April 2010 Intel announces that it expects to launch Light Peak in 2011, even before USB 3.0 would be integrated into Intel chipsets. In September 2010 the company demonstrated the new technology again, this time with a prototype notebook. One cable connected two monitors, an external hard drive and an external sound card. It was clear that Intel was making good progress, and also that they had moved away from optical cables to traditional copper ones instead.

Last year Apple introduced the 2011 version of the MacBook Pro, including the final version of the Light Peak technology. Intel Thunderbolt had arrived. Thunderbolt motherboards have since been released, so the new technology is also available for Windows users. This is a good reason for us to have another look at this technology.

Thunderbolt combines DisplayPort and PCI-Express in a singe cable


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