Thunderbolt is a new I/O technology that offers a massive improvement in performance, and at data transfers of up to 10Gbps, it currently doubles the throughput of the fastest alternative technologies. The technology was developed by Intel and co-marketed by Intel and Apple; Apple swiftly adopted it in many of its Mac systems.
Unlike other technologies that connect to the PCI Express bus in PC systems, Thunderbolt extends the bus itself to peripheral devices, and therefore has allowed major potential for these devices, including external video cards, expansion chassis, display solutions, I/O port adapters, and high performance storage solutions. Even though its current speed of 10Gbps is an enormous improvement, this throughput is an artificial speed cap and the technology has an expected maximum of up to 100Gbps.
So far, despite its potential and massive speed improvements, the technology has taken off to a relatively slow start, with only a few devices being released since the techology's debut. Apple has offered its Thunderbolt display for use with its Mac systems, and initially Pegasus' RAID array was released followed by a number of other standalone storage systems. In all, there are roughly 20 devices available, with the majority of them being storage options, and this slow development has put a decent damper on the excitement surrounding Thunderbolt.
Despite its slow start, Intel has been working to increase Thunderbolt's adoption and support and has recently made strides to have it incorporated in new systems and devices. Earlier this year the company offered insight into its upcoming Thunderbolt controllers (code-named Cactus Ridge), which offer enhanced power efficiency for implementation in new devices like laptops, and which could even be put into video recorders and cameras for quick transfer of massive HD content.
In addition to new controllers, Intel has promised to release fiber-optic cabling for Thunderbolt to increase potential performance and distance of the interconnects, and has been working with other PC manufacturers besides Apple such as Acer, Asus, and Lenovo to implement the technology into Windows-based systems.
Besides improving the technology and integrating it into more PC systems, Intel is working with manufacturers to increase the number of available Thunderbolt-based peripheral devices. Recently in a Webcast on the new Ivy Bridge CPU architecture, Intel announced it was setting goals to increase the number of available devices from the current nearly 20 to about 100 in this year, and then offer multiples of this feature by 2013.
This effort by Intel means that if you currently have a new Mac system with a Thunderbolt connection, the outlook is promising that you will see more options quickly becoming available for you to use. Therefore, if you have been disappointed at the expense, limited options, and obscurity of Thunderbolt devices, this may soon change.