Thunderbolt chips are starting to ship from Intel. This means we'll finally start seeing some products on the market using this bus. What is it? Will it help me?
Thunderbolt combines two data streams into a single port - Display Port and PCIe.
Display port will allow us to connect a display directly to the Thunderbolt port on your computer. The display port data flow doesn't even interfere with the PCIe data stream. Pretty neat.
PCIe protocols is just that - a 10 Gb/sec connection to your PCI-PCI bridge on the motherboard. This means we can hook up that SATA chipset in an enclosure after bridging through two Thunderbolt chips. Similar to hooking up a Firewire enclosure with a SATA drive only lots faster. Like Firewire, Thunderbolt uses a bridge at both ends with a SATA chipset to talk to the drive.
Basically like this:
Computer -> Thunderbolt -> ext cable -> Thunderbolt -> SATA chipset -> drive
For MacBookPro and iMac this is a HUGE leap forward in capability. This is full speed for half a dozen drives in a RAID. This is a 10 fold increase in possible data I/O as compared to past iMac which were pretty much limited to Firewire at 800 Mb/sec
For a MacPro, not so much. MacPro already has many times the capability of a Thunderbolt bus built into its PCIe slots. And the cost will be less since the PCIe cards are very mature, developed, competitive and inexpensive to make. Thunderbolt in a MacPro might be convenient for plugging in what has previously only been in the realms of Firewire or USB, but Thunderbolt cannot compete with the performance of PCIe slots.
Don't get me wrong, there is a place for Thunderbolt in a MacPro - I can see the day that I want to hook my fancy iPad to my MacPro with a Thunderbolt cable. And when Thunderbolt gets fully implemented in all its glory I REALLY look forward to having a Thunderbolt that can handle fiber optic cabling - the way it was originally designed (as LightPeak). We'll not only be fast but able to put our storage in the next room, or building, when we can use glass as the cabling. Over copper, which is what the Thunderbolt cables use today, we are limited to a couple meters, pretty much like everything else over copper.
That said, once widespread development of Thunderbolt devices gives some competitiveness to the market we'll see significant value. And having many product choices WILL make the pricing competitive - once more developers can get their hands on Thunderbolt technology. As of this point in time Intel, who controls the technology, has reserved all access to Thunderbolt to members of Apple Developer. So choices are pretty limited and expensive for now.
What will MacGurus being doing with Thunderbolt? As soon as Intel deems the rest of us worthy to purchase Thunderbolt chipsets we will be designing Thunderbolt Burlys and upgrades to convert existing Burlys to Thunderbolt. Drool worthy!