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Thread: Thunderbolt - what is it

  1. #1
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    Default Thunderbolt - what is it

    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!

    Rick
    molṑn labe'
    "I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil."
--Ben Franklin

  2. #2
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    PCIe expansion cases? I realize the speed will be a limiting factor but as long as that's a known fact presale this could be something iMac owners have been deprived of
    Damien,

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    An expansion box seems like going backwards, and less neat. Yes, they will be made, I think Sonnet already has one for Express34 cards. But the major reason that Thunderbolt will be useful is that almost any given device can be containable in a single box with just a simple pair of Thunderbolt ports on the back. And power of course.

    I agree with that philosophy. There will be need for an expansion chassis, but the vast majority will want to plug directly in with just a few peripheral devices.

    R
    molṑn labe'
    "I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil."
--Ben Franklin

  4. #4
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    " .....Firewire at 800 Mb/sec"

    Should read 80, correct?

    Nice write up.
    "Imagine if every Thursday your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining." -- Jef Raskin

  5. #5
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    800Mb where the Mb is megabits not megabytes (MB) it makes the advertising weenies happy when they can print a bigger number
    Damien,

  6. #6
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    Hi Guys,

    got my hands on one of the promise Pegasus drives and can confrim speeds in excess of 800MB/sec in raid 0.

  7. #7
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    That's pretty cool. Expensive little bugger, the Promise. But that kind of speed has only been dreamed of on an iMac or MacBookPro before.
    molṑn labe'
    "I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil."
--Ben Franklin

  8. #8
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    or even mac mini!

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    Quote Originally Posted by ricks View Post
    An expansion box seems like going backwards, and less neat. Yes, they will be made, I think Sonnet already has one for Express34 cards.
    R
    Sonnet has announced Thunderbolt PCIe expansion boxes, one and two slot versions. I *think* they were supposed to ship originally around now, but their store shows shipping in Jan 2012.

    Definitely less neat for storage, but for Minis, MBP, iMacs a sweet way to get capture and graphics cards, and the like hooked up to those slotless Macs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Greentree_uk View Post
    or even mac mini!
    Ooo that too! I need something, with 13" MBP and macmini, I'm noticing the wait with FW800 compared to eSATA, which I had with my old MBP with ExpressCard.

  10. #10
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    Timely article. Thanks!

    I was just doing some reading on Thunderbolt and USB3.0/SuperspeedUSB in comparison to eSATA. You just answered the Thunderbolt half of my questions. Thanks!

  11. #11
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    Glad to see it. Thanks for posting Ken.

    Rick
    molṑn labe'
    "I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil."
--Ben Franklin

  12. #12
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    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!
    I'm patiently waiting . . . wondering if there's been any movement in this area?

    Maybe I'm impatiently waiting.

    Definitely waiting.

  13. #13
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    Intel licensed Thunderbolt exclusively to Apple for the first year. In turn, Apple gave exclusive access to selected members of Apple Developer group. That group has spent the last year doing what it can to turn a profit in a limited supply market.

    Apple's exclusive license from Intel ends this month.

    Now we get to see what everyone else can come up with. Ain't competition a wondrous thing?



    Rick
    molṑn labe'
    "I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil."
--Ben Franklin

  14. #14
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    Sonnet is finally actually shipping their Thunderbolt to PCIe expansion box.

    Magma's version is not yet available.And still lists limitations on drivers for the Mac. (what's with that?)



    We see product announcements left and right, but not much shipping.


    Apple is selling the Promise overpriced RAID garbage on their build to order pages. If you like $600 hard drive modules (a $200 drive and a $40 tray = $600) then the Promise is for you.

    ATTO is shipping a Thunderbolt hardware RAID card to us for testing in the next couple weeks. Like all ATTO hardware RAID cards it will run over a grand just for the card and the software (most of the money is in the software). This is probably the very highest quality product.
    molṑn labe'
    "I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil."
--Ben Franklin

  15. #15
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    Anything for normal people? A TB hub maybe? Or a TB to DVI adapter with TB pass-thru, TB to SATA adapter also with TB pass-thru......
    Damien,

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    BTW my previous statement "Anything for normal people" should in no way be construed to mean that I in any way consider myself to be 'normal'.
    Damien,

  17. #17
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    Matrox at least announced a hub like what you describe.

    Lacie, such as they are, has a hub as well. Seagate just bought controlling interest in LaCie - I would say that means LaCie product start deteriorating in quality except they did that long ago.

    Western Digital bought GTech, that didn't do the products coming out of GTech any good either. They seem to get worse by the day.
    molṑn labe'
    "I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very jealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil."
--Ben Franklin

  18. #18
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    That sounds kinda like, not really. Or, maybe not that kind of normal. I thought I heard July, as a time for expectations to develop into anticipation.

    Damien, remember that normal is only a statistic not a reality.

  19. #19
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    Seems the Belkin is the only one with TB pass thru and it doesn't have DVI. The Matrox HAS to be at the end of the TB chain as does the Apple TB monitor ... sad . And still no External SATA adapter to be seen. No proper hub.... one TB in and 4 TB out style hub.

    I hate waiting... (you would think after those movies about Me that companies wouldn't want to keep Me waiting)
    Damien,

  20. #20
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    You would think that Rick would say something like: We will be coming out with - - - - in the near future for our Burleys, just to keep you happy Damien. I mean a little encouragement for you would go a long way, wouldn't it?

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