With a transfer rate of ten gigabits per second (fast enough to exchange
a full length HD movie in under 30 seconds), Intel's new Thunderbolt
connection port seemingly has the potential to send USB and FireWire the way
of the floppy disk. Apple certainly hopes so--the company is equipping
its new line of MacBook laptops and the second generation iPad with the
technology, formerly codenamed Light Peak. In separate press releases, Intel and Apple described the
new system--officially unveiled today--as "groundbreaking," a
"breakthrough," and "blazingly fast." Can it possibly live up to the
But first what does it, you know, do? "Think of Thunderbolt...as two cables in one," suggests Wired's Dylan Tweney
. "One is a fast PCI Express cable for transferring data, and the other is DisplayPort, for driving a monitor or an external display." The Wall Street Journal's Don Clark
concedes casual computer users might not notice the improved performance, but says even neophytes will appreciate Thunderbolt's ability to interface with "communication formats that are now associated with multiple wires," cutting down on desktop clutter and making tangled wires a thing of the past.
Instant opinion from around the web was mixed.
- Yes, it's a game changer Thunderbolt
is already "miles ahead" of USB and FireWire when it comes to transfer
speed, says Business Insider's Steve Kovach. How many miles? Per Apple,
it's 12 times faster than FireWire 800 and 20 times faster than USB
2.0. In the estimation of Forbes' Brian Caulfield,
"high-speed connectivity for the digital
age" has finally arrived. The Wall Street Journal concurred, calling Thunderbolt the "new
standard for high-performance data transfer."
- Don't believe the hype Intel's lack of a specific plan for the technology worries PC Magazine's Mark Hachman.
So far it is "unclear what the long-term impact of the interface may
be." Although initially touted as a "possible replacement for
FireWire," Intel executives seem more inclined to view it as a "high-speed interface for a docking station." Fast Company's Kit Eaton doesn't have any of doubts about the end goal of the project. It's a"stealthy, ninja-style
trick" on the part of Apple and Intel to kill off USB. Eaton argues
that by equipping the second generation iPad with Thunderbolt, the
companies are attempting "unseat the aging USB protocol from its throne
before USB 3 has even hit mainstream consumer consciousness."
- It's still just a wire It was the
transfer speed underwhelmed Gizmodo editor Kyle VanHemert,
who wishes Intel followed through on the initial plan for an an optical
connection system. Because of cost concerns, the "first wave
to roll out in consumer products will likely work over copper-based
wires," limiting speed. Sync's Simon Cohen questioned Thunderbolt's short-term ability to challenge
USB. "Almost every single peripheral on the market today was built
using USB," he explains, "so it will be several years before people
no longer need USB ports on their computers."
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