Intel has released its Thunderbolt connection technology, formerly codenamed Light Peak, which is capable of 10Gbit/s bidirectional data transfer.
Thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB 3.0 and around 12 times faster than FireWire 800. The system is currently available on Apple's new MacBook Pro laptops and standalone drives from LaCie and Promise.
"We see Thunderbolt addressing usage models that no other I/O on the planet can," Jason Ziller, director of Thunderbolt planning and marketing, told V3.co.uk.
Apple was the launch partner for the technology, but Intel is keen to see Thunderbolt being used by other vendors, primarily at the premium and workstation end of the market. The first systems should begin shipping early next year.
"Having Apple as the first partner has implications for the volume," Shane Rau, research director at analyst firm IDC, told V3.co.uk.
"It implies that Intel is using Apple as a test case, and says certain things about the cost structure. Intel is coming out with a high-profile partner with low market share at the premium end of the market."
Rau explained that the technology will filter down into the PC sphere as economies of scale kick in. However, while the system could replace HDMI, FireWire and other ports, there has been considerable inertia among system designers.
The Thunderbolt cable comprises five pairs of copper wire, two pairs handling uploads, two pairs handling downloads and a fifth pair for side channel traffic.
The Thunderbolt controller uses PCI Express on the motherboard to drive data, and DisplayPort data can also be added in the same way.
The system can also allow data synchronisation across daisy-chained compatible devices, and carries up to 10W of power to run standalone peripherals.
Pricing is unavailable, but Ziller said that the cost will be compatible with other high-end media connectors.
Thunderbolt was first announced at IDF 2009, and was initially seen as an optical system. But this had proved too expensive to attract OEMs, Ziller said. An optical Thunderbolt connection will be available later in the year this year.
"We will definitely continue to do electrical [connections]," said Aviel Yogev, director of Thunderbolt engineering at Intel.
"We are working on reducing the cost of the optical technology. At the end of the day we have to move to optical. Electrical is a dead end."
Ziller said that the technology could reduce the plethora of cables currently in use, but that Thunderbolt is not a competitor to USB 3.0 and that the two standards are entirely complementary.
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