Intel has announced new motherboard chipsets enabling USB 3.0 and the high-speed Thunderbolt I/O connectivity, in preparation for its upcoming Ivy Bridge 22nm processor family.
Available from 8 April, the Intel 7 Series chipsets are designed to support the upcoming third generation family of Intel's Core processors for desktops, codenamed Ivy Bridge, but are also backwards compatible with the existing Sandy Bridge processors, Intel said.
The headline features in the Intel 7 Series, codenamed Panther Point, are the long-awaited integrated support for so-called "SuperSpeed" USB 3.0 ports, offering data transfer speeds up to 5Gbit/s, plus features that enable support for the high-performance Thunderbolt technology.
However, the latter is not actually part of the chipset itself and requires extra components to be implemented, according to Intel.
"There is Thunderbolt support within the chipset, but there are additional components required - specifically the Cactus Ridge controller that actually implements Thunderbolt," said Scott Pendrey, Intel's desktop product manager for Europe.
This means that it will be up to individual motherboard makers or system vendors as to whether or not they implement Thunderbolt.
But Intel does not expect many to include this as standard, Pendrey said, which means it may be a while before many PCs are available with the super-fast I/O standard.
Thunderbolt, which has been on Apple Mac systems for over a year now, supports bi-directional transfer speeds up to 10Gbit/s and is primarily used for storage and video hardware.
Likewise, USB 3.0 has been slow to gain momentum on PCs, despite being introduced several years ago.
Pendrey said that with USB 3.0 now integrated in the chipset, support is expected to ramp up, especially as Windows 8 will have native support when it ships.
Other features include triple display support, and Intel's Small Business Advantage technology, a set of capabilities aimed at very small customers that enable PCs to turn themselves off after hours to save energy, wake themselves up to update anti-virus software, and other features.
The new Intel 7 Series is pin compatible with the existing 6 Series introduced with Sandy Bridge last year, and very recent motherboards may be able to support the newer Ivy Bridge chips when they launch, Pendrey said, but are likely to require a firmware update.
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