Apple Thunderbolt

Seems like almost one year ago I was writing about the merits of Intel’s Light Peak technology, a promised fiber-optic based interconnect that enable fast connectivity to a variety of bus interconnects.
Thunderbolt Logo
Finally, Light Peak is here, however it has been rebranded as Apple’s Thunderbolt technology and the current infrastructure in the launch is still…copper. :(, yeah big frownie face. Essentially what they’ve done is rebrand their Mini-Displayport interface port as a an all-in-one Thunderbolt interface. Good news is this means that existing cables and accessories that use this port can continue to be used, and in theory more bits can be pushed down that port. The bad news is…well…there aren’t any devices yet to take advantage of this port and its boost in speeds.

I’m also thinking that this could be a big boon to new, incredibly fast serialized devices that push standards forward. Apple helped pioneer the FireWire port back in the late 90’s– I’m hoping they can do something about how long it takes me to dump 250 gigs of data to my external hard drive.

And yes…I’m a wee bit jealous about those new fast 17″ MacBook Pro’s.

One area that I didn’t touch on in my last post was the increased bandwidth available for audio applications such as Pro Tools or Logic. Most of this stuff comes in FireWire now, and while I haven’t really seen anyone complain about a bandwidth crunch on the bus while doing recording, I’m sure having more lanes to cram more bits down can’t really hurt.

main_image_1993Finally, Intel also reports that Apple has a one-year head start on using the technology. I’m assuming that means that Apple will have one year of exclusivity before the technology starts being available for use in other competing devices. I’m not sure what that gets Apple considering there aren’t any peripherals currently that can really take advantage of this. If I were to hazard a guess, you’ll start seeing manufacturers support the port during CES 2012.

Intel Light Peak Technology

I do occasionally scout the forums on MacRumors but like any good forum out there it is really hit or miss. Aside from the grandstanding of folks who’ve apparently tirelessly been waiting for an Apple MBP update who now believe they were “screwed” and will be waiting for the next revision, it tends to be ground zero for some of the new Apple technologies coming soon.

One of those technologies is Intel’s Light Peak tech. In short it replaces a copper wire based bus system internally with one made of fiber-optic conduit. I’ve read some reports that suggest Apple originally came to Intel with the need/want to reduce the physical size of the cable bundles inside its machines.

Closeup of fiber-optic connector

Light Peak Connector

In a machine with some breathing room the 4-wire USB bundle doesn’t seem large, but given how many ports are used in portable machines today and that space is a premium in those enclosures I can see the problem.

Unfortunately the tech isn’t ready for primetime, yet. Engadget ran a story yesterday that reported that Intel is claiming it’ll probably be ready for primetime late this year or early next year. One of the things they’re still working on is providing power to these ports in addition to data. That means augmenting those fiber bundles with some copper to carry electrons back and forth (bummer) with those photons.

LightPeak coexisting with USB3

Light Peak coexisting with USB3

Back to MacRumors for a second: There’s a little kerfluffle there about waiting for this technology to supplant USB3.0. I don’t think that’s going to happen: From what I understand the end-use ports can still be ferried information via LightPeak’s project 10 GB/s throughput. The end user will still be able to use whatever ports they’d like but internally manufacturers could use cables with a lot less bulk and connect them to an insanely speedy bus.

Personally I’m excited to see this tech out in the mainstream. Let’s hope Intel continues getting their act together.