One of the more interesting announcements this week is Thunderbolt, a product that was originally code named "Light Peak," from Intel, which promises to address a key problem with mobile devices. That problem is ports. If you look at products like the very attractive MacBook Air, you immediately see a huge disadvantage with the ports in that they don't have room for many of them. You end up either with a product like the Air, which looks great but is too limiting to adopt broadly, or have a mess of dongles, which can be lost, forgotten or misplaced.
Simply put: Thunderbolt is a small, ultra-high-speed port/cable/ecosystem that can be used to link PCI Express and DisplayPort devices simultaneously so you can daisy chain up to seven of them through one small optical/electrical port.
Let's explore that today.
Thin Is in and Faster Is Always Better
The products that seem to be capturing the imaginations and interest of consumers and employees are very thin, but these same users/buyers don't want to give up key functionality. They need to be able to connect to external monitors or TVs for presentations or entertainment and they need to connect to high-speed storage for media, backup and collaboration. They also don't want to give up the idea of having an ultra-thin, ultra-light laptop or tablet to do it.
Light Peak was created to address this need, using a special jack and a cable with both optical and electrical properties so that you can then connect the devices, including monitors, through a single 8ns 10Gps per channel bi-directional link. For comparison, the new USB 3.0 link currently performs at about half that speed (4.8 Gbs) with much higher latency (5.6 milliseconds vs. 8 nanoseconds) and no real ability to daisy chain.
Steve Jobs' Birthday Present
What was kind of amazing about this announcement, given this is largely an Intel technology, was that it was timed on top of Apple's release of its stunning new MacBook Pro notebooks using Intel Core processors and happened on Steve Jobs' birthday. Now that is one incredible birthday present, and while it isn't a surprise that Apple would implement an amazing new technology first, the fact that it made this a birthday present from Jobs and that no other PC manufacturer was able to do this first is almost unprecedented. This will only add to the amazing legend of Apple and Jobs.
Wrapping Up: Faster Is Always Better
While Intel announced other key partners like Promise, LaCie, Western Digital, Aja, Apogee, Avid, Blackmagic and Universal Audio mostly in the storage and media creation space, it was Apple's role in the announcement that made it special. Some of these accessories could actually be rather amazing. Faster is always better and with a lot of us worried about Apple without Jobs, Apple just demonstrated that there may be less to worry about than we thought. Clearly, Intel also demonstrated that it gets how to make a dramatic entrance for a new technology. With all of the concerns surrounding financials and oil prices this week, it was kind of nice to see some positive news and, I have to admit, I'm looking forward to messing with Thunderbolt even though, for some reason, I can't get the "Thundercats" battle cry out of my head now.