Intel's Thunderbolt gets off the ground and into new MacBook pro range

The interconnect technology will transfer data at speeds of 10 gigabits per second

Apple's new MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt technology

Apple's new MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt technology

In what arguably could be called the tease before next Tuesday's main show, Intel has Intel's Thunderbolt interconnect technology, formerly called Light Peak, has emerged from the company's lab and landed in Apple's new line of MacBook Pro laptops.

First announced in 2009, Intel's Thunderbolt technology will transfer data between host devices and external devices at speeds of up to 10GB bps (bits per second), Intel said on its website. Thunderbolt will be able to transfer a full-length high-definition movie from an external storage device to a PC in less than 30 seconds.

Apple will be the first to offer Thunderbolt technology in its new line of MacBook Pro computers, also announced this week, and other companies such as LaCie and Western Digital will offer products based on the technology in the future.

The technology was specially designed for audio and video enthusiasts, Intel said. Users can get real-time processing by synchronizing high-bandwidth audio and video between PCs and other devices, cutting the lag time that exists with other technologies.

Contrary to what Intel said when the company first talked about Thunderbolt in 2009, it will not use light to provide high-bandwidth data transfers between devices, an Intel spokeswoman said in an email, without providing further detail.

Initial builds of Thunderbolt will be based on copper, David Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's Architecture Group said in an interview at CES last month. Optical technology is expensive and will be implemented over time as it gets cheaper, he said.

For the majority of user needs today, copper is good, Perlmutter said. But data transmission is much faster over fiber optics, which will increasingly be used by vendors in Thunderbolt implementations.

Thunderbolt could compete with connector technologies such as USB, Firewire and HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface), which link PCs to external storage, audio devices and displays. Laptops and devices with USB 3.0 ports started reaching store shelves last year and offer data transfer speeds up to 5GB bps. Intel has held off support for USB 3.0 on its PC chipsets, which has been a topic of concern for PC makers, which have had to implement third-party controllers to add USB 3.0 ports to laptops.

Intel, however, has said that Thunderbolt will be complementary technology, and support many data transfer, networking and display protocols through a single, unified connection. Thunderbolt currently communicates with devices using PCI Express for data transfers and DisplayPort for displays, Intel said. All devices can connect to a PC using a single hub, reducing the need to have multiple connectors.

Special Thunderbolt connectors and cables will be needed to connect devices, and Intel is working with component manufacturers to deliver those. Products with Thunderbolt would also need to have a controller chip supplied by Intel, which is being made available to the industry, Intel said.

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