Intel details Thunderbolt technology

Now that the cat is officially out of the bag, Intel has briefed press on what to expect from the Thunderbolt connectivity standard that has just arrived in Apple's new MacBook Pro laptops.

According to the company's briefing, Thunderbolt - which is a spin-off of the much-vaunted Light Peak technology that Intel still claims will kill off USB as the ubiquitous connectivity standard of choice - is a dual-purpose electrical and optical port which combines PCI Express and DisplayPort connectivity into a single cable.

The Thunderbolt port on the new MacBook Pros can interface with a standard DisplayPort monitor, but to do so would be to miss the point: the Thunderbolt technology promises some serious speed boosts if used in the right way.

Intel claims that Thunderbolt offers 10Gb/s bandwidth per channel in both directions - a significant improvement over USB 2.0, and around twice the limit of USB 3.0. This should translate into external storage devices that can really fly.

The Thunderbolt standard also offers a daisy-chain topology, much like USB, for adding multiple devices to a single port - and promises extremely low latencies of around 8ns accuracy time sync across seven devices.

The company claims that Thunderbolt, which will be appearing on PCs as well as the new MacBook Pros soon, will enhance external storage device performance, allow pictures and video to be transferred from digital cameras significantly quicker, and even create I/O expansion devices to add high-speed components to a laptop device that haven't been possible as external units in the past.

Intel claims to have a raft of companies signed up to create peripherals based on the new standard, including storage specialists Promise, Lacie, and Western Digital, and media specialists Apogee, Avid, and Blackmagic - and, of course, Apple.

"Thunderbolt is a breakthrough for the entire industry, and we think developers are going to have a blast with this," claimed Apple's Bob Mansfield - and, if the throughputs Intel is promising prove accurate, he's unlikely to be proven wrong.