One port; many uses. So, are you ready for yet another peripheral connection protocol? Ready or not, it’s here. Not exactly a surprise, Intel and Apple have announced the first implementation of what was code named Light Peak during development and is now formally branded Thunderbolt. This new connector is integrated in the all the new Apple MacBook Pros and has every likelihood of wide use by other manufacturers in the near future.
Here’s the promise. This one small port—which physically replicates a Mini DisplayPort—is fast (10Gbps in both directions), is compatible with most other peripheral protocols (USB, FireWire, Ethernet, Fibre Channel, DVI, HDMI, etc.), and provides 10 watts of power. With ability to daisy-chain up to six devices, one Thunderbolt port will be able to handle the needs of many users.
Intel is staking a lot on this new technology. Though initially Light Peak was to be a purely fiber-optic-based interface, Thunderbolt is (for the time being) using copper wire, with the intention of moving to fiber-optic when it is more cost-effective. All indications are that Thunderbolt is not Apple-proprietary and will show up in the not too distant future in Windows computers as well. If you’re inclined to know more about this interesting development see Intel’s official Thunderbolt site, even more detailed “Technology Brief,” and Apple’s description of how it’s integrated into their new notebooks.
Updated MacBook Pros. Beside the new Thunderbolt port built into the new 13”, 15”, and 17” MacBook Pros, there’s a switch to the latest Sandy Bridge Intel processors (including some quad-cores), and AMD Radeon graphics in the upper end models. You can read all about it at the Apple Store and any number of other Mac-related sites. It will take a while for full tests and reviews indicating how well these updated notebooks meet the needs of photographers, but all indications are they will likely continue to be among the best field tools available. And the other part of the equation is how rapidly third party manufacturers will offer Thunderbolt solutions (like really fast portable hard drives) that make one’s job easier while improving your capabilities. We live in interesting times.