Thunderbolt Overview

Thunderbolt connector cable

On February 24th 2011, Intel announced a new connection type called Thunderbolt (Previously code named “Light Peak”) as a high speed multipurpose interface that can outperform any connection currently available in the market. Using DisplayPort and PCI Express protocols, Thunderbolt is designed to serve as a video and peripheral interface allowing simultaneous connection of displays and devices through a single connection. Because PCI Express is widely supported by device vendors and built into most of Intel's modern chipsets, Thunderbolt can be added to existing products with relative ease. Thunderbolt driver chips fold the data from these two sources together, and split them back apart again for consumption within the devices. This makes the system backward compatible with existing DisplayPort hardware upstream of the driver. Thunderbolt provides transfer speeds up to 10Gbps while also providing 10 watts of power for devices.

Similar to SCSI technology, a single Thunderbolt port supports hubs as well as a daisy chain of up to seven Thunderbolt devices; up to two of these devices may be high-resolution displays using DisplayPort. Initial products expected to possess Thunderbolt connectivity are external mass storage solutions such as the Promise Pegasus RAID and LaCie Little Big Disk. The first computer system announced to use Thunderbolt connectivity is Apple's new MacBook Pro.

Contrary to earlier expectations to use fiber optic technology, Initial products will enter the market using copper cabling while fiber solutions enter later in the year. The proposed length limit for copper cabling will be three meters while fiber optic versions will be capable of tens of meters. Copper solutions will be capable of connecting to fiber optic ports through the use of a converter device.

How will this affect current and future products?

Based on information obtained from press releases and web articles (Intel and Apple), C2G Mini DisplayPort cables and adapters will function with Thunderbolt ports for display applications. Due to possible specification and design requirements, applications that involve the connection of devices, such as a hub, may require the use of Thunderbolt cabling. At the moment, we do not offer cabling specifically designed for device applications. Until sufficient market demand can be determined, no plans have been set to launch Thunderbolt products.

Apple MacBook Pro with a Thunberbolt connector port

Thunderbolt port on the new MacBook Pro which utilizes Mini DisplayPort

Thunderbolt is interoperable with [DisplayPort] 1.2 compatible devices. When connected to a DisplayPort compatible device the Thunderbolt port can provide a native DisplayPort signal with 4 lanes of output data at no more than 5.4 Gbit/s per lane. When connected to a Thunderbolt device the per–lane data rate becomes 10 Gbit/s and the 4 lanes are configured as 2 channels with each bidirectional 10 Gbit/s channel comprising one lane of input and one lane of output.

How does Thunderbolt compare to other connection types?

Type Transfer RatePowerApplicationNumber of DevicesCable Length Limit
Thunderbolt10 Gbps10 WattsVideo and Peripherals7 devices3 meters (copper)
USB 3.04.5 Gbps4.5 WattsPeripherals127 devices5 meters
USB 2.0480 Mbps2.5 WattsPeripherals127 devices5 meters
Firewire800 Mbps45 WattsPeripherals63 devices4.5 meters
eSATA6 GbpsNoneExternal Hard Drives1 device per port2 meters

This white paper is for informational purposes only and is subject to change without notice. C2G makes no guarantees, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness or reliability of the information found in this document.