An overview of Thunderbolt Technology
The promise of Thunderbolt connectivity has been around for a couple of years now. Today, Thunderbolt is finally finding its way to the PC platform in the form of motherboards from ASUS and MSI. First unveiled as "Light Peak" at the Intel Developer Forum in 2009, the technology started out as a way to connect multiple devices to a system over a fiber optic cable (hence the 'light' in the name), though the final products have changed the implementation slightly.
The first prototype implementations actually used a USB-style connection and interface. It further required fiber optic cables. When it was renamed to Thunderbolt and then released in conjunction with a new lineup of Apple MacBook laptops, not only did the physical interface move to a mini-DisplayPort connection but the cable was made to use copper rather than fiber. Without diving too far into the reasons and benefits of either direction, the fact is that the copper cables allow for modest power transfer and are much cheaper than fiber optic variants would be.
Thunderbolt's base technology remains the same, however. It is a transfer standard that allows for 10 Gbps of bandwidth for each channel (bi-directional) and concurrently supports both data and display connections. The actual interface for the data path is based on PCI Express and connected devices actually appear to Windows as if they are internally connected to the system which can offer some interesting benefits – and headaches – for hardware developers. The display connection uses the DisplayPort standard and can be used along with the data connection without affecting bandwidth levels or performance.
For current Intel processor implementations, the Thunderbolt connection is supported by a separate controller chip on the motherboard (or a riser card) – and some routing is required for correct usage. The Thunderbolt controller does not actually include a graphics controller, so it must be fed an output from another graphics processor, obviously in this case directly from the Ivy Bridge / Sandy Bridge processors. In theory, these could be from other controllers, but with the ubiquitous nature of integrated processor graphics on IVB and SNB processors, this is going to be the implementation going forward according to motherboard and system designers.
Subject: Mobile | June 11, 2012 - 02:22 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: iconia w700, iconia w510, acer, tablet, thunderbolt, win8
AnandTech checked out Acer's two new tablets, the Iconia W700 and W510, both of which are designed for Windows 8. The W700 is the more impressive of the two for a number of reasons but the best feature has to be the ThunderBolt port, which allows this tablet to function as much more than a Tablet and might actually provide a decent excuse to use Cloud computing. It is a little large to be held and carried around for a long time, but with the possibility of a low voltage Ivy Bridge processor running the tablet some space must be devoted to spread the heat. The W510 is smaller and comes with an optional keyboard dock and you can check up on its specs as well as more on the W700 in this article at AnandTech.
"My first meeting of Computex wasn't a meeting at all, rather it was Acer's press conference a day before the show officially started. In its press conference, Acer introduced a top to bottom lineup of touch enabled Windows 8 devices."
Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:
- Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Review @ TechReviewSource
- Alienware M14x R2 Ivy Bridge Laptop Review @ HardwareHeaven
- Sony Vaio T13112FXS Review @ TechReviewSourc
- Medion Erazer X6821 Laptop Review @ HardwareHeaven
- Huntkey X-MAN 90 W @ techPowerUp
- Acer Iconia Tab A510 review @ Hardware.Info
- Binatone ReadMe Colour eReader @ HardwareLOOK
- Android 4.0: Tracking Ice Cream Sandwich's Availability on Smartphones @ TechSpot
- HTC One X Smartphone – Indepth Analysis @ Kitguru
- Nokia Lumia 610 @ The Inquirer
- Motorola Razr Maxx @ The Inquirer
- Samsung Galaxy S3 review, compared to 12 other smartphones @ Hardware.Info
Subject: General Tech, Motherboards | June 5, 2012 - 08:04 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: thunderbolt, motherboard, gigabyte, ga-z77x-up5 th, computex
Intel’s 10Gbps copper-based Thunderbolt technology is big at this year’s Computex show, and Gigabyte was not shy about showing off their Thunderbolt hardware. Not to be outdone by the Intel booth, Gigabyte had on display a Thunderbolt motherboard and no less than 13 pieces of Thunderbolt hardware!
The motherboard in question is Gigabyte’s GA-Z77X-UP5 TH which is an ATX form factor board that supports Intel Ivy Bridge processors, dual UEFI BIOS technology, SLI and CrossFireX multi-GPU setups, four DDR3 DIMM slots, six SATA 6Gbps ports, three PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots, three PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, and a single legacy PCI slot. It also, of course, features a Thunderbolt port.
The list of Thunderbolt-enabled peripherals was impressive – they only seemed to be missing Thunderbolt docks. The full list of devices is available in the table below, but Gigabyte had the Apple Thunderbolt display, several Thunderbolt external hard drives, a Thunderbolt SSD, Thunderbolt-equipped RAIDed NAS boxes from several vendors, and the active Thunderbolt cables themselves (from Sumitomo Electric).
|Blackmagic design||UltraStudio 3D||Video editing|
|Blackmagic design||Intensity Extreme||Video editing|
|LaCie||eSATA Hub Thunderbolt||Hub|
|Promise Technology, Inc||Pegasus R6||Storage|
|Seagate||GoFlex ThunderBolt Adapter||HDD Adapter|
|Seagate||GoFlex Desk ThunderBolt Adapter||HDD Adapter|
|Sonnos||Sonnet ECHO ExpressCard||ExpressCard|
|Sumitomo Electric||Thunderbolt Cable||Cable|
|Western Digital||My Book Thunderbolt Drive||Storage|
Although Thunderbolt is going to be a niche connection (mostly due to expense of cables and components vs the “good enough” and much cheaper USB 3.0 standard) for the foreseeable future, Computex 2012 is trying its best to drive home the idea that Thunderbolt is not going away. There are definitely more Thunderbolt devices than I had originally predicted to show up at the show in Taipei.
Subject: Motherboards, Displays | June 4, 2012 - 09:30 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: Z77, thunderboltex, thunderbolt, h77, computex, asus
Ever since we posted our series of videos with ASUS on the new Z77 chipset and the features ASUS was introducing on their P8Z77 lineup, we have had countless questions about the Thunderbolt header, the implementation and finally the required add-on card to enable it. Well thankfully at Computex this week ASUS is revealing the product that users of the P8Z77 motherboards will need to enable the Thunderbolt connection, the ASUS ThunderboltEX.
Even though we have already had some hands-on time with the new ASUS P8Z77-V Premium motherboard that integrates a Thunderbolt header on the board directly, the rest of the P8Z77-V line has a 9-pin header labeled "TB_header" that will allow users to purchase the ThunderboltEX card and enable the technology in their system. ASUS was the only company to really plan ahead for Thunderbolt technology across the entire series of Z77 motherboards and as such should enjoy the feature benefits of TB for some time.
The ThunderboltEX will plug into the bottom PCIe slot using up the x4 connection and will be required to use a header cable to connect to the TB_header shown above. This header serves a dual purpose - it allows the integrated graphics of the Ivy Bridge (and even discrete graphics) to pass through to the ThunderboltEX card and then out to either a Thunderbolt enabled display or a DisplayPort monitor in a daisy chain of devices. It also allows ASUS to make sure this card is ONLY used on their own lineup of motherboards - sorry, you won't be able to buy the ASUS ThunderboltEX and use it on your Gigabyte or MSI or even your non "TB_header" ASUS motherboard.
You will also have to install an included full-size DisplayPort cable from the output on the Z77 motherboard back panel to the full-size DP input on the ThunderboltEX itself. This allows the pass through of all the video data.
Once everything is configured, users will have a full speed 10 Gbps ready Thunderbolt connection to use with external storage, break out boxes and other accessories coming down the pipeline rapidly. ASUS claims this implementation will still support 6 daisy-chained devices with a seventh device as either a Thunderbolt or mini-DisplayPort monitor. Even better, hot plug support will still be enabled!
ASUS stands committed to the belief that motherboard design is not just about pure spec but ensuring a quality design and overall implementation. This is achieved through many means such as sensible layout, flexible I/O connectivity and robust control over parameters of operation. In addition foresight in design can play an important role. ASUS recently launched the world’s first certified native Thunderbolt motherboard with the P8Z77-V Premium. While the Premium leads the industry in respect to connectivity and overall functionality it carries a flagship price for its premium feature set. ASUS had kept this in mind along with thinking about how to best support the advanced new interconnect that is Thunderbolt. With this in mind ASUS is proud to unveil its exclusive Thunderbolt upgrade solution for its line of Z77 and H77 motherboards. The ThunderboltEX card is the first add-on card on the market enabling an easy way to upgrade ASUS motherboards with the latest I/O. This is proof in having foresight in design as compatible boards had to have a special TB header in place to support this upgrade.
Currently, the ThunderboltEX is awaiting Thunderbolt device certification and ASUS will obviously announce when that occurs.
Obviously this implementation of Thunderbolt is not as elegant as the one you will find on the ASUS Premium Z77 motherboard or the MSI Z77A-GD80, but it does enable other ASUS Z77 motherboard users to add the feature to their systems without REQUIRING to the cost up front to everyone. It does remind me a little bit of the first days of ATI CrossFire but I think most of you would agree that this solution is better than forcing users to buy a $450 motherboard.
I don't have any information on pricing or availability but you can be sure as soon as our questions are answered by ASUS we will update this post!
If you are looking for more information on Thunderbolt devices and performance, check out our stream of posts on the subject and take a look at the Thunderbolt / ASUS video below!
Subject: Motherboards, Shows and Expos | June 4, 2012 - 04:14 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: computex, gigabyte, Z77, thunderbolt, Z77X-UP5 TH
Anandtech has the scoop on a new motherboard being shown at Computex this week from Gigabyte that features not just Thunderbolt support, not just a single Thunderbolt port but DUAL Thunderbolt connections. The Z77X-UP5 TH is the first such PC platform to offer support for four channels of the new connectivity technology.
Image source: Anandtech.com
Both ports can run at the full 10 Gbps speeds thanks to the inclusion of a PLX PCI Express bridge chip so bandwidth restrictions shouldn't be a concern. We don't know the pricing or availability of this new board quite yet but Gigabyte is finally jumping into the world of Thunderbolt after the MSI and ASUS announcements last month.
Hit up the Anandtech link above for more photos of this board!
Subject: General Tech | June 4, 2012 - 05:28 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: thunderbolt controller, thunderbolt, motherboards, Intel, computex
Anandtech stopped by the Intel booth at Computex 2012 to check out their Thunderbolt display. Intel has three upcoming controllers, with the smallest being only 5.6mm wide. The company is also showing off several motherboards and Thunderbolt peripherals at their booth.
Intel has started off their Computex 2012 showings but showing off several bits of Thunderbolt hardware. They displayed three Thunderbolt controllers in various sizes (and accompanying capabilities), Thunderbolt-equipped motherboards such as this Asus motherboard we were able to get a video demonstration of, Thunderbolt docks, and other Thunderbolt peripherals.
Anandtech was able to get some photos of Intel’s booth display. One of the cool shots that they managed to take shows off three of Intel’s Thunderbolt controllers. From left to right are the Light Ridge, Cactus Ridge, and Port Ridge controllers. While the Cactus Ridge controller is capable of being a host and supporting attached devices, the smaller Port Ridge controller can only connect to Thunderbolt peripherals and only supports a single Thunderbolt port–this chip will see use primarily in tablets and other mobile devices.
In addition to the controllers themselves, Anand spotted several motherboards on display that all sported Thunderbolt controllers. These boards are further aimed at running Windows powered PCs, which is an important consideration with Apple having a large lead on adoption of the technology. Among the motherboards on display are the ASRock Extreme6 and ASRock TB, ASUS P8Z77-V Premium (LINKAGE), a Foxconn board of unknown make, Intel DZ77RE-K75, Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH, Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 TH, and a MSI Z77A-GD80 (LINKAGE).
A Thunderbolt Equipped Motherboard: The MSI Z77A-GD80
It does seem like Computex 2012 is the year for an explosion of Thunderbolt devices. As Ryan mentioned on This Week In Computer Hardware, the cost of Thunderbolt devices and the cost of cables versus the “good enough” (and much cheaper) USB 3.0 technology is going to really hold Thunderbolt back from widespread adoption. There is no doubt that Thunderbolt has the potential to be very useful, but the market of people that could really use the technology to it’s fullest is relatively small. Expect Thunderbolt to stick around, at least for a while, but it will likely not rival that of USB 3.0 as far as integration with computers and user adoption. On the other hand, if they can get the cost of cables and related hardware down far enough such that the difference between it and USB 3.0 is not much it could take off...
What do you guys think of all the Thunderbolt technology coming out of Computex (and it’s only day 1!)?
Other Thunderbolt news:
- What is Thunderbolt?
- mLink PCI-E Thunderbolt enclosure shown off at NAB 2012
- External graphics with the MSI GUS II
- Thunderbolt discussion on the PC Perspective Podcast
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | June 3, 2012 - 11:08 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: computex, thunderbolt, Matrox, macbook, dock, apple
Matrox has recently launched a new Thunderbolt dock aimed at adding desktop peripherals to Apple Macbooks and Ultrabooks. The dock connects via a single Thunderbolt cable (it does require a separate power source as well) and provides one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, a DVI video output, audio in/out jacks, and a Gigabit LAN port. It will be available for purchase in September with an MSRP of $249 USD.
Matrox has released a new laptop dock called the Matrox DS1 that is designed to pair with Thunderbolt-equipped notebooks and provide several additional connectivity options. The aluminum chassis is reminiscent of a slimmer WD My Book drive because of the book like shape. The front of the DS1 dock is a Thunderbolt input and status LED. On the back of the dock is a DVI output, three USB ports (one USB 3.0, two USB 2.0), microphone input, headphone output, and a Gigabit LAN port. To the far right is a DC power input which means that the dock is a bit less portable than I would like but it is not clear how big of a “wall wart” it will come with.
The company has stated that the aluminum case should protect the dock in just about every use case, and the additional IO certainly adds much needed connectivity to Ultrabooks where available ports are at a premium. Senior Director of Sales and Marketing for Matrox, Alberto Cieri, has been quoted by Apple Insider in stating “The new Matrox DS1 docking station easily enables the creation of an ergonomic workspace and brings much-needed expandability for printers, scanners, storage, smartphones, optical drives, cameras, flash drives, and other peripherals.”
The Matrox DS1 will be shown off at Computex 2012 this week in Taipei, Taiwan at Intel’s booth (M0410 in the Nangang Exhibition Hall). After that, it will be shown off at WWDC in San Fransico and Infocomm in Las Vegas on June 12th and June 13th to June 15th respectively. In September of this year it will be available for purchase with an MSRP of $249 USD.
Situations like this are where Thunderbolt really shines, and I would not be surprised to see companies outfitting employees with Ultrabooks for mobile use and a larger monitor and peripherals for in-office use (eschewing a separate desktop machine altogether). The price, especially considering Thunderbolt cables themselves are expensive is going to be the most limiting factor for docks like these despite their usefulness.
Editor's Note: Although Tim didn't mention it, one kind of interesting drawback is that this device does NOT include a Thunderbolt pass through, basically preventing users from taking advantage of the daisy-chain capability TB can offer via a single port / connections on the laptop or computer.
Subject: Shows and Expos | May 31, 2012 - 12:21 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: thunderbolt, ssd, ocz, lightfoot, computex 2012, z-drive R4 CloudServ, SandForce 2581, PCIe SSD
OCZ will be showing off some of the same things they showed off at CES though they are much closer to release. Lightfoot is their external Thunderbolt enclosure which will house SSDs that can utilize the extra bandwith provided by the new external transfer technology. They will also being showing off Enterprise class PCIe SSDs, the brand new Intrepid line of SSDs and software designed to replace SANs in a network environment. Keep an eye out for more details as Computex grows nigh.
SAN JOSE, CA—May 31, 2012—OCZ Technology Group, Inc. (Nasdaq:OCZ), a leading provider of high-performance solid-state drives (SSDs) for computing devices and systems, will showcase the Company's latest client and enterprise storage solutions at Computex 2012 in Taipei, Taiwan June 6 through June 9 at the Taipei International Convention Center.
Continuing to demonstrate leadership in both the enterprise and consumer markets, OCZ will display a comprehensive lineup of its innovative SSD products. For high-end business, server, and OEM clients, OCZ will showcase PCI Express (PCIe) SAN acceleration and replacement solutions, and unveil the impending Intrepid 3 SATA III SSD Series based on the Everest 2 architecture. Live demos at the booth will include both the current industry-leading Z-Drive R4 CloudServ PCIe SSD that delivers over one million IOPS, and the highly anticipated Z-Drive R5 Series based on the co-developed OCZ-Marvell Kilimanjaro platform that raises the bar in performance, reliability, and endurance. OCZ will also showcase the VXL Storage Accelerator software that enables large scale deployment of a virtualized environment for businesses to eliminate the need for costly tier-1 SANs in a wide range of enterprise IT infrastructures.
For client storage, OCZ will showcase the flagship Vertex 4 SATA III SSD, along with the upcoming ‘Lightfoot’ portable SSD designed with the Intel Thunderbolt platform that excels in data transfer speeds and offers high capacity for multimedia professionals.
Subject: General Tech | May 24, 2012 - 02:59 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: video, xfx, thunderbolt, podcast, msi, Ivy Bridge, Intel, asus, amd, 7870, 7850, 680
PC Perspective Podcast #203 - 05/24/2012
Join us this week as we talk about the ASUS N56VM notebook, XFX 7850s and 7870s, Thunderbolt on Windows and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malvantano
- 1-888-38-PCPER or firstname.lastname@example.org
- http://twitter.com/ryanshrout and http://twitter.com/pcper
- 0:02:00 You talked about all the cool stuff last week!
- 0:13:30 Antec High Current Pro Platinum 1000 watt PSU
- 0:16:20 ASUS N56VM Ivy Bridge Notebook - our reference system
- 0:17:30 XFX HD 7870 and HD 7850 Black Edition
- 0:28:25 Unreal Engine 4 Screenshots
- 0:31:00 AMD to stop making "needlessly powerful" CPUs
- 0:42:00 NVIDIA is not recalling Kepler
- 0:45:00 Thunderbolt for Windows from ASUS and MSI announced
- 0:48:30 Josh's Banana Phone - VIA $49 Android PC
- 0:51:30 Seagate to purchase LaCie
- 0:56:30 The discrete graphics card is not dead
- 1:02:00 Hardware / Software Pick of the Week
- 1-888-38-PCPER or email@example.com
- http://twitter.com/ryanshrout and http://twitter.com/pcper
Subject: Motherboards | May 23, 2012 - 05:15 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Z77, thunderbolt, msi, motherboard
The MSI Z77A-GD80 motherboard that was first shown off at CES 2012 has officially launched today. The new motherboard is based on the Z77 chipset and supports Intel’s latest 22nm Ivy Bridge processors as well as the new Thunderbolt interface (a demo of Thunderbolt can be found here).
The MSI board further utilizes their “Military Class III” components, UEFI / Windows GUI ClickBIOS II firmware, and their automatic overclocking OC Genie II software. The board also features four DIMM slots for up to 32GB of DDR3 2800MHz memory, three PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, four PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots, four SATA II and four SATA III. It also supports two-way SLI or three-way Crossfire for multi-GPU setups and has an additional USB 3.0 header for expansion cards or front panel ports.
Rear IO includes 4 USB 2.0 ports, a combination PS/2 mouse/keyboard port, digital and optical audio outputs, HDMI, Gigabit LAN, two USB 3.0 ports, VGA output, and 6 port analog audio output.Last but not least the Thunderbolt port, resting under the VGA output. MSI is pushing the new transfer technology hard in the press release because of the super fast transfer rates (theoretically up to 10Gbps).
Unfortunately, there is no word on pricing or availability for this motherboard (yet). Stay tuned to future updates as more information is released. More photos of and specification details for the new Thunderbolt equipped motherboard can be found here.
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