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Thunderbolt on Windows: ASUS P8Z77-V Premium, Pegasus R4 and an Apple Thunderbolt Display

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: ASUS

The ASUS P8Z77-V Premium Thunderbolt Implementation

The first of two motherboards we have seen with a Thunderbolt implementation is the ASUS P8Z77-V Premium. Besides having other killer features like support for 4-Way SLI and CrossFire, a new SSD caching technology, and on-board 32GB mSATA SSD for caching, ASUS has integrated the Cactus Ridge Thunderbolt controller for a single port of TB. 

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This Z77 motherboard from ASUS might look like most of its other models, but the P8Z77-V Premium was the first Thunderbolt motherboard to get certification. In the documentation that ASUS provided with the motherboard there were some very interesting implementation notes in which ASUS makes the claim that its Thunderbolt motherboard will best the competitions. 

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The first notable change comes in the trace length for Thunderbolt compared to USB 3.0 – where the USB controller is separated by as much as 10 inches of traces, the Thunderbolt port is at most 2 inches from the controller. The goal here, as with all of the notes below, is to provide the most stable, compatible and best performing solution possible.

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The closeness of the traces will result in several other differences as well. First, the trace layout uses much more signal routing space in order to prevent crosstalk – and electrical noise – that would hinder performance. The traces are routed in an arc shape as well, as opposed to being at 45 degree angles as you see with the USB 3.0 connections. This can reduce the impedance of the connection and improve connection reliability. Also worth noting is that the Thunderbolt connection cannot be moved between layers of the PCB whereas the USB 3.0 traces can move between 2 layers and remain stable. 

According to these advances, ASUS claims that its implementation for Thunderbolt provides 3.8% better signal rise time, 3.1% better signal fall time and 7% overall impedance improvements. 

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ASUS dives even deeper into the physical changes they are using by using a hollow layer below the connection, caps and inductor pads along the Thunderbolt traces. The return path has also been modified to be shorter than standard to dissipate the signals more quickly to ground and reduce electromagnetic interference. If all of this goes past your knowledge of electrical engineering, just know that ASUS has done seemingly everything possible in order to make sure that the signal paths on the P8Z77-V Premium are as as perfect as possible.

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I mentioned earlier that the daisy chaining of devices created some issues for hardware and software developers. This is in relation to the ability to "hot plug" a device; installing it without having to reboot or shutdown your machine. While the Thunderbolt connection can support six levels of daisy chaining, the Windows operating system can only handle one level of PCIe device hot plug, thus causing issues with installing and removing devices from a running system. The first implementations of Thunderbolt we saw prior to this release required to you reboot your machine after connecting a device, even if it was the first (and only) device in the chain.

ASUS has modified the BIOS/UEFI to help Windows handle these hot plug events with Thunderbolt and can correctly allocate the required resources to allow for dynamically installing hardware. And while ASUS has done much to help the situation, we learned from both Intel and Promise / Pegasus that a driver fix would indeed make all the difference in our experience. While drivers aren't technically required for Thunderbolt to just "work" in its PCI Express switch modes, in order for each device on the Thunderbolt connection to function completely you will likely need to install drivers.

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The ASUS P8Z77-V Premium motherboard sports a single Thunderbolt connection with bi-directional 10 Gbps bandwidth available to it. Future controllers will allow for more than a single Thunderbolt connection on a motherboard but I am curious to see how that will integrate with DisplayPort and actual monitor support. 

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The Cactus Ridge controller itself is seen here directly behind the Thunderbolt connection, a result of requirements and the engineering work of ASUS.

June 28, 2012 | 07:37 AM - Posted by OctaveanActually (not verified)

Actually its not entirely accurate to say “any monitor with a DisplayPort connection” will work with Intel Thunderbolt since I believe you need to have at least a DisplayPort v1.1 or higher compatible monitor. Version 1.0 presumably wont work.

June 28, 2012 | 08:30 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Hmm, I hadn't heard that.  I'll check!

June 28, 2012 | 07:49 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'll stick with (e)SATA and USB 3.0. Too many issues with TB performance and cost for it to be considered a true SATA and USB 3.0 replacement for the average joe.

http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/thunderbolt-performance-z77a-gd80,32...

June 28, 2012 | 08:33 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I read the page on that story about the problems, and I didn't see ANY of them.  I think the initial push MSI made with their GD80 board was causing much of that.  I know that ASUS went through certification with their Premium board and MSI's GD80 has gotten significant updates.

June 28, 2012 | 08:15 AM - Posted by Arb1 (not verified)

Yea its faster then USB3 but USB is on every machine for last 15 years and its cheap. TB on other hand it on a hand full of machines and cable ALONE costs a lot so i don't see TB doing much less intel dumps a ton of cast in to get every computer to have it and gets those prices WAY down.

June 28, 2012 | 06:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You realize USB was only on a handfull of machines when it first started too, right?The cables back then were costly as well.

Not exactly a good argument.

June 28, 2012 | 08:29 AM - Posted by OctaveanActually (not verified)

I believe there is already at least one Thunderbolt cable not manufactured by Apple already but it is the same ~$50 price. Instead of they typical Apple white color its black.

I agree that Thunderbolt is more expensive then the ubiquitous USB but its not exactly the same thing. For example, in theory you could run high-end graphics subsystems off of Thunderbolt such as something akin to an HD 7970 or GTX680, on a laptop or tablet (with Thunderbolt support). You just cant do that with USB. So the potential is there.

June 28, 2012 | 08:36 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Very good point.

June 28, 2012 | 03:36 PM - Posted by Bojan (not verified)

Yes indeed. Sony's latest Z series of laptops features external DVD/AMD graphics card combo.

June 28, 2012 | 09:25 AM - Posted by OctaveanActually (not verified)

The Asus “P8Z77-V Pro / Thunderbolt” edition motherboard is available now for ~$259.99. It doesn’t have all the features of the P8Z77-V Premium but its cheaper and has built in Thunderbolt.

June 28, 2012 | 09:32 PM - Posted by Draconian

I wonder if the P8Z77-V PRO/THUNDERBOLT has the same Cactus Ridge controller as the P8Z77-V PREMIUM.

There are different TB controllers that support differing amounts of daisy chaining.

June 28, 2012 | 09:49 AM - Posted by StanB (not verified)

With DisplayPort connectivity built in, is it possible we will see this replacing DVI & HDMI?

Though I love my HP z30w, I want to see 120hz 30 inch monitors. I know there is a new cable standard based on CAT5e/6 networking cables but I've not heard anything since it was announced like 2 years ago. With 4k TVs supposedly on the way we need to see some progress on this front.

June 28, 2012 | 12:01 PM - Posted by Revelation (not verified)

This is fantastic. I'm guessing this will open notebooks and limited desktops alike to portable GPUs. Finally a way to update that notebook video adapter!

June 28, 2012 | 09:32 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I've seen the sony in action, and it's like a bad joke. Good luck getting the external gpu to work on the integrated monitor. i couldn't play any games at all on it, and even aero was performing... poorly. Lots of tearing. Not to mention that the external video card requires a discrete power supply, which kills portability, and presumably is a risk to the system if it should ever come unplugged while in use, and this is looking like a design decision that puts hp's dv6000s to shame. Oh, and the laptop sitting next to it was the same size, cost $100 less, and had a faster gpu built in. It's a nice thought, but really guys? this is the future? If this is what I have to look forward to, half assed implementations...

Not that it's a bad idea in and of itself. I would kill for a displaylink adapter that could output dual link dvi and sport its own small gpu inside for hardware accelerated video that can run on only the 10w available through thunderbolt. That should be more than doable, and a killer product. But as it stands, we're no less than three generations from true external video cards.

June 29, 2012 | 09:09 AM - Posted by choco (not verified)

I agree with the side paragraph on "more than storage" although I don't think people really get this.

This is the way forward with thunderbolt and is highly underrated.

When we start seeing graphics, displays, cpus, SSD banks, in the forms of thunderbolt docs (sure cpu and memory will have to wait for v2 but so did hdd with usb 1 v 2.0)
This is where thunderbolt real benefits will be seen.

Just imaging the ability to dock your phone into your pad which can doc into a workstation or gaming rig.
Each time you get more memory, cpu and gpu power or what ever it is you docked too.
Each time getting an auto backup of your primary medium.

It gives the end consumer similar advantages to blade disk and cloud (think azure cpu scaling) hardware scaleability benefits directly.

Windows OS already allows hot swapping and adding cpus, memory, gpus, hdd (old news) and what not. Now its time for the hardware to catch up to the software.

July 6, 2012 | 07:08 PM - Posted by LawrieK (not verified)

So, what happens if you plug each end of a TB cable into separate PC's?
USB has A and B plugs to prevent this due to the risk of power related damage and competing hosts. How has TB solved this issue?
It sure would make for a killer "Laplink" cable tho.

I hope that as soon as the bios and driver issues are well settled, we will see TB ports replacing display ports on high-end video cards, a nice way to upgrade a system I think.

TB has a solid future, of that I'm pretty sure but USB will remain a more appropriate bus for cheap and low bandwidth devices for some years yet.

Thanks for the great article, now I wish my new PC had TB in place, guess I'll have to hold out for the GFX card option.

August 8, 2012 | 06:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I bought the asus p8z77 pro/thunderbolt and apple thunderbolt display but while i get an image from the iGPU HD 3000 (i7 2600K) on my thunderbolt display, it seems that the discrete card (GTX 560 ti) does not kick in in 3d games although the option is enabled in Lucid virtu MVP. Am I missing something? Can someone help, pls ? The article above seems to tell a different story than mine.....
Some games don't even start although they appear as supported in lucid mvp, so I must be doing someting wrong

Thank you in advance !

January 13, 2013 | 10:38 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Have you figured out how to get your discrete card to run through your thunderbolt yet? I wanted to make sure this could be done on the pro before I buy one.

January 17, 2013 | 01:21 PM - Posted by Jebbie (not verified)

I have bought the P8Z77-V PRO/THUNDERBOLT too now and an apple thunderbolt display.. i have made the installation so far as described:

- installed all latest drivers (chipset, lan, usb, whatever)
- made bios-update to 1805
- installed latest intel graphics hd driver
- installed latest nvidia driver for my Asus GTX-560 Ti
- installed lucid virtu mvp
- reboot - go to bios and activate iGPU
- connect thunderbolt display and got image..

but i have only a resolution of 640x480 - the device manager is telling me, that the hd graphics card has not enough resources (error 12) and lucid virtu drops an error "wrong gpu configuration"..

all i can find in the manual is, that i have to make sure, that the integrated gpu is not deactivated when a deticated graphics card is installed.. but in the bios, i can't find a point under "Integrated peripherals" or any other point to control that...

the other thing.. my windows is not on the latest state, cause my install cd is a little bit out-dated and currently i didn't finish running the updates of windows.. could that cause a problem?

what have configured in this review in the bios? iGPU? Auto? or something else? what whit any other settings like wakeup over tb oder tb settings itself?

February 13, 2013 | 11:42 AM - Posted by Luis (not verified)

exist laptop pc whit thunderbolt port?

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