Intel to open up Thunderbolt development this quarter

Intel on Tuesday said that developer kits for Thunderbolt will be available this quarter, which could lead to the quick availability of a wider range of products based on the interconnect technology.

Thunderbolt was first announced on Feb. 24 and is currently being offered only by Apple in its new MacBook Pro laptops, which were launched on the same day. Intel collaborated with Apple in developing the interconnect.

The developer kits could help device makers accelerate the release of products to market, an Intel spokesman said.

Thunderbolt is a dual-channel, high-speed interconnect that can transfer data between host devices and external devices at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. The technology enables a full-length, high-definition movie to be transferred in less than 30 seconds, and synchronization of high-bandwidth audio and video between computers and other devices in real time.

Intel is already working with some partners to develop products as it tries to build out an ecosystem around the interconnect. LaCie and Western Digital have already demonstrated portable storage products, but are not yet selling devices. Companies including Canon have announced support for Thunderbolt, and products from AJA, BlackMagic, Matrox and Sonnet are being shown at the NAB trade show, which is going on in Las Vegas through April 14.

Sony is also one of the backers of Thunderbolt, but has not yet talked about plans to implement the technology in its laptops. A number of companies that have not yet implemented Thunderbolt have also expressed interest in the technology. Hewlett-Packard, which offers USB 3.0 ports in high-end laptops for high-speed data transfers to external devices, will evaluate Thunderbolt for implementation in laptops, a company spokesman said.

Thunderbolt currently supports the PCI Express and DisplayPort protocols, and could reduce the number of connectors needed to attach peripherals such as monitors and storage devices to computers. Thunderbolt could ultimately replace protocols such as USB 3.0, but Intel insists that the technologies are complementary.

Intel originally talked about Thunderbolt in 2009, when it said the technology would be delivered with optical cabling. However, initial builds of Thunderbolt are being delivered using copper wires, with optical cabling coming later this year, Intel has said. Optical technology could help provide faster data transfers over longer distances than electrical technology.

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