TAIPEI, TAIWAN -- If you have the need for speed when transferring data between your laptop and peripherals, Intel's about to double your capacity. Today, the chip-maker announced Thunderbolt 2, the latest version of its high-speed interface, which provides a theoretical maximum of 20 Gbps -- double what the original Thunderbolt offers.
Currently a pricey standard that only high-end users will purchase, Thunderbolt appears mainly in high-speed storage solutions, docking stations and, in one case, a monitor. As of today Intel has certified just 80 Thunderbolt products. All of these work with Macs, which now come standard with Thunderbolt, while about half of them also work on PCs. Because Thunderbolt has so much bandwidth, a single cable can connect to a hub that houses all your peripherals without slowing any of them down.
However, as fast as the current generation of Thunderbolt is, it doesn't provide enough bandwidth for editing and playing 4K video over a single connection. In addition to its faster speeds, Thunderbolt 2 now supports the DisplayPort 1.2 standard for video, allowing it to send 4K video signals to a monitor, and since a 4K video can sometimes have as high a bit-rate as 11 Gbps, there's now enough bandwidth to support that transfer. Because Thunderbolt is bidirectional, you can send 20 Gbps both up and down the cable at the same time, allowing you to watch 4K video on a monitor and copy 4K video from an external source in real-time.
At Computex 2013, Intel's Jason Ziller showed us a demo of Thunderbolt 2 in action. In his demo suite, he had a Thunderbolt 2-enabled desktop connected to two external SSDs then daisy chained to two 2560 x 1440-pixel monitors, the equivalent of one 4K monitor in terms of data. Ziller explained that Thunderbolt 2 can combine the speed of all storage peripherals in a chain, so it was not surprising when the two SSDs together provided over 10 Gbps. With an improved design and less overhead, that number could jump to about 11.5 Gbps.
With mass production beginning this year ahead of a major rollout in 2014, Thunderbolt 2 could provide a strong solution for multimedia professionals or other users with heavy data or video transfer needs.