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Tech To Watch 2012: Thunderbolt Takes Off

USB 3.0 is so 2011. During the last year, Intel partnered with Apple to develop Thunderbolt for high-speed data and video transfers. The new technology offers nearly 20 times the speeds of USB 2.0, but the benefits don’t stop there.

Essentially a combination of Mini DisplayPort and PCI Express, Thunderbolt can transfer data at a blistering 10 Gbps and port high-definition video simultaneously over the same cable. USB 3.0, found in today’s PCs, only supports 5 Gbps data transmissions.

Thunderbolt technology premiered in the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. The first peripherals to work with this new port, such as the Promise Pegasus storage line (starting at $1,149), appeared shortly afterward. But more products are on the way. The technology will reportedly make its way to Windows PCs by April.

Why It’s Important

Sony was first to implement a variation on Thunderbolt technology with the VAIO Z. The ultraportable connected to a Power Media Dock with discrete GPU and Blu-ray burner. Acer and ASUS have committed to releasing Windows PCs with a bona fide Thunderbolt port in 2012.

Meanwhile, LaCie’s Little Big Disk (starting at $549), and the Black Magic Ultra Studio 3D video capture and playback box ($995) have hit the stage. Western Digital will release Thunderbolt storage products in mid-January. Belkin’s upcoming Thunderbolt Express Dock will feature three USB ports, Firewire, Gigabit Ethernet, and a Thunderbolt port. For its part, Intel sees increasing interest in Thunderbolt-connected external graphics cards.

How It Will Change Your Life

According to Intel, Thunderbolt lets users to transfer full-length HD movies in less than 30 seconds. A user could also back up a year’s worth of MP3s in a little more than 10 minutes. The emerging technology will enable a person to run a display with a resolution higher than 1080p while simultaneously pumping out eight audio channels. Plus, Thunderbolt will enable consumers to connect up to six devices via a process called daisy-chaining.


Outfitting a device with Thunderbolt can be a pricey choice for a notebook maker, an expense that is ultimately passed on to the consumer. But according to Intel's Jason Ziller, director of planning and marketing for Thunderbolt, it’s just a matter of time before prices come down. “Some OEMs may not offer Thunderbolt at [the sub-$500] price initially,” he admitted, “but eventually Thunderbolt will be available at just about every price point.”

Thunderbolt will also have to contend with USB’s strong lead and brand recognition with consumers. But Intel sees the technologies complementing one another, recommending to OEMs that new notebooks support both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports.