The launch of new Apple MacBook Pro notebooks has seen the introduction of a new technology from Intel that connects computers and peripherals at twice the speed of current USB 3.0 technology.Called Thunderbolt, the new cable uses copper wires rather than fibre optic cable with Intel, who have been working on the technology for several years, claiming that they will gradually move to higher speeds over time.
Thunderbolt also supports electrical cables as well as optical and it’s this version of Thunderbolt that’s in the MacBook Pro.
If adopted across the IT industry, Intel claims that it will lead to lighter and thinner laptops from all manufacturers.
Apple said: “Thunderbolt delivers PCI Express directly to external high performance peripherals such as RAID arrays, and can support FireWire and USB consumer devices and Gigabit Ethernet networks via adaptors.”
At launch, its top speed will be limited to 10 Gigabits per second – twice as fast as USB 3.0, but still well below the theoretical maximum using optical cables.
All methods for connecting computers to external devices have a theoretical top speed for transferring data
USB 2.0 – 480 Mb/second
Firewire 800 – 800 Mb/second
USB 3.0 – 4.8 Gb/second
Thunderbolt copper – 10 Gb/second copper.
Thunderbolt fibre optic – 100 Gb/second
Intel claims that future versions will be able to reach 100 Gb/sec.
The faster data transfer rates are likely to be welcomed by those consumers who use high-definition video, said Sarah Rottman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research.
“This isn’t an innovation that consumers have been asking for, but it’s one they’ll appreciate,” she said.
“Especially when transferring video, as that’s when [USB] starts to feel slow.”
The system also promises to reduce the number of cables a user has connecting their computer setup.
It is able to carry multiple signal types at the same time, enabling power, display and peripherals to use a single cable.
However, in the short term, users may need to invest in special adaptors to connect their older devices onto Thunderbolt sockets.
Its arrival on the consumer market also raises questions about the future of other connector standards, such as USB and Firewire.