Apple released new Mac laptops last week – during half-term! – and they now sport spanking new Sandybridge processors and, most interestingly, a new interconnect which goes by the name of Thunderbolt.
Personally, and I mean personally, I think this may be a much more significant move than just adding a swift and convenient interconnect bus to laptops. Currently the first, copper, implementation of Thunderbolt is a relatively modest 10 Gigabits a second but Intel have indicated that it could/should get up to 100 Gigabits a second.
The question this seems to beg is; how much longer will Apple need a big square box to put PCI Express cards in when they have an interconnect that can go as fast as a two lane PCI-E card already?
And it’s getting faster…
Currently a sixteen lane PCI Express 2.0 card provides a maximum of 64 Gigabits a second. What that means is that today 64 Gigabits, or less in a lot of cases, is more than enough for video professionals to do all they need in terms of video IO and disk IO. It may not be all that long til Thunderbolt will be able to do that and more.
PCI Express 3.0 has been agreed and newer motherboards and PCI Express cards will be able to provide a maximum of 128 Gigabits a second, although they are not widely available, yet. The question for me is; will they be used except by very high end systems like Clipster and other real-time uncompressed 4K and 5K systems?
I suspect we may be approaching a point at which Apple may start/have started to think “we can build desirable high performance, computers, pads, gadgets etc. that don’t need to look like the boxy PCs because they don’t need to accomodate rectangular cards to connect to high speed devices like disks and displays”. It has already started with the iMac and the Mac Mini; Thunderbolt may mean they can enable these non-traditional shaped computers with an interconnect bus that endows them with the same IO power that you currently have to but a Mac Pro and a PCI E card to get.
Looking at the comments, from Industry supporters, that Intel have posted on their web site we can see manufacturers who currently make a very good living making and selling PCI Express cards. If they think Thunderbolt is a great technology then it must be because they can migrate what they do and make to it. If they can, then why would Apple need a great big silver box to put cards in if the card manufacturers are happy to use Thunderbolt?