Backroom only for Thunderbolt cables

Backroom only for Thunderbolt cables

Summary: The speed available from Apple's Thunderbolt I/O technology is amazing. But good luck finding a cable when you really need one.


The speed available from Apple's Thunderbolt I/O technology is amazing. But good luck finding a cable when you really need one.

How do you back up a souped-up MacBook Pro with two drives inside? Forget the slow cloud. Thunderbolt is the way to go. CNET's Dong Ngo offers a roundup of the latest Thunderbolt storage devices and reviews.

I purchased a major piece of Thunderbolt storage a while ago but had no time to set it up until last week. Thunderbolt is now my favorite technology and brings a smile to my face every day. No kidding, it is that fast. But the details of this setup will wait for another post.

First to the cable. Ngo points out the problem in his roundup article.

Imagine how disconcerting a feeling it would be to have your brand-new Camaro delivered to your door just to find out that the steering wheel is not included with the car. You'll have to go buy one separately before the joyrides can start.

Now it's unlikely you'll ever experience that, but if you want to have a little taste of the feeling, go and get a Thunderbolt storage device. So far, none of them comes with a Thunderbolt cable, which is required it for work.

Certainly, the high cost of Thunderbolt cables for the OEM vendors is the issue. This technology is so new that few suppliers offer the cable, making it very expensive. USB cables cost almost next to nothing for a drive vendor. Even FireWire has enough market penetration that connectors are inexpensive. A drive with multiple inputs I purchased a couple of years ago came packed with cables. But not a Thunderbolt drive.

While on some other shopping errands, I drove by a local Best Buy to see if they had a Thunderbolt cable in stock. No such luck. There was no space even on the rack.

This necessitated a trip to an Apple Store, which is also nearby. I looked up and down the Macintosh side of the product shelves located in the back of the store near the Genius Bar. No Thunderbolt cables. I checked it again. Drives, yes. But no cables.

I asked a sales associate about the cable. He also eyeballed the shelves and confirmed my evaluation. Nada.

"I'll ask my manager," he said. This was difficult since the store was packed and very busy. After a while, the next level up in the bureaucracy was queried. He said they were likely in "the back." Another round of internal discussions ensued until the shrink-wrapped cable was finally brought out. $49.

Could it be that these easy-to-shoplift cables are so valuable (or rare) that they must be left in the back room? Or is it that there are few sales of the cables and they don't warrant a spot on the shelves? Could be both reasons.

Perhaps the constraints on Thunderbolt cables will ease soon. I notice that there are cables for sale online for $43, however, the page warns that there's only one SKU left in stock. Order soon!

Topics: Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Telcos

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  • Gee I bet Intel

    will be dissapointed to learn that Apple owns Thunderbolt. Perhaps you should edit this blog to give a little credit where it is due? ... Or is this destined to join so many other advancements that the 'faithful' credit to Apple without regard for who really developed it?
    • It was jointly developed by both parties

      Don't be such a Apple bigot that you can't see they bring value and technology to the table.
      • I am not an Apple bigot. I am an Apple customer where appropriate.

        My comment was this article mentioned only Apple "from Apples Thunderbolt I/O technology" ... no mention of Intel's contribution.

        olePigeon .... That woosh you heard was probably my little (admittedly hyperbolic) generalization going over your head. I hear arguments, far too regularly, that Apple did indeed "invent" those very items you identified. That was my point ... state that Intel invented and Apple helped develop/popularize the technology rather than "from Apples Thunderbolt I/O technology"
    • Apple co-developed and brought the technology to market...

      Apple co-developed and brought the technology to market. You are correct that Intel invented it, however, you erroneously state that Apple is credited with its invention. Apple has historically been one of the first companies to market and popularize many technologies despite not being the inventor (with the exception of Firewire and subpixel anti-aliasing, which Apple invented.)

      Products such as the GUI, mouse, 3.5" floppy drive, CD-ROM, USB, MP3 players, and tablets were not invented by Apple, but they were marketed and popularized by Apple.
      • Even if you are right

        "Apple co-developed and brought the technology to market"

        Even if you are right about Apple co-developing this (and I disagree, they did not co-develop it) then even you would have to admit that this sentence from David's blog is inaccurate:
        "The speed available from Apple???s Thunderbolt I/O technology is amazing"

        At the very least, David should be strongly encouraged to rewrite this to:
        "The speed available from Intel and Apple???s Thunderbolt I/O technology is amazing"

        Do you agree or disagree?
      • I agree...

        [i]"Do you agree or disagree?"[/i]

        I agree. The only point I was making was that Apple was instrumental in bringing the technology to market. As it stands, Apple is currently the only company shipping a computer with a Thunderbolt port, and the only company actively marketing it. So you could argue that it is Apple's Thunderbolt port since they're only one using it.

        I misread the Wikipedia article. You are correct that they did not co-develop. "Thunderbolt was developed by Intel and brought to market with technical collaboration from Apple Inc."
      • This I agree with

        "The only point I was making was that Apple was instrumental in bringing the technology to market."

        In this particular case, you are right. Intel shopped this technology around and found that Apple was willing to bring it to market.

        "they were marketed and popularized by Apple"

        So I'm curious what this word "popularized" means? While there is no doubt that most people who have used an MP3 player have used an Apple MP3 player so yes, Apple popularized the MP3 player. Note for future reference though, Apple was not the first to mass market an MP3 player. There were large companies like Creative that mass marketed MP3 players. Years later, those sales figures were dwarfed by Apple. I want you to keep that fact in mind when we move on to...

        The mouse. Apple may have been the first company to mass market the mouse but their sales figures were dwarfed, I mean really dwarfed a few years later by individual PC makers like Dell and HP. The vast majority of consumers who have used a mouse have used a mouse on a Windows PC and not on a Mac.

        So what do you mean by "popularized"? Do you prefer the definition where it is "first to mass market" in which case no, Apple did not popularize the MP3 player, the smartphone, or the tablet. Or do you prefer the definition where it is "lifetime sales figures" in which case Apple did not popularize the GUI, mouse, 3.5" floppy drive, CD-ROM, or USB.

        You can't have it both ways though. Sorry.
  • Seriously?

    An article about not being able to find a thunderbutt cable...


    A new low...
  • I don't get it, David

    Thunderbolt has promise. I like its features as far as being able to daisy chain displays, and the exciting possibilities for things like external GPUs and the like. However, here's what I don't get:

    The hard drive inside the enclosure is still a bog standard, 7200RPM Caviar Blue hard drive. The I/O interface hasn't been the bottleneck for some time, the ability for drives to dump bits onto the pipe has. USB 2.0 has plenty of additional throughput for external drives that aren't being used simply because the drives inside them aren't 15K enterprise grade spindles.

    Want fast? There's this newfangled technology called gigabit ethernet that requires four or five drives to saturate. There's even a successor to it, called 10gigE, that can handle a few dozen drives connected in a RAID5 array. A 5' Cat6 cable costs about $3, but short runs are fine with any bog standard Cat5E cable you've got lying around. They're available at any Best Buy, Staples or Walgreens, and even the ripoff cables are $10 a pop. Monoprice will basically pay you to take 'em.

    So if Thunderbolt doesn't do you any good as far as faster speeds without a group of disks together, why not use GigE for a NAS of some kind if speed is important, or USB 2.0 if portability is? Both cases are well established, solve your problems, and cables are incredibly plentiful. I don't see the use case for Thunderbolt until Buffalotech makes a Thunderbolt drive array or something to that effect...but then, if you're paying $800 for a storage unit, a $50 cable isn't something to sweat over.

    • Thank you, I was going to write the same thing

      "The hard drive inside the enclosure is still a bog standard, 7200RPM Caviar Blue hard drive. The I/O interface hasn't been the bottleneck for some time"

      The reason this technology has not caught on is that most people in the world don't need it. Remember how all the Apple fanbois would go on and on about how removable batteries aren't required in smartphones by 99% of the world because the built in battery lasts long enough? The removable battery is not a feature because most people have no use for it. Thunderbolt, at least as a hard drive I/O technology, is not a feature because most people have no use for it. Most people do not RAID their hard drives and so the extra throughput is completely wasted.

      Thunderbolt is a feature that isn't a feature to 99% of consumers out there.
      • So you were going to "me too"?

        In saying that USB 2.0 is more than enough for an 7200RPM drive? I can understand such a statement, if USB 2.0 is all you have ever used.

        By the way, nobody says Thunderbolt is designed for external drives. This is just what the various vendors offer at the moment. Thunderbolt provides x4 PCI-Express extension from the CPU to whatever peripheral. It's best application is as an Thunderbolt attached docking station, as implemented in Apple's Thunderbolt Display.
    • One drive is not the point

      The point of Thunderbolt is not to have a single hard drive to saturate the whole bandwidth of a Thunderbolt cable. It's to daisy chain several devices/displays/peripherals together and none of them are starved for bandwidth because some other device is running.

      So you get a drive that could utilize all the bandwidth. Then, while you're also copying a video off your Red Epic camera, and playing a movie over HDMI to your 60 inch 3D HDTV, your hard drive will take all the bandwidth over and make everything else come to a halt.
    • USB 2.0 fast enough?!?!

      Man, wish your words were true, but unfortunately they are not!

      USB 2.0 can barely reach 30 MB/sec transfers and rarely enough TPS. This is why people have been using FireWire attached storage. Not much much faster than USB 2.0 in theory, but way faster in practice (for the more TPS).
      Any consumer drive today can max 100 MB/sec some go over 150 MB/sec. This is already baster than SATA1. Consumer drives. Today's consumer SSDs range from 100 to over 500 MB/sec.

      100 Mbit Ethernet can give you no more than 10MB/sec real throughput. (lover than USB 2.0)
      1 Gbit Ethernet can give you no more than 100MB/sec real throughput. (about as much as FireWire 800)
      10 Gbit Ethernet (BIG cost in controllers, cables and switches) can give you no more than 1GB/sec.
      All of this, provided you have perfect filesystem support and really good Ethernet controllers on both server and client ends.

      So no, unless you need large groups of computers to access shared storage, Ethernet is no go.
  • Interesting?

    I think it is funny how you think Apple invented Thunderbolt, it is actually Intel who invented it. On top of that you can get it for regular pc's as well. But really what is the point. Like Firewire, Thunderbolt is going to go away because of USB 3.0. This is my prediction of course you could say Apple invented USB 3.0 as well. since that is what Apple people like to think.
    • He didn't say Apple invented Thunderbolt...

      He didn't say Apple invented Thunderbolt. Furthermore, you're comparing a connection medium to a protocol. Thunderbolt is an extension of your PCI BUS, e.g. you can run USB 3.0 over Thunderbolt. In fact, you can run anything you'd normally connect to a PCIe slot over Thunderbolt.

      While there may be some overlap in terms of usability such as connecting a HDD to both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt (via SATA), Thunderbolt has a wider range of application than USB.

      For example, if you have a MacBook Pro with a Thunderbolt port, you can connect an external discrete [i]workstation[/i] video card to your laptop. Or simply connect a PCIe slot to your laptop and fill it with any PCIe card you'd like. Or perhaps a breakout box with USB, Firewire, audio, video, eSATA, SD slot, PCExpress slot, etc.

      These are the advantages Thunderbolt brings to a computer, including the ability to use USB 3.0 over Thunderbolt.
      • How many people need to do this?

        "you can connect an external discrete workstation video card to your laptop"

        Seems like a pretty niche market. As is the market of consumers that have HDDs that require Thunderbolt bandwidth. And if we've learned one thing from listening to Apple fanbois on ZDNet, products that are only required by a niche market are bad products that should not be recommended to the average consumer.
      • Never seen an SSD?

        @ toddbottom3

        Your comments are very funny. Most recent, consumer grade SSDs will overflow USB 3.0. This has already been demonstrated. In these blogs, at that.

        It may be niche to you, but may be all the business for someone else. To each their own. Maybe just leave the big boys alone, with their "niche" toys, eh?
  • Technically speaking, Apple invented "Thunderbolt"

    Remember people, "Thunderbolt" is a trademarked name. That's it. And yes, Apple invented the name. Intel invented all the real technology and used the term "Light Peak" while it was under development. Apple invented the name "Thunderbolt" and agreed to release all of Intel's work under the "Thunderbolt" name. Eventually, Apple transferred the Thunderbolt trademark to Intel and Intel now owns the "Thunderbolt" name (at least according to Wiki).

    So yes, Apple invented the Thunderbolt name although they did none of the technical work. This is fairly standard operating procedure for Apple. Apple invented the "Retina display" name although did not invent the technology. Apple "invented" Siri although did not invent the technology (Jobs did not want to go with the Siri name because people knew that Siri was not an Apple product and this makes it more difficult to try and fool people into believing that Apple invented the technology).
    • wrong

      Apple worked with Intel on Thunderbolt. Anyone who denies that doesn't know what they're talking about. Apple did not invent it. But they did contribute to it, and had the germ of the idea in the first place. Intel did the heavy lifting.
  • Whose is Thunderbolt ...?

    I think there are good points here. And I will think that I will make a change in the story. Of course, Intel developed Light Peak, which was what the technology was originally called. But it's not fair to say that Apple hasn't done any technical work. It is the only vendor to take the technology on, to offer it on a system and to do the serious work on the Mac to get it to work. There's a two sides to any technology: the initial development and then getting it all to work and productized.

    Apple likes intelligent buses.

    Thanks to everyone for reading!!!