Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

Summary: At the recent San Francisco Macworld Expo/iWorld Expo and International CES in Las Vegas, vendors announced a wider number of Thunderbolt-enabled devices. Most will be released this year. But why haven't more Thunderbolt products already hit the market?

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At the recent San Francisco Macworld Expo/iWorld Expo, several storage vendors showed forthcoming Thunderbolt drives, and at last month's International CES in Las Vegas, vendors announced a wider number of Thunderbolt-enabled devices. But really, why haven't more Thunderbolt products already hit the market?

At Expo, Western Digital gave a peek of its My Book Thunderbolt Duo storage systems, which will ship sometime in the first quarter, a product manager said. The two-drive striped systems will come in 4TB and 6TB capacities, both currently unpriced. Users can daisy chain up to 6 systems.

The hard disk drives are accessible by flipping open the top of enclosure. As you can see below, the WD systems look like aluminum hardcover books.

In addition, Seagate showed its GoFlex Desk Thunderbolt Adapter, which was announced at CES. The adapter, which supports the company's GoFlex hard disk drive enclosures, will ship in the first quarter. Currently, the adapter supports FireWire 800 and USB 2.0. In addition, I spied a smaller, portable adapter on display.

At CES there were a good number of Thunderbolt devices shown, most due sometime this year, some expected soon and others as long as the last quarter. A number were "demonstrations," which are for technology vendors as concept cars are for auto manufacturers. We may see them as SKUs but maybe not.

Owners of eSATA drives — popular in the video-editing set, with many connected to ExpressCard/34 adapter cards on previous generations of MacBook Pros as well as desktop interfaces — will be interested in LaCie's eSATA Hub Thunderbolt Series, which will offer pairs of Thunderbolt and eSATA ports. It is due to ship in the first quarter, the company said.

Certainly, Thunderbolt will be introduced to some PCs this coming year. But it will be here and there, testing the market, and nothing like Apple's putting the interface across its hardware lines.

However, one might expect that almost a year following Thunderbolt's introduction there would be more Thunderbolt-enabled products shipping. Available now on the Apple Store are Apple's Thunderbolt Display, LaCie's Little Big Disk Thunderbolt 2-drive systems, Promise's Pegasus 4- and 6-bay, hardware-based RAID systems, and Promise's SANLink Thunderbolt to 4Gbit/s Fibre Channel Adapter. Oh, and an Apple cable. Total: 5 basic products from a limited group of vendors.

Available elsewhere are a number of products for the professional video market, including several video capture/playback adapters such as the AJA Video Systems' io XT and  the BlackMagic Design's UltraStudio 3D and Matrox's MXO2 Mini MAX aimed at Final Cut Pro workflows.

Sonnet Technologies offers a rather expensive adapter for connecting ExpressCard/34 cards, called the Sonnet Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter.

This appears to me to be a rather short list, especially with the numbers of Macs that have been sold this year with Thunderbolt ports. I observe that Mac users have always loved high-performance, local storage and that's the ticket with Thunderbolt.

So, what's the holdup? On the show floor, I happened upon an engineer with long experience in the Mac storage market and he put the blame on fundamental cost issues and growing pains with a new technology.

This engineer, who declined attribution, said that the first generation Thunderbolt controllers are considered expensive by device makers — he didn't supply a figure but reports are that they are in the $20 to $25 range — and certainly more than the minimal costs for USB 2.0 and FireWire. Anything that adds cost to a commodity product is a problem for device makers.

Intel supplies the Thunderbolt chipsets. The next-generation controllers will be less expensive, perhaps by a half, he said. According to reports. there will be multiple chipsets for different applications and performance perimeters. However, the arrival on the market of these chipsets is later in this year and perhaps later by the time the technology is productized.

If vendors calculate that they can reduce production costs by waiting for the next-generation chipsets, then they will wait. Some vendors may also figure that as a new technology, the demand for Thunderbolt is slightly nascent. With the addition of PC market systems, the installed base of Thunderbolt machines will grow quickly later this year or in 2013, so waiting may make sense for many companies.

The engineer also said that vendors were experiencing growing pains with the software tools Intel has provided for development. It's not what it needs to be for all needs.

Worse for some vendors, he admitted, is dealing with Apple. It can be a bit of a trial. It's never been easy to get a device qualified for sale with Apple or for the Apple Store.  On top of the usual hassles with Apple qualification and interoperability, here with Thunderbolt developers are dealing with a new technology.

This all sounds similar to the market's past growing pains with FireWire, which was initially developed at Apple. Perhaps we will see an independent consortium of developers created to get some of the testing and qualification issues out from under Intel and Apple's wings.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Mobility, Processors

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10 comments
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  • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

    They will show when the PC gets the port but for now, it is Apple only and honestly, there are competing standards but they usually do coexist when this happens.
    slickjim
  • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

    I also heard, that there are no reference designs for daisy chained devices, only end points, which also doesn't help Thunderbolts cause, with manufacturers having to work harder to work out how to do that.

    Plus, most of the commodity items that are currently USB sit in the $10 - $150 range, adding an additional $20 - 25 per unit would make the devices pretty much untenable.

    This currently leaves niche markets and high-end devices. Until the prices come down to USB levels, it isn't going to be really attractive to manufacturers.
    wright_is
  • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

    Apple crippled adoption rates right out of the gate with their $50 Thunderbolt cable (which, I note, is not included in most currently available devices). That action will forever taint consumers perceptions of the technology.
    bcarney66
    • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

      @bcarney66 I dont agree because while the $50 pricetag shocked the geeks, the mass market doesn't think about cables until AFTER they purchase. So what will taint consumers isn't the cable, but the actual comparison when they go to Best Buy and see a Seagate $100 2TB USB3 sitting next to a $250 2TB Thunderbolt drive.
      Urkel
      • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

        @Urkel
        Maybe in the beginning but price will fall eventually. Remember Thunderbolt is twice as fast and has greater functionality than USB3.
        Tigertank
  • The Bigger Question: Why didn't we get USB3 on Macs?

    Remember when we first saw Jobs unveil Thunderbolt? It was an amazing moment where all our imaginations went so wild with possibilities that it made us forget about the USB3 omission and just smile to see that little port on our Mac products. <br><br>But here we are many many months later and USB3 is available on HDD's at zero extra cost while TB is revealing itself to have an incredibly high entrance price and an equally low market presence.

    People blame the cost of HDD's due to Taiwan but its not the drive that makes Thunderbolt peripherals cost 5-8x more than a standard USB3. Its the sweet sweet technology. And while the TB possibilities remain to be promising, the reality of the interface is that its simply not for everyone and as CONSUMERS who prefer Apple products then we wouldve been better off with a USB3 option. which will require us to buy next years model. Again.
    Urkel
  • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

    Shipped units with TB ports are less than 1% of the Mac installed base, and a minuscule amount of PC's in general, what manufacturer in their right mind would target such an audience with a higher cost lower margin product? Fewer features to boot as there is only one port and no daisy chaining devices for the most part at this time.
    Alisair
    • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

      @Alisair All devices that are released can daisy chain. If they are released that means that Intel or Apple has tested them for daisy chain. I think Macs with Thunderbolt sold last year were about 17M and this year will probably be 20M plus the PC market may do 10M this year.. so you have 47M units by the end of 2012 that is not a bad install base that has the host Thunderbolt port built in...for free basically...
      hjenkins1
  • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

    When you talk about the $25 cost for Thunderbolt, that is very inaccurate. There are more costs around that, you need to improve the performance of the rest of your components to support the high speed PCIe bus and DisplayPort components, you need to implement new processes in manufacturing, new testing methods you may not have done before. The net cost is way more than $25, that is why a product like the 4 bay Promise storage box is $1000 when similar products without Thunderbolt may be half that price. You are paying a premium for the development of new technology, performance (800 MBs on the Thunderbolt box vs. maybe 200MB/s on eSATA storage) and the raw Thunderbolt components of course.

    Part of the issue lies with the performance and latency footprint of Thunderbolt. When you talk Firewire and USB 2.0 you are talking limited performance and a good amount of latency. Anyone can put these systems together purchasing a simple board with USB, Firewire and eSATA. When you talk about Thunderbolt, you are working directly with the PCIe bus, a low latency, high performance interface. If you don't have experience with this type of technology then your engineering team will have a very long learning curve with very expensive prototypes not working correctly the first, second or even third time around.

    Would you trust a company to bring a product to market quickly if that company only has dealt in products for USB and Firewire because they bought the technology but are now trying to develop with Thunderbolt technology? There are several hurdles.

    Companies such as AJA, Blackmagic and Matrox have long worked with high bandwidth, low latency products and as such have put out their own products with Thunderbolt. This excites me because I think that Thunderbolt is prime for my market, Content Creation... allowing me to do more with less (can use a MacBook Pro). There are several products not publicly available yet, one such one I am waiting for are storage controllers that come from Atto Technology, they announced at IDF and I am waiting to see their products because we use their PCIe cards in every part of our workflow, I know they will be able to hit the Thunderbolt out of the park!
    hjenkins1
  • RE: Where are all the Thunderbolt peripherals?

    When Apple does a refresh on the Time Capsule and Airport Extreme, it will probaly have Thunderbolt + USB 3.0. Then you will know that Thunderbolt is ready for the masses. Probaly next year?
    xp153dragon