Intel says optical cables for Thunderbolt available later this year

Intel says optical cables for Thunderbolt available later this year

Summary: Intel has revealed that optical cables for its Thunderbolt interface technology will be available later this year, allowing devices to transfer data over longer distances and potentially with greater bandwidth in the future.


The speedy Thunderbolt interface is still in its infancy, with one of its limitations being that it has only been able to make use of copper-based cables to transfer data. But an Intel spokesperson has revealed that optical cables are finally in the works for later this year.

What difference will optical make? While you can use copper cables to transfer data up to about 6 meters with sufficient bandwidth, optical cables can extend that distance to tens of meters -- particularly useful for more enterprise-based applications. It may also promise increased bandwidth in the future over copper, according to Intel, which could come in handy because Intel just announced that Thunderbolt will support PCI Express 3.0.

The one downside to the optical cables is that they are unable to power your Thunderbolt peripheral. Copper cables offer up to 10 watts of power, which allows them to power devices without a separate power supply.

Switching from copper to optical will be seamless with existing Thunderbolt connections, whether they are found on Mac computers or third-party devices.

There's no public timeline for when optical cables will be available, nor any pricing details, though you can imagine optical will cost more than copper cables.

Would the switch to optical cables make you any more interested in using Thunderbolt devices? If not, what would it take for you to buy one for your computer? Let us know in the Comments section below.

Topics: Intel, Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Telcos

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  • I would love to see a hybrid cable with copper for power and optical for

    data. Wouldn't be that hard but would limit the length but thats ok. We could still use optical only for longer runs that dont need power. But for laptop ports for external drives a hybrid would be fantastic
    Johnny Vegas
  • USB 3.0

    This is neat stuff but USB 3.0 offers backwards compatibility and works across the board. I doubt TB will catch on and go mainstream.
    • USB and Thunderbolt are different beast

      USB is an serial bus, that connects to your CPU via an controller. Thunderbolt is an transparent extension of your CPU's PCI Express bus. At the other end of the Thunderbolt chain, you may have your USB 3.0 controller and your USB 3.0 ports. Or any other peripheral you can connect to PCI Express.
  • How are current port compatible?

    I don't see any optical output on my Macbook's Thunderbolt port. Therefore, for an "optical cable" to exist, it has to contain the optical transceiver built it. Which means that most likely that cable will be pre-built, fixed size etc -- no suitable for the enterprise. For example, you don't run patch cables between racks.