Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

Summary: To make sure there's further confusion in the myriad ways you can connect an external device to your computer, the PCI special interest group says it is working on an external version of PCI Express, the standard already used internally in PCs for graphics cards, sound cards, and even SSDs. It would join eSATA, USB 3.

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To make sure there's further confusion in the myriad ways you can connect an external device to your computer, the PCI special interest group says it is working on an external version of PCI Express, the standard already used internally in PCs for graphics cards, sound cards, and even SSDs. It would join eSATA, USB 3.0, and Intel's new Thunderbolt interfaces as the latest ways to hook up things like external hard drives to your system.

The external spec would be based on PCIe 3.0 technology, with potential transfer speeds of 32Gbps. Thunderbolt currently offers 10Gbps transfers and USB 3.0 5Gbps. In addition, Thunderbolt has not been widely adopted since its launch earlier this year, though Apple -- which helped work on the tech with Intel -- has included the interface on its latest MacBook Pro and iMac refreshes.

But the PCI Express external spec won't allow you to connect all your devices to a single connection, like Thunderbolt lets you. It also won't support power consumption beyond 20 watts, which means gamers hoping for external graphics cards using the forthcoming spec will be waiting in vain.

The PCI Express group's goal is to have devices supporting the new external standard to hit the market in 2013. By then, USB 3.0 will probably be on every new PC, and Thunderbolt will have proven whether or not it will be widely available. But with potential transfer speeds several times greater than those interfaces, the PCI Express external spec will have a chance to disrupt the market when (and if) it finally arrives.

[Via X-bit Labs]

Topics: Storage, Hardware, Mobility

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  • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

    Just going to point out that the 20W power limitation just means an external graphics card has to have its own power source. So far all the examples we've seen of external graphics processors have had a separate power source so this isn't really an issue.
    jinxbob
    • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

      @jinxbob well said, with proper driver support, or even ~plug and play~ this could really bring gaming to the masses especially since most of the newer games are coded to run in the GPU and not be too CPU intensive
      Jon Hubert Bristol
      • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

        @Jon Hubert Bristol The one drawback here is that by 2013, with the advent of AMD's APUs with discrete-level graphics on-chip, gaming will already be available to the masses.
        jgm@...
    • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

      @jinxbob

      I do think that this could do well, if they can pull it off technically. I don't think it will be a direct competitor for Thunderbolt though. Although there is some cross-over in functionality, the fact that Thunderbolt can be self-powered and is "daisy-chainable" makes it a different animal. As for Thunderbolt v.s. USB 3.0, Thunderbolt wins hands down. Why? Because due to it's faster speed and higher power sourcing ability, Thunderbolt-to-USB 3.0 adapters will be a piece of cake to make. So, basically, if you have a thunderbolt port on your computer you will be able to run Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 devices. With only a USB 3.0 port on your machine, that's all you'l be able to connect to it. I wouldn't bet on USB 3.0 having a long lifespan, but possibly the market can support both and even all 3 in the case of external PCIe. We'll see.
      HappyXWindowsUser
      • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

        @Maconvert Why do you think Thunderbolt won't go the way of Firewire? Thunderbolt doesn't do the world any good if it's a one-manufacturer-only implementation. USB and PCIe are more open standards without those types of obstacles to adoption.
        jgm@...
      • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

        @jgm<br><br>Please try to research what you are talking about before commenting. LightPeak/LightPeak over copper/Thunderbolt, just like USB, is being pushed by Intel, and is just as "open". USB and PCIe are NOT "more open". In addition, ALL those interfaces, USB 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, FireWire 400, 800, 1600, eSATA, and even PCIe can run over LightPeak.<br>And since LightPeak will be scaling to over 100 Gb/sec within a short time, PCIe's relatively slow data input will be an impediment.<br><br>Also, LightPeak is NOT "one-manufacturer-only". That was the whole point of Apple bringing the tech to Intel.
        DeusXMachina
  • A bettter idea would be to allow USB 3.0 channel bonding

    If you could bond USB 3.0 connections to separate root hubs into one virtual channel (5 Gbps x number of channels), that would be much more useful.

    It would 1) work a lot like PCIe channels 2) Have all the connectivity advantages inherent to USB.
    croberts
    • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

      @croberts There's still the fact that USB is very talkative at the protocol level and thus has a lot of overhead associated with it.
      snoop0x7b
  • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

    Seems a bit pointless..............
    neilpost
    • Why?

      I agree. Virtually anything that needs that kind of speed would be better off, and lower cost, if it were in the case with the CPU and RAM. What does moving it outside the case do except add the cost of another case and another power supply? The incremental cost of adding more watts to the power supply in the case would be a fraction of the cost of a separate, standalone PS. Same thing with the case: once you're going to build the case anyway, the cost to make it a little bigger is negligible. Plus we get the additional cost of a cable that we don't need in the single-box solution, and a power cord too.

      I think people get some psychological satisfaction out of external disk drives, imagining them to be a safer backup alternative than another inside-the-box drive, but it's not clear that there's a benefit to moving other things.
      Robert Hahn
  • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

    You can do larger external graphics cards over external PCI-E if you have an add-on power cord... Not desirable but doable.
    snoop0x7b
    • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

      @snoop0x7b
      Instead of stand alone graphics cards plugged into these PCI-E ports, what about graphics cards built into the monitors directly running the display themselves.
      NZJester
  • RE: Look out Thunderbolt: External PCI Express spec being developed

    Thunderbolt is actually currently CopperPeak not the previously envisioned LightPeak, which is at least twice as fast and therefore closer to external PCI-E. The advantage of B will be mostly in laptops where you can connect to an external keyboard, mouse, drives, and monitor using one connector - not the several that I use now - it may also be able to charge the laptop.
    Bruce Perlman