Thunderbolt moves up - and down

Thunderbolt moves up - and down

Summary: The slow-mo rollout of Thunderbolt peripherals continues with some critical milestones, including the first Thunderbolt product to add only $100 to retail cost. But that's not all.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware

Thunderbolt is serious I/O for serious users. Here's the latest.

Blackmagic The folks at Blackmagic Design an innovative maker of video products, announced their Intensity Extreme Thunderbolt video capture card. I used this card in my old Mac Pro and have dropped back to HDV over FireWire for video capture on my new iMac.

The Extreme takes the standard Intensity PCIe card and puts it in a machined aluminum case with Thunderbolt for $299 - a $100 premium over the standard Intensity card's $199 price. That sets a new low for a Thunderbolt-enabled device.

But Blackmagic Design also offers a USB 3.0 version that illustrates the challenge USB 3.0 challenge to Thunderbolt. The similar USB 3.0 Intensity Shuttle is $199.

But the Shuttle's compatibility is much narrower: only a couple of HP workstations, one notebook and a few motherboards. Is reliable USB 3.0 performance a sometime thing or is this a Blackmagic test issue? Readers?

Magma Magma, a San Diego maker of high-quality, industrial-grade PCIe expansion chassis, has announced a 3 slot Thunderbolt-to-PCIe box. This isn't intended as a consumer product as they note they are working with:

. . . Apple, Avid, AJA, Red, ATTO, Fusion-io and Promise Technology to validate application performance with ExpressBox 3T in broadcast video and pro audio environments.

Pricing hasn't been announced, but I hope they go for a broad market. They can add Mac Pro-like expandability to every Thunderbolt Mac.

I'd buy one at the right price to expand my otherwise I/O limited iMac.

Sonnet For mobile flexibility, the Sonnet ExpressCard/34 adapter makes it easy to add additional I/O, such as eSATA and AJA's IO Express. At $150 it isn't cheap, but people laying out $3-4 grand for a high-performance mobile system won't balk.

The Storage Bits take Rolling out a successful new I/O standard isn't easy: low initial volumes raise costs; the available market - Thunderbolt-equipped Macs - is small; and many pro customers hesitate to move proven workflows to new technology.

Putting Thunderbolt on every Mac - a new Mac Pro is in the works - means Apple has done everything they can to goose Thunderbolt. But the Final Cut Pro X roll-out fiasco - hitting the core high-end video market - has created unneeded headwinds for Thunderbolt adoption.

Blackmagic's limited support for USB 3.0 suggests there may be a larger problem with high-performance USB 3.0 apps. Other promised specs have been crippled by cheap internal architectures.

Yet the availability of 40Gb/s cross-sectional bandwidth on PCs is staggering. 30 years ago the hot VAX 780's total bandwidth - 13.3MB/s - was less than what a USB thumb drive offers today.

Comments welcome, of course. The open-source Lightworks video editor now on Windows is coming soon to OS X and Linux. The functionality and business model look sound.

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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  • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

    [Yet the availability of 40Gb/s cross-sectional bandwidth on PCs is staggering.] Yet Apple only advertises it at dual channel 10 Gb/s (bi-directional). It is not like USB 2 where they combined the upstream and downstream to get the throughput.
  • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

    I wonder if you can combine Thunderbolt ports into a single pipe. A single Thunderbold has only enough bandwidth for 4x PCIE 2.0. Would be epic if you could get 16x PCIE 2.0 in a box. Then you could plug a GTX590 into a Mac Mini or latop. :D
  • Thunderbolt is a medium...

    Thunderbolt is a medium offering direct access to the PCIe BUS. I find it odd when comparing to USB 3 when you can run USB 3 over Thunderbolt.<br><br>As long as a Thunderbolt to USB 3 adapter is less than $99, you could buy the USB 3 version of the video capture card and save some money.
  • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

    "Is reliable USB 3.0 performance a sometime thing or is this a Blackmagic test issue?"

    Both actually. If you research real-world USB 3.0 sustained transfer rates, you'll see they rarely ever exceed 170MB/s, and only some tinkerers (SuperTalent, Patriot) getting it to run faster.

    That said, a vast majority of USB 3.0 implementations will work with the Intensity Shuttle as long as the USB 3.0 driver is current.
    Alex Gerulaitis
    • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

      @Alex G. (DV411)

      Well, yeah, because except for benchmarking applications running directly from memory to memory, nothing goes that fast. Most SSDs are only good for 170MB/s.
      • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

        @tkejlboom - no. Good 6G SSDs run at over 400MB/s, so do multi-drive arrays and a lot, a lot of other devices. Luckily, the computing world isn't limited to external consumer single-bay mechanical drives.
        Alex Gerulaitis
  • Thunderbolt: dead end?

    The FCPX fiasco isn't the only thing that works against TB. Among others:
    - expensive cables
    - no add-on GPUs on systems with TB. No implementation for the desktops - i.e. no way to put TB on a system with a decent GPU, and none may be coming due to the DP part of TB spec. Is this the world's first I/O that can't be put on the desktops? If so, would you buy an expensive solution that can't be used on a desktop like a Mac Pro?
    - BMD solutions can't be daisy-chained with any other TB devices: only one TB port (in). I.e. no external display on an MBP with Intensity Pro (or UltraStudio 3D). That cripples TB functionality on laptops.

    To me, TB is a dead end crippled implementation of LightPeak and I am not thanking Intel for it. (I know better than to thank Apple for it either. :))
    Alex Gerulaitis
    • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

      @Alex G. (DV411) BMD boxes only need to be the last box on the chain. My Pegasus Thunderbolt array has 2 ports so that would work. But the Thunderbolt Display has only 1.

      I'm reliably informed that there will be a significant upgrade to Thunderbolt in Q1/2012. Faster? Better? Cheaper? Maybe all 3.
      R Harris
      • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

        @R Harris - I didn't phrase it correctly (sorry about that). You can't daisy-chain an external display with a BMD box, period. The display (if there is one) must be the last device in the chain. Bottom line - that cripples MBP editing setups, and limits others - given that most pro editing setups have dual monitors.
        Alex Gerulaitis
    • the only true black magic site

      the only true black magic site
  • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

    @Alex G, I think you mean if the display is a legacy Display Port then it has to be at the end of the chain. That restriction should not apply to New TB displays on the way. not ideal, but as a transitionary limitation, I don't know that it is a deal breaker overall. Expensive cables though make me feel like I'm shopping for HDMI at retail. LOL.
    M Sloan
  • RE: Thunderbolt moves up - and down

    @M Sloan - Thanks - I was mistaken thinking TB displays also must be at the end - this makes TB future a bit brighter - although still not THAT bright given lack of add-on cards enabling TB on a Mac Pro. Not being able to connect a TB storage array to a Mac Pro or a Z800 is a deal-breaker for me.
    Alex Gerulaitis