Intel has finally added branding to its next-generation Thunderbolt high-speed interface, calling it Thunderbolt 2.
Thunderbolt 2, which had previously only been known by its code name Falcon Ridge, is a reworking of the original Thunderbolt interface to offer 20Gbps of bidirectional transfer rate.
While this is double the effective transfer rate the original Thunderbolt offered, the overall transfer rate of a Thunderbolt port remains the same. Thunderbolt made use of four independent 10Gbps channels, two upstream and two downstream, whereas Thunderbolt 2 combines these four channels into two 20Gbps bi-direction channels.
See also: Best Thunderbolt professional hardware
Thanks to this performance boost, Thunderbolt 2 will not only pave the way for faster external storage devices (Thunderbolt 2 offers a theoretical transfer rate of 1500MB/s, but you won't see this in real life), it will also offer official support for 4K video.
The original Thunderbolt could support 4K video only if the port was used as a DisplayPort 1.2 connector because the 15Gbps transfer rate required by 4K video maxed out the 10Gbps channels offered by the first-generation Thunderbolt. Combining the four 10Gbps channels into two 20Gbps channels solves the problem.
Now anyone willing to throw money at the problem will be able to move masses of data to and from an external storage device while simultaneously driving a 4K resolution display, all down a single cable.
Earlier this year Intel dubbed this the "4K workflow."
Thunderbolt is aimed at high-end media professionals who have to juggle large amounts of data in the form of video. These people need all the power they can get — but it will likely come attached to a very weighty price tag.
20Gbps Thunderbolt could also allow for Apple to introduce Macs with 4K displays. These displays would have a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels, four times that of 1080p high-definition video.
The problem with Thunderbolt, though, is that I can't ever see it be anything other than a niche technology. Even at 10 Gbps, Thunderbolt far exceeds what most people need. The types of solutions that make use of Thunderbolt are primarily aimed at media professionals wanting fast access to large volumes of data.
Another problem facing Thunderbolt is USB 3.0, in particular the updated USB 3.0 specification that's in the pipeline. The new USB 3.0 standard will offer much greater speed than that of the existing USB 3.0 standard, while maintaining 100 percent backward compatible with existing USB hardware.
New Haswell processors will be paired up with Redwood Ridge Thunderbolt 2 controllers to bring the high-speed interface to market later this year. Thunderbolt 2 is backward compatible with existing Thunderbolt hardware.