Thunderbolt to see slow pickup

Thunderbolt to see slow pickup

Summary: Despite adoption by Apple, market analyst says Intel-backed transfer technology will see slow takeup rate due to cost and functionality overlaps with USB 3.0 standard.


Intel's new transfer technology may have been adopted in Apple's new line of laptops and desktops, but the Thunderbolt architecture will not be picked up as quickly by other PC makers due cost and functionality overlaps with USB 3.0, predicts an industry analyst.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Brian O'Rourke, research director of digital entertainment at In-Stat, said he does not expect Thunderbolt to be widely adopted over the next few years because it is currently a "very expensive technology" and PC OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are cost-sensitive.

Unveiled by Intel late February, the technology boasts high bandwidth transfer rates of up to 10Gbps in bidirectional communications.

Apple was the first computer maker to push Thunderbolt-based products into the market with its MacBook Pro line. Early this month, the hardware manufacturer extended the technology to its iMac product line.

However, O'Rourke noted that Apple's support for Thunderbolt does not necessarily translate to support from other computer makers. "PC OEMs do not generally follow Apple's lead in integrating new technologies," he said.

Paul McKeon, Intel's Asia-Pacific regional PR manager, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the company is working with industry players to push out more Thunderbolt-based products and expects the technology to be extended to computers running on the Microsoft Windows platform.

As the technology is based on existing protocols such PCI Express and DisplayPort, basic Thunderbolt technology functionality can be made available in Windows without additional OS support, McKeon said, adding that OEMs or independent software vendors (ISVs) may consider using software to enhance the capabilities of Thunderbolt.

Functionality overlap with USB 3.0
However, besides cost, O'Rourke noted that another barrier to the widespread adoption of Thunderbolt is the overlap of functionalities with existing industry standards.

"There is some overlap between USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt as both are high-bandwidth interfaces," he explained. "The primary difference is that Thunderbolt can accommodate display interfaces such as DisplayPort."

He added that PC OEMs already offer products with USB 3.0 and DisplayPort to transmit high-bandwidth data and display. "The question for PC OEMs is whether those two interfaces are good enough or whether they need the extra bandwidth that Thunderbolt provides," he said.

According to McKeon, Thunderbolt was intended to complement, not replace, the USB standard. The Intel-backed technology does not signify any change to the company's direction and support for USB 3.0 or any other existing I/O efforts, he added.

While he acknowledged that some usage of Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 may overlap, he said the Intel technology is targeted at innovative and emerging usage models that require higher bandwidth or multiple protocols.

He added that Thunderbolt's functionality can be extended beyond computers. The technology runs two protocols--PCI Express and DisplayPort--simultaneously over a single cable, enabling the technology to connect devices such as peripherals, displays, disk drives, docking stations, audio or video devices, and more, he said.

The Intel executive added that the technology can also enable new usage models such as flexible system designs, thinner form factors, media creation and connectivity, faster media transfer and cable simplification.

While there are no other Thunderbolt products, other than Apple's, out in the market today, various IT companies including Canon have voiced their support for the technology, he said.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility, Processors, Storage, Tablets

Liau Yun Qing

About Liau Yun Qing

The only journalist in the team without a Western name, Yun Qing hails from the mountainy Malaysian state, Sabah. She currently covers the hardware and networking beats, as well as everything else that falls into her lap, at ZDNet Asia. Her RSS feed includes tech news sites and most of the Cheezburger network. She is also a cheapskate masquerading as a group-buying addict.

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