According to a first-look review at AnandTech of the first Thunderbolt-enabled PC desktop motherboard heading to market, there are some driver issues that need to be sorted out as well as features that are missing from the Thunderbolt implementation on the Mac. Fixes are in the works, Intel reportedly says.
The first-look review by AnandTech founder and editor in chief Anand Lal Shimpi looks at a MSi (Micro-Star International Co.) Z77A-GD80 motherboard, which supports Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge processors. It sports 8 SATA ports, a pair of USB 3.0 ports and an option for two more. It also has an on-board FireWire header.
It's all interesting reading. In his evaluation, his workbench littered with Thunderbolt storage devices "just worked," except for the Pegasus R6 RAID array. There was no need to install drivers; all had native support under Windows 7.
However, there were limitations. For example, there are 4 PCIe slots on the logic board, but only a couple of slots can be used at any time dues to the Thunderbolt controller and overprovisioning concerns.
In addition, Anand said the system won't support hot-plugging of Thunderbolt devices, including the Thunderbolt drives tested.
You can remove a Thunderbolt device once in Windows, but you cannot add a new one. Anything you want access to in Windows has to be plugged in at boot. OS X allows more flexibility in this regard as you can add/remove Thunderbolt storage and other devices while the OS is running, but even then it's not always well behaved. It's not all that uncommon to need a reboot after plugging in a chain of Thunderbolt devices under OS X, although admittedly Apple has been improving compatibility and behavior over time.
Update: Intel has informed us that we will see updated drivers for Windows certified Thunderbolt devices that will enable hot plugging under Windows. Intel further informed us that MSI's board has not yet made it through the certification process and a lot of these teething issues will hopefully be addressed by then.
Or not. We will see how things move along. Mac users and developers have a year up on the Windows platform. Certainly, all Thunderbolt devices have been built with Macs in mind and tested on Macs. I hot-plug my Pegasus 4 regularly and I've had no troubles since the installation of the latest firmware.
According to Anand, Thunderbolt chains with many devices sometimes hang and it appears more frequently on the PC tested than with similar setups running on Mac OS X.
Anand offered several thoughts on the Thunderbolt market. He expects Thunderbolt won't be deployed widely on PCs because of the extra cost of controllers and components.
Instead you can expect higher end motherboards to integrate it, or offer an add-in card of sorts which is the route ASUS is taking. I'd expect Ultrabooks to make better use of Thunderbolt naturally, but we will see it on desktops this year.