Happy birthday, Thunderbolt

Ten years old today.

How time flies. Thunderbolt is ten years old today. And my, how it's grown up.

Remember the version 1 of Thunderbolt? We'd had rumors of a new port coming to the MacBook Pro based on Intel's Light Peak concept. These new Thunderbolt-equipped MacBook Pros were unveiled February 2011, sporting a port that was based on a mini DisplayPort that had two channels each capable of 10Gbps, and allowed up to six devices to be daisy-chained.

Apple initially registered the Thunderbolt trademark, but this was passed to Intel a few months later.

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OWC Thunderbolt Dock

Fast-forward to today, and Thunderbolt has become Thunderbolt 4. The port has changed from mini DisplayPort to the now ubiquitous reversible USB-C, a single port that supports not only the Thunderbolt protocol, but also USB, DisplayPort, and PCIe.

Speeds have also increased to a whopping 40Gbps.

To celebrate ten years of Thunderbolt, I got the opportunity to chat to Jason Ziller, Intel's general manager of the Client Connectivity Division, and it was an interesting trip down memory lane.

I remember Thunderbolt's launch, and at the time I called it a niche interface. Thunderbolt products were expensive, and there was a fair bit of consumer confusion around the ports and cables. But over that time, Intel has worked hard to push the Thunderbolt brand, and worked on creating three pillars -- performance, reliability, and simplicity -- that have helped bring Thunderbolt into the mainstream.

And mainstream it is, with an ecosystem that consists of over a thousand Thunderbolt-certified peripherals. Over the past two years, the number of notebooks equipped with Thunderbolt ports has grown by 80%, and last year alone, Thunderbolt docks volume grew 34%.

It's a huge ecosystem. And that was helped by Intel opening the standard out, and also building support into its processors, which helped the standard to expand beyond the Apple ecosystem.

Prices have also dropped.

OK, a Thunderbolt dock is nowhere near as cheap as a USB dock, but at price points approaching $150, that's a big drop from the early days, especially when you factor in that all Thunderbolt devices go through a certification process.

And that certification process is key. One of the standout things about Thunderbolt is reliability, and this is down to Intel's curation of the ecosystem.

I also applaud the steps Intel has made in making Thunderbolt easy to use. Picking the right cable used to be a nightmare, but now you can pick up cables up to 2 meters in length that just work, no matter what Thunderbolt gear they are connected to.

That takes all the hassle and guesswork out of hooking up all your Thunderbolt gear.

So, I'm taking a moment to raise a glass -- OK, it's early, so it's a cup of coffee -- to Thunderbolt. Here's to the next decade.

Do you use Thunderbolt? What do you think of how the standard has come along?

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